FROM STAFF REPORTS
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and boating season.
And law enforcement agencies are expecting a number of people to take advantage of the three-day weekend for fun on the Highland Lakes.
With an increase of boaters and people on the lakes, safety should be paramount.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens are emphasizing the importance of wearing US Coast Guard-approved life jackets or other personal floatation devices. Under Texas law, life jackets are required on all boats and vessels on public water, including kayaks and standup paddleboards. The law states a personal floatation device must be available for each occupant in a watercraft and children under 13 must wear a life jacket when the boat is moving.
According to 2017 Coast Guard statistics, when the cause of death is known, 76 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, 84.5 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
Alcohol also has an impact on boating and water safety.
Texas law prohibits anyone from operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A boat operator who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or greater is considered intoxicated.
The sun and heat can exacerbate the effects of alcohol.
“Many people are not aware of the dangerous effects of alcohol when combined with sun exposure,” said Game Warden Joann Garza-Mayberry. “It can lead to increased effects of inebriation, poor decision making, and reckless behavior.”
And boaters should always be aware of their environment, including lake conditions and topography and weather. People can keep an eye on dangerous weather conditions via a smartphone app; however, it’s harder to see what lies beneath.
Following the October 2018 flood, the Highland Lakes experienced major topographical changes, especially Lake LBJ.
Floodwaters washed a tremendous amount of sand and sediment into the lake, shifting sandbars around. The Lower Colorado River Authority stated in a February media release it would mark the river channel through Lake LBJ with buoys from the confluence of the Llano and Colorado rivers to Wirtz Dam. The agency has also posted signs at public boat ramps alerting boaters to use caution while on the lake.
Still, it’s important that boaters pay attention.
“As always, people need to be careful anytime they are on the Highland Lakes,” LCRA officials stated. “You can feel carefree on the water, but don’t be careless. Lake visitors should keep safety as their top priority and should pay close attention to their surroundings at all time.”
The public can report unmarked hazards on Lake LBJ to AskLCRA@lcra.org. Provide a detailed description of the object and its location as well as a photo, if possible.
For more information on water and boating safety, visit the TPWD Water Safety webpage.
For more on the Highland Lakes, visit the 101 Where’s the Lake guide.