The Fourth of July weekend has arrived, and for many East Texans, that means hitching up the boat and heading to the lake or river.
But lurking just beneath the surface of all that fun and freedom you feel while basking in this gorgeous weather on one of our state’s many waterways are potential dangers far more worrisome than “lake hair” or a disappointing stringer of fish.
Boaters should wear life jackets, avoid drinking alcohol and follow other safety practices heading into the four-day Fourth of July holiday weekend. In addition, if you’re going to be on a boat, you need to learn how to swim in case an emergency puts you in the water. And the likelihood of that emergency happening is greatly reduced don’t put yourself in jeopardy by taking unnecessary risks. Those potential risks or hazards aren’t always obvious. Cross currents, underwater obstructions and under tow are a few of the unforeseen dangers on the water.
Just as you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car without first learning safe driving practices, you shouldn’t operate a paddle craft without knowledge of how to do so safely before launching. Furthermore, 85 percent of people who drown in boating accidents weren’t wearing a personal flotation device at the time, so the importance of doing so anytime you’re in, on or around water simply can’t be overstated.
If you don’t think game wardens are out there watching, think again.
During last year’s Fourth of July weekend, game wardens made contact with more than 3,100 vessels, resulting in 320 citations and 334 warnings. There were 11 arrests for boating under the influence. In addition, game wardens issued 571 citations for children not wearing a life jacket, and 1,613 for insufficient life jackets on the vessel.
Last year, there were 29 boating deaths and 162 arrests for boating under the influence in Texas. The state ranked No. 2 in the nation in boating fatalities and No. 4 in boating accidents.
Wardens issued almost 1,300 citations and slightly more than 1,300 warnings over the four-day Memorial Day holiday a few short weeks ago. They also arrested 39 individuals for boating while intoxicated.
The TPWD offers four basic precautions for boaters of any age:
■ Wear a life jacket.
■ Use the ignition safety switch. Commonly called a “kill switch,” it stops the engine if you fall overboard so you won’t be stranded or run over by your boat.
■ Learn how to swim.
■ Closely supervise children.
Resources for a wide range of boater education and safety training, including a free online paddle craft safety course, are available at the TPWD boater ed web page (tpwd.texas.gov/education/boater-education/).
With a little extra vigilance, we can all stay safe while still having a good time during this Fourth of July holiday weekend.
After all, it only takes a second to turn a fun day on the water into a tragedy.