Texas Game Wardens See Reduction in Boating Accidents, Rise in Drownings During Memorial Day Weekend

Texas Game Wardens See Reduction in Boating Accidents, Rise in Drownings During Memorial Day Weekend

AUSTIN – This past Memorial Day weekend, Texas Game Wardens patrolled Texas’ many waterbodies and assisted fellow first responders with rescues and recoveries due to strong storms and extreme heat. Wardens noted a decrease in boating incidents and citations filed, but an increase in drownings and warnings issued.

Between Friday and Monday, 379 game wardens conducted 11,609 vessel checks across Texas, issuing 1,528 citations and 2,301 warnings for various boating safety law violations. Wardens arrested 37 people for boating while intoxicated (BWI) and four people for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Additionally, another 55 people were arrested for various other crimes.

Due to recent legislative changes, one BWI arrest classified as a state jail felony for boating while intoxicated with a child passenger. During the 88th session, the Texas Legislature approved changes to BWI statutes, making a BWI with a child under the age of 15 on board a state jail felony, matching the charges for DWI with a child passenger. This new law went into effect Sept. 1, 2023. This charge is punishable by six months to two years in state jail and a maximum $10,000 fine.

“I am pleased to see that game wardens’ efforts to keep the public safe on the water are making an impact and saving lives through a reduction in the numbers of boating accident and boating related fatalities,” said Cody Jones, Texas Game Warden assistant commander for marine enforcement. “But we can’t let our guard down. The Texas heat drove people to cool off at area waterways, leading to a marked increase in open water drownings from the previous year’s Memorial Day weekend holiday.”

Game wardens responded to seven boating accidents, one boating fatality and seven drownings. The boating fatality occurred at Taylor Bayou and the drownings occurred at Benbrook Lake, Lake Bridgeport, Canyon Lake, Eagle Mountain Lake, Lake Lewisville, Sabine Lake and Lake Texoma.

“I am proud of the hard work and dedication Texas Game Wardens put in to ensure the safety of the people of Texas over the course of the holiday weekend,” said Col. Chad Jones, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) law enforcement director. “However, boating and water safety is a priority for wardens every day, not just during a holiday. Wardens will continue to assist and educate the public while enforcing the laws of this state to ensure those recreating on Texas waterways return home safely at the end of the day.”

On more than one occasion, game wardens were involved in search and rescue activities, responded to boating incidents and engaged numerous people on personal watercrafts, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards who were not wearing life jackets.

“A number of water safety incidents over the holiday weekend could have been avoided by people wearing life jackets and taking boater education,” said Kimberly Sorensen, TPWD boating education manager.

Sorensen and her team hosted educational outreach programs at Lake Lyndon B. Johnson and Lavon Lake, reminding boaters of proper safety equipment and safe boating practices.

“Memorial Day weekend was the start of what is sure to be a hot and busy boating and water recreation season,” said Cody Jones. “We have much to do to continue to keep the public informed and safe.”

In addition to the many water safety inspections over the weekend, game wardens were involved with medical emergencies, boat assists, an overturned vessel, tornado response efforts, broke up multiple fights that resulted in several arrests, collaborated with partner agencies and more. Wardens also assisted the Marine Theft Investigation Unit with party boat enforcement on Lake Travis, boarding eight party boats, with seven having violations.

Even though Memorial Day Weekend is considered the unofficial start to boating season, it doesn’t mean other outdoor pursuits across the state come to an end. Wardens in East Texas apprehended multiple subjects cast netting white bass behind Lake Livingston Dam, netting 137 fish illegally taken. In South Texas, wardens seized six illegal hoop nets from Falcon Lake, and along the coast, wardens conducting a standard fishing check arrested an individual with an open warrant.