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Boating accidents and fatalities on the rise; TPWD stresses water safety

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens and other law enforcement officers are taking to the lakes and waterways Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer to make sure boaters and lake users have a fun but safe day. TPWD photo

During the first four months of 2021, Texas recorded a 40 percent jump in open-water fatalities compared to the same time last year. In 2020, the state experienced a 30-year high in boating accidents.

With those numbers in mind, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is urging people to remain vigilant on and around the water and follow safe boating and swimming practices, especially as Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer boating season. The department noted the months of May through August traditionally have the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities statewide with peak figures on weekends.

“Texas game wardens will be out in full force Memorial Day weekend to ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly; however, we need boaters to ensure they are taking safety seriously, too,” said Cody Jones, TPWD assistant commander for Marine Enforcement. “Most of the deaths and serious injuries that occurred in Texas waters last year were preventable by following a few simple, important steps, including using the safety ignition cut-off switch and wearing life jackets.”

During 2020, fatalities on Texas waterways increased 45 percent compared to 2019. Fatal accidents alone jumped 61 percent in 2020 from 2019. According to TPWD, accidents on the water were up 67 percent, and injuries increased 64 percent over 2019.

“Summer has arrived for many, and with it comes the need to remember to wear their life vest,” said Kimberly Sorensen, TPWD Boating Education manager. “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 a life vest while on the boat or when the paddle craft is underway or drifting.”

Sorensen added that drowning is the highest reported cause of death in boating fatalities. 

It’s not enough to just have life jackets stowed on board. 

“Most victims are found not wearing a life jacket,” she added. “Accidents on the water can happen quickly, leaving insufficient time to put on a life jacket when most needed. For everyone’s safety, wear your life jacket and ensure others wear theirs at all times when on the water.”

Along with life vests, boating safety appears to play a role in protecting people on the water. 

According to TPWD, 60 percent of the boat operators involved in accidents and fatalities in 2020 had not completed the state-mandated boater safety course. To operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15-horsepower rating or more in Texas, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a boater education course. Texans can find a selection of online boater courses on the TPWD’s Boater Education webpage. In-person courses are also available.

The department also offers an online paddling safety course.

For more information about boating safety, laws, and requirements, visit TPWD’s Boating Laws webpage