An alarming spike of boating-related fatalities on Texas waterways, including many involving paddle craft such as canoes and kayaks, is prompting a call for boaters to wear life jackets, avoid drinking alcohol and follow other safety practices heading into the peak summer boating season.
Texas Game Wardens report more than a dozen boating-related fatalities have occurred thus far in the state during 2016 and almost half involved kayaks. Another four open water fatalities took place across the state this past weekend, including drownings and boating accidents involving motor and paddle craft.
“These tragedies represent an alarming trend we’re seeing not just in Texas, but nationwide,” said Texas Game Warden Asst. Cmdr. Cody Jones, TPWD’s head of boating law enforcement. “In 2015, over 40 percent of boating-related fatalities in Texas involved paddle craft.”
Weather conditions, including heavy rains that caused flooding and increased water flows along most rivers and creeks, have been the most significant contributing factor in paddle craft fatalities this year. TPWD Boating Education Manager Tim Spice stresses that many of those tragedies could have been avoided with safe boating practices.
“Just as you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a vehicle without first learning safe driving practices, it is critical to become familiar with paddle craft safety and operation before you launch,” said Spice.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard statistics at least 85 percent of people who drown in boating accidents were not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) at the time.
“It is important to wear your PFD at all times when in, on and around the water,” Spice said. “This is especially true in the case of small boats or paddle craft due to the increased chance of capsizing. A canoe or kayak can capsize even in calm waters. PFDs can save lives, but only when worn.”
When choosing a PFD, always 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 PFD for each person onboard, of appropriate size for the person intended.
TPWD offers online resources for a wide range of boater education and safety training, including a free online paddle craft safety course, on the agency boater ed web page. Also, anyone born on or after September 1, 1993 must complete a boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a horsepower rating of more than 15 hp.
Boaters are reminded that Texas game wardens actively monitor water activities throughout the year and particularly during the summer months to ensure safe boating practices. Last year during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, game wardens made contact with over 30,000 boaters and arrested 58 operators for boating under the influence.
Water safety extends beyond boating and with most of the state’s reservoirs at or near capacity, game wardens are urging extra vigilance to stay safe heading into the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend.
There have also been more than 34 non-boating related drownings reported in Texas since January; over a third of those fatalities have occurred just since May.
“Enough is enough,” said Texas Game Warden Col. Craig Hunter, TPWD Director of Law Enforcement. “A day on the water in Texas should be all about the fun and following the basic rules of water safety can help keep your loved ones from harm. If you don’t know how to swim, learn and if you are impaired or unfamiliar with the water conditions don’t put yourself in jeopardy by taking unnecessary risks. Keep an eye on kids especially. It only takes a second to turn a fun day on the water into a tragedy.”
The American Red Cross offers swimming lessons by certified instructors across the state on its swimming web page.
Video documentaries online at TPWD’s water safety page put water and boating-related accidents into perspective, including “Never Happens,” the true stories of water tragedies told by teen witnesses and survivors, and “Beautiful but Gone,” which tells the story of boating and swimming-related accidents from the parents of teens featured in “Never Happens.”
Also, a video news report is now available based on the “Never Happens” longer video. See it on the TPWD YouTube Channel or download a high resolution version on the TPWD FTP site — look for file “VNR_ Never Happens.”
Stressed in the “Never Happens” video are four basic precautions for boaters of any age:
Wear a life jacket. Most persons who have died in a boating accident would be alive today if they had worn a life jacket.
Use the ignition safety switch. Commonly called a “kill switch,” it stops the engine if you fall overboard so you won’t be stranded or run over by your boat.
Learn how to swim.
Closely supervise children.