Texas Game Wardens Stress Boating Safety, ‘Staying Dry’ During July 4 Holiday

AUSTIN – As temperatures continue to rise, many Texans and out-of-state visitors are making plans to cool off on one of the many pristine waterbodies across the state. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) reminds those on the water to follow basic boating safety precautions over the holiday weekend.

Texas Game Wardens, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and thousands of law enforcement officers across the state and nation will be on heightened alert looking for those violating boating while intoxicated (BWI) laws. The effort is in conjunction with Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated enforcement campaign focused on deterring boaters from boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Alcohol use continues to be a leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths and a leading contributor of boating incidents,” said Cody Jones, Texas Game Warden assistant commander for marine enforcement. “If you operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you are putting yourself and others at an unnecessary risk.”

Last year, wardens arrested 56 people for BWI over the Fourth of July weekend and filed four other charges for driving while intoxicated (DWI). They issued 1,521 citations and 1,891 warnings for various boating safety law violations.

Different from this same time last year, boaters who are arrested for a BWI while children under the age of 15 are onboard will face a state jail felony for boating while intoxicated with a child passenger, matching the charges for a DWI with a child passenger. This charge is punishable by six months to two years in state jail and a maximum $10,000 fine.

“We see it year after year – holiday celebrations ending in accidents or fatalities caused by unsafe boating practices, including the over-consumption of alcohol,” said Jones. “While wardens will be out in force to help keep people safe, we need the public to do their part by being prepared and making wise choices.”

Statewide, injuries and fatalities peak between the months of May and August, especially on weekends. Among the top contributors: operator inattention, careless/reckless operation, inexperience and alcohol use.

In addition to avoiding drugs and alcohol, there are some other simple steps to take to ensure everyone onboard your vessel is safe and returns home at the end of the day.

“Wearing a life jacket, using your boat’s ignition safety switch, being weather aware and participating in a boater education class can all greatly reduce your risk of having an accident on the water,” said Kimberly Sorensen, TPWD boating education manager.

“Texas state law requires each occupant of a boat or paddle craft have access to a USCG approved life jacket,” said Sorensen. “And children under 13 must wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting.”

A complete list of boating laws and the required boating safety equipment can be found in the Texas Water Safety Act. For more information about water safety, visit the water safety webpage on the TPWD website.