Summer’s scorching temperatures are just around the corner and, to most Texans, that means taking refuge in the water. May is National Water Safety Month, so the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) reminds boaters to follow some simple, yet effective, safety precautions to prevent accidents and save lives.
In 2022, 207 boating accidents occurred in Texas waters, resulting in 36 fatalities. Texas Game Warden Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement Cody Jones is confident that those numbers can shrink with more awareness and safety training.
“While we’re grateful the total number of boating accidents and fatalities decreased in 2022, we’re not in the clear yet,” Jones said. “In 2022, there were 20 percent more boating accidents than before the pandemic. Accidents happen quickly and unexpectedly, so my biggest piece of advice is to stay aware of your surroundings.”
Jones also offers these safety tips:
- Wear a life jacket
- Use an ignition cutoff switch
- Swim safely
In 2022, drowning accounted for 50 percent of deaths on the water and was the leading cause of death in recreational boating fatalities. Of those, 69 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
“Life jackets are one of the easiest, most accessible tools to prevent fatalities,” Jones remarked. “If an accident occurs, it is unlikely you will have time to find a life jacket and secure it properly, so it’s best to wear one at all times when on the water.”
Texas law requires that a Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children under the age of 13 are required, by law, to wear their life jacket while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting; it is recommended that everyone always wear a life jacket while on the water.
Selecting a properly sized life jacket is an important safety measure. Adult-sized life jackets are not appropriate for children to wear — do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.” If a life jacket is too big, whether on an adult or child, it can push up around the swimmer’s face and cause additional injuries. TPWD has put together a quick, informative video about how to select the correct size of life jacket for children. Please refer to TPWD’s Boater Education website for more information about life jacket fitting, safety and regulations.
Safety ignition cutoff switches are another important tool to prevent injuries and fatalities. Most motorized boats are equipped with this device. In the event a boat operator falls off the boat or moves from the helm, the engine automatically and immediately shuts off.
“Most accidents and injuries happen when people are cruising around in boats or relaxing on the water; nearly a quarter of all operators involved in an accident have more than 500 hours on the water,” Jones said. “To me, this means don’t let your guard down. Accidents can happen when it’s least expected. We want everyone to stay safe on the water.”
Safe swimming is another precaution to consider while enjoying our lakes, rivers and streams. It’s important that everyone near or on the water knows how to swim, never swims alone and swims only in designated areas. Safe swimming also includes staying hydrated and sober.
According to the Center for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages one through four and the second leading cause of accidental deaths among children ages five through 14. They should be supervised closely and wear a life jacket while near water. Please ensure that minors in your care wear well-fitted life jackets at all times.
If you’re interested in enrolling yourself or your child in swim lessons, the American Red Cross website can help you find local resources and classes in your area.
While enjoying Texas State Parks and water resources this May, please stay safe, stay aware and stay buckled into your life jacket.