AUSTIN – Labor Day weekend is approaching and Texans around the state are making plans to take advantage of extra time on the waterways. Compared to this time last year, incidents on the water are up 55 percent while boating injuries having increased 68 percent. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding everyone to be safe this holiday weekend by following basic boating safety precautions and public health guidelines while on the water.
“We have seen a boost in the number of Texans on the water this year and with that unfortunately has come a sharp increase in the amount of water incidents,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “Due in part to the public health crisis, more boats and younger, less experienced operators have decided to hit the Texas waterways. Texas Game Wardens will be out this weekend to ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly, but we need everyone to make sure they are taking safety seriously, too.”
Wearing a life jacket, learning to swim, closely supervising children, using a kill switch, abstaining from driving a boat while under the influence of alcohol, and participating in a boater education classes are simple recommendations to consider before heading out on the water. With the increase in water traffic this year, it is that much more important to take precautions and acquire the education necessary to stay safe.
Law enforcement will be on alert for those violating boating under the influence laws. Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol is an offense that can lead to fines, the loss of a driver’s license and an increased risk of accidents or fatalities on the water.
“Boating under the influence of alcohol has led to dozens of boating accidents and tragedies on Texas waters,” Jones added. “These could have been avoided if the operator had refrained from drinking. We are calling on all Texans to limit alcohol consumption and designate a driver at all times when operating a boat, not only for this Labor Day weekend, but throughout the year.”
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. Boaters can find a selection of online boater courses that can be taken anytime. Paddlers can also access a free paddling safety course online.
According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children who are under the age of 13 are required to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Additionally, Texans can check out the Life Jacket Association website for a guide to proper cleaning and storing of their Personal Flotation Devices in relation toCOVID-19.
Those heading out to the water should check the area weather forecast and be aware of local waterway rules before launching their watercraft. The public should also continue to stay updated on the latest COVID-19 safety precautions from state and local officials. Texans are encouraged to check with the managing authority of the waterbody they intend to visit for any local ordinances in place. Current recommendations include minimizing in-person contact by maintaining six feet of separation and avoiding groups larger than 10 people. Boaters should also continue to maintain a safe social distance and avoid crowds while out on the water or at docks and ramps.
In addition, TPWD inland fisheries and law enforcement staff are urging boaters to do their part to fight back against aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels and giant salvinia, threatening Texas lakes.
On top of the harm these organisms can cause to aquatic ecosystems and the recreational experience at lakes, the transport of aquatic invasive species can result in legal trouble for boaters. Transporting prohibited invasive species in Texas is illegal and punishable with a fine of up to $500 per violation. Boaters are required to drain all water from their boat and onboard receptacles, including bait buckets, before leaving or approaching a body of fresh water.
For more information on how to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment, visit the TPWD YouTube channel for a short instructional video. To learn more about giant salvinia, zebra mussels and other invasive species in Texas, visit tpwd.texas.gov/StopInvasives.
TPWD and partners monitor for invasive species in Texas lakes, but anyone who finds them in lakes where they haven’t been found before or who spots them on boats, trailers or equipment that is being moved should help identify and prevent new introductions by reporting the sighting to TPWD at (512) 389-4848 or by emailing photos and location information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.