Game wardens patrolling East Texas lakes enforcing boater safety

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Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 4:36 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2021 at 9:00 PM CDT
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GREGG COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - East Texas game wardens are on a post-July 4th weekend continuation of a mission on safety at Texas waterways.

They’ll be out in force this weekend to check boaters for life jackets and possible alcohol violations.

Already during the brief summer, there have been several incidents of people falling overboard without life jackets, something game wardens are stressing this weekend.

“Starting with life jackets. This year we have more crowds on the water than ever before. Kids are out of school, lots of folks on the water, more than ever. We want folks to have that life jacket on,” says Gregg County Game Warden Todd Long.

“Been stopped twice. I have a pontoon boat as well. Been stopped twice by wardens and had a safety check on both,” said Gladewater boater Michael Ray.

For the game wardens, it’s not about ruining somebody’s good time on the water, but just making sure they don’t endanger lives.

In 2020, boating accidents were at a 30-year all-time high. Fatalities on Texas waterways increased 45 percent in 2020 from 2019. More than 70 percent of boating accidents that occurred in 2020 were on open motorboats or personal watercraft.

Ray believes there’s a simple reason for the numbers.

“With the whole coronavirus thing, so many people have bought boats, so many people who are not accustomed to being on the lake day in and day out. There’s a lot of first time boat owners,” he said. “People are getting out on the lake with little experience or zero experience.”

And alcohol use is among the top five contributing factors to injuries or fatalities in 2020.

“Those operators that are showing signs of impairment or intoxication, we’re going to do the whole field sobriety test,” says Long.

According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children under the age of 13 are required to wear one while it’s underway or drifting.

In 2020, Texas game wardens issued over 600 citations for children not wearing a life jacket.

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