TPWD officials urge boater safety ahead of Memorial Day Weekend after major uptick in water fatalities during COVID-19

2 simple steps can prevent deaths, serious injuries while boating

Speed boat
Speed boat (Pexels)

Texas – Texas Parks and Wildlife officials are urging boaters to follow basic safety precautions on the water ahead of Memorial Day weekend after a large uptick in fatalities in March and April.

“Most of the tragic deaths and serious injuries that occurred in Texas waters last year could have been prevented by following a few simple and important steps – wearing a life jacket and using a safety ignition kill switch," TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement Cody Jones said.

Texas game wardens will be out in full force this weekend, according to a press release, which also states that National Safe Boating Week is May 16-22.

Jones said Texas has experienced a “roughly 45 percent increase in open water-oriented fatalities including boating and swimming incidents,” from March and April 2020 compared to the same time last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given many people extra free time and, according to Jones, that’s caused a stark increase in boating and water recreation.

Safety ignition kill switches

Safety ignition kill switches are equipped on most motorized boats, however, it’s the boat operator’s job to make sure it’s clipped on.

Kali’s Law requires boat operators on vessels under 26 feet in length, when going greater than headway speed, to have the safety ignition kill switch clipped on.

Of the 36 boating fatalities that occurred in Texas last year, many could have been prevented if the driver used the kill switch, according to the release.

“Some accidents are unavoidable, but if a boat operator is thrown from the helm or ejected there is only one way to shut off the engine and stop the boat from hitting someone – a safety ignition kill switch,” Jones said. “It only takes a second to clip the safety ignition switch on to your belt loop or life jacket, and it could save your life and the lives of everyone on board.”

Life jackets

Life jackets must be available for every occupant of a boat or paddle craft, according to Texas state law.

Children under age 13 are required to wear one while boats/paddle crafts are underway or drifting.

“Last year in Texas, game wardens issued 583 citations for children not wearing a life jacket and 1,483 for insufficient life jackets on the vessel,” the press release states.

“Drowning is the highest reported cause of death in boating fatalities, and most victims are found not wearing a lifejacket,” Jones said. “It’s not enough to just stow your life jacket onboard because accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put one on.”

Boating 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, according to the release. Game wardens issued 193 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across Texas in 2019.

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 which can be found online.

For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.

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