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May 22, 2006
Boating Season Kicks-Off With Good News, Bad News
AUSTIN, Texas — National Safe Boating Week kicked-off May 19 with a mixed message from the previous year. Overall, boating accidents, injuries and fatalities continued to decrease; however, with about half of the accidents involving alcohol and 85 percent of boating fatalities recovered not wearing life jackets, many of the incidents were preventable.
There are approximately 620,000 registered boats in Texas, ranking it fifth in the country. In 2005, there were 204 reported boating accidents, 100 injuries and 30 fatalities. That’s down from 258 accidents, 222 injuries and 69 fatalities in 1997.
“While the numbers look like an improvement, that's still 30 lives that were lost, and many of those could have been saved by simply wearing a life jacket and operating responsibly. ” said Maj. Alfonso Campos, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Chief of Marine Enforcement.
Many boaters who reflexively latch their seatbelts and wouldn’t think of driving drunk in their cars or trucks apply a different set of standards on the water, Campos said.
“When you’re in a boat, that life jacket or personal flotation device can save your life just like your seat belt,” he said. “And operating a motorboat or personal watercraft under the influence of alcohol is just as dangerous as — or even more dangerous than — driving your car drunk. We want people to have a good time on the water, but wear the life jacket and operate responsibly.”
The Boating While Intoxicated law is strictly enforced by TPWD game wardens and other law enforcement agencies. A person arrested for BWI may be jailed for up to 180 days, be fined as much as $2,000 or both. A law that took effect in 2001 includes possible suspension of an automobile driver’s license for failing to submit to alcohol testing when suspected of operating a vessel while intoxicated.
The blood-alcohol level for legal intoxication while boating is .08 percent, the same as for drivers on land.
“It’s that time of year when the lakes will be extremely busy and we want people to enjoy the Texas lakes,” Campos said. “But it can also be dangerous. Prepare yourself, and use some common sense so you don't become a statistic. That’s all we’re asking.”
Editors: Game wardens will be conducting media ride-alongs all summer. For more information, contact your local game warden office. Also, TPWD boater education courses are available in a traditional classroom setting, online and through a home video course. Call (800) 792-1112 for more details.
Boating Safety Tips
- Always wear a life jacket.
- Avoid alcohol or designate a vessel operator.
- Be especially careful on personal watercrafts.
- Children younger than age 13 must wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket while underway.
- Enroll in a boater education class.
- Don’t overload your boat.
- Operate at a safe speed.
- Always have a passenger serve as a lookout in addition to the operator.
- Watch out for low water areas or submerged objects.
Always Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or Life Jacket
- Most boating fatality victims were found (recovered) NOT wearing a PFD.
- Always carry extra PFDs in both adult and child sizes.
- Children younger than 13 years old must wear a PFD while underway.
- The probability of being killed in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved.
- Operating a boat under the influence is just as dangerous as driving a car after you have been drinking.
- Boating while intoxicated (BWI) is strictly enforced and carries penalties similar to driving while intoxicated penalties, including possible Driver’s License suspension.
Enroll in a Boater Education Course — Regardless of Age
- It’s a good idea for the whole family to enroll in a boater education course.
- A majority (52 percent) vessels involved in boating accidents are operated by persons 26-50 years of age.
- For information about classroom, home video and on-line course options, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ or call (800) 792-1112.
Be Especially Careful On Personal Watercraft (PWC)
- PWC operators and passengers must wear a life jacket.
- Before you borrow or rent a PWC, take the time to learn how to operate the vessel and familiarize yourself with the rules of the road.
- Obey the 50-foot rule! Maintain a 50-foot distance from other PWCs, vessels, persons, shore, stationary platform or other object unless operating at headway (idle) speed.
Operate at a Safe Speed
- Although there are no numerical speed limits on the water, citations may be issued for excessive speed or reckless operation. Use common sense, and operate at a safe speed at all times — especially in crowded areas.
- Excessive speed is a rate of speed greater than is reasonable or prudent without regard for conditions and hazards or greater than will permit a person to bring the boat to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.
Any other questions can be directed to (512) 389-4627.
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