Boaters and revelers enjoy Lake LBJ during July 4, 2014. The Highland Lakes offers plenty of fun during the holiday weekend, but the Lower Colorado River Authority is warning boaters to be extra cautious when on the water. Photo courtesy of Down to Earth Aerial Photography
MARBLE FALLS — With fireworks displays illuminating the skies over lakes Marble Falls and LBJ on July 4, plenty of folks plan to get the best seats in the house — on their boats. But this means added boat traffic at night when water travel is more dangerous.
Lower Colorado River Authority officials say that, with a little caution, boaters can stay safe throughout the celebration.
“The top three causes of boating accidents are failing to maintain proper lookout, alcohol use and boat speed,” said Jim Richardson, manager of the LCRA’s Water Surface Management. At night, those three things become even more dangerous as people navigate with limited visibility.
The first thing, Richardson said, is that people driving boats and watercraft need to limit the amount of alcohol they use throughout the day and night.
The wind, water and sun compound the effects of alcohol.
“Drinking on the water is a lot different than having a couple of beers in front of your TV,” he said.
Richardson pointed out a Rutgers University study that showed just the effects of several hours on the water with the wind, sun and the movement of the boat can reduce a person’s reflexes to the degree he or she appears intoxicated. Adding alcohol into the equation reduces the person’s reflexes even more.
The best advice for people who are out on the water — day or night — when alcohol is present is the same emphasized when going out on the town with friends: Pick a designated driver.
Drinking isn’t the only issue for nighttime boating. When the fireworks end July 4, many people will fire up their boats and head for the dock or the boat ramp. Sometimes, they might want to get there as fast as they can.
Richardson warned against this.
Instead, he recommends boaters travel at a much slower rate. This allows the driver time see things happening around him or her and make course adjustments or take action if necessary. The slower speed, Richardson added, also gives boaters a better opportunity to keep a good lookout for what’s going on in their vicinity.
Another thing boaters traveling at night need to remember is to turn on their running lights.
“Sometimes, if you’re rafted up with other boats all tied together watching the fireworks and then untie and head out, you may forget to turn your lights on,” he said. “So always make sure they’re on at night.”
This advice isn’t just applicable during the Fourth of July holiday, but anytime people are on the water. Richardson also emphasized the importance of knowing the lake. If possible, it’s a good idea to go out with somebody familiar with the lake so he or she can share the various hazards.
During the day, if boats raft up together or one simply anchors out and people jump in the water to cool off or go swimming, Richardson said to make sure the boat engine is turned off.
“This isn’t just because of the propeller, but it’s also because of the carbon monoxide fumes put out by the engine,” he said.
One final piece of advice Richardson shared was for boaters to take a boating safety class to either learn the rules or as a refresher. The course is available online so people can take it during the week in preparation for weekend boating fun, he added.
Go to tpwd.texas.gov for more on boating safety or the boater safety courses.