AUSTIN, Texas — In 2008, 61 boaters died on Texas waters. It was the highest number in more than a decade, tying the tragic 2002 boating season. Even more alarming, in 2002 there were more than 620,000 registered vessels in the state; six years later that number had fallen to just slightly more than 591,000.
It’s a trend that troubles state, federal and local officials, and one they’re sure to be talking about in a series of National Safe Boating Week events beginning May 16th at Lewisville Lake.
"Clearly the accident trend in Texas is going in the wrong direction," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, the state’s marine safety chief. "The real tragedy here is that almost every one of the fatalities we saw last year could have been prevented."
Campos pointed out that 59 of the 61 fatality accidents in 2008 were single-vessel accidents. In other words, those deaths resulted from boats capsizing, colliding with something, or passengers falling overboard.
"There are three things we encourage boaters to do to prevent serious injuries and fatalities on the water," Campos said. "First, wear a life jacket. The new inflatable life jackets are lightweight and comfortable, and they save lives. Second, don’t drink and boat. If you do have alcohol on the boat, designate a sober driver, just as you would for your automobile. Third, take a boater education course. Studies show that boater ed can cut accident rates in half, and even seasoned boaters can benefit from the 6-hour basic course."
All of the National Safe Boating Week media events May 16-22 will offer news media patrol ride-alongs with Texas Game Wardens, local law enforcement agencies and — on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes — USACE Park Ranger vessels.
The Lewisville Lake event is scheduled in conjunction with a North Texas Water Safety Coalition shoreline safety event at Westlake Park and will kick-off at 11:00am on Saturday, May 16th, with "Party Cove" as a backdrop. Patrol ride-alongs will be available.
At Canyon Lake, near New Braunfels, Randolph Recreation Area will be the site of a South Central Texas Water Safety Coalition press event from 11:00am to 1:00pm on Monday, May 18. Patrol ride-alongs will be available.
In Austin, the Lake Travis Task Force will host a noon media event Thursday, May 21 at Mansfield Dam Recreation Area. As in past years, patrol ride-alongs will be available. This year a new life jacket loaner program will be highlighted.
At a media event at Papa’s on the Lake at Lake Conroe Friday, May 22nd, representatives from TPWD, the San Jacinto River Authority, the Houston Sail and Power Squadron, the Houston Safe Boating Council, Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, and the Montgomery County Precinct 1 Constable will highlight boating safety efforts there.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, a Montgomery County-wide "no-refusal" weekend will focus on Lake Conroe. "No refusal" weekends employ on-site judges, search warrants and blood draws to gather evidence from individuals suspected of Boating While Intoxicated or Driving While Intoxicated and will involve roving, mobile DWI/BWI intoxilyzer units around the lake. The Lake Conroe effort is the first in Texas to focus on a public water body.
The Friday media event kicks-off at 11:30am.
The Houston Sail and Power Squadron also will perform complimentary vessel safety checks at Lake Conroe boat ramps May 16 and May 23.
Enforcement of boating safety laws is just one aspect of a coordinated statewide campaign over the coming summer that will include multiple Nobody’s Waterproof education and outreach events across the state.
Local news media outlets will receive details of events in their area several days in advance of the events listed above. Local boating safety and law enforcement experts are available for interviews at any time. Spanish speaking representatives are available in most areas.