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Texas Cautions Boaters as Fatalities Rise on the Water

AUSTIN — With fatalities on Texas waterways up 40 percent in the first quarter of 2021, Texas boaters are being urged to take boater education before heading to lakes and rivers this Memorial Day. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is launching a “Rock Your Boat” campaign urging boater education to help reduce fatalities and injuries on Texas waterways.

“We want people to enjoy Texas’ waterways this summer and ensure they are prepared before they head out to the lakes and rivers,” said Cody Jones, Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). “Of fatalities and accidents in 2020, on average more than 60 percent of boat operators had not completed a mandated boater safety course.”

In order to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15-horsepower rating or more, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 must complete a boater education course. TPWD offers online resources for a wide range of boater education and safety training, including a free online paddle craft safety course, on the TPWD Boater Education web page.

“Boater education is key to helping reduce accidents and fatalities on the water,” said Kimberly Sorensen, Boating Education manager at TPWD. “As we enter boating season, we ask you all to ‘Rock Your Boat.’”

Five safety tips to “Rock Your Boat” on the water include: wearing a life jacket, avoiding alcohol, watching your kids and others around you, use the engine cut-off switch, and ensuring all know how to swim.

“The most common boating accident types in 2020 involved boat collisions on waterways, fixed object collision, being struck by a vessel, collision with a recreational vehicle, capsizing, flooding/swamping and falling overboard were the top seven boating incidents and accident types across on Texas waterways,” Jones said. “More than 70 percent of boating accidents were on open motorboats or personal watercraft.  The months of May through August traditionally have the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities statewide, with weekends seeing the peak figures.”

Accidents on the water happen fast. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in 79 percent of recreational boating fatalities in 2019, and that 86 percent of those who drowned were not wearing a flotation device.

“Life jacket wear on the water is imperative to safety, enjoyment and returning from your weekend without incident, or worse, losing someone you care about,” said Sorensen. “When choosing a life jacket, ensure that it has the ability to support your size and weight and is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Coast Guard requires one wearable life jacket for each person onboard that fits them.”

Important safety precautions recommended by TPWD include checking the weather before heading to the water, learning to swim, check equipment, plan, use an engine cut-off switch, and know where you are going.

“Other important precautions Texans should take on the water include travelling at safe speeds, ensuring you have functioning water-proof communication devices (and backup devices), never boat under the influence and know the rules of the waterway beforehand,” said Sorensen.

For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website. The public is encouraged to check with managing authority of the waterbody they intend to visit for any local ordinances still in place. All boating laws are still in effect.

Check out the Life Jacket Association website for a guide to proper cleaning and storing of their Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs).

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