Editorial: Boating safety is important, and it's the law

Published on Thursday, 22 June 2017 11:24 - Written by

For the moment, let’s stop worrying about politics, President Trump’s Twitter account and health care reform, and instead think about health - our own, and our loved ones.

The lead-up to Fourth of July weekend will see the year’s highest number of Texans enjoying our lakes.

The fact that in many cases, alcohol will be involved should be a sobering thought.

Texas ranks among the top five states in boating fatalities. Part of that is the number of boats registered in the state. Texas is traditionally among the top 10 boating states in the country. In 2016 there were more than 580,000 boats registered in the state making it sixth behind Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, California and Wisconsin.

But it’s not just that.

Last year the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recorded 35 boating fatalities. That’s an unacceptable number. Alcohol has played a part in many of those fatalities. And as many as 85 percent of the victims would be alive today if they had worn life jackets.

TPWD has a long list of statistics that should scare people into thinking about their actions on the water. The department recorded 155 arrests for boating while intoxicated last year.

Alcohol is suspected to be involved in more than half of all boating accidents.

“Drinking and boating do not mix,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “Not only is it the law, refraining from drinking alcohol while operating a vessel could save your life and the life of your loved ones.”

Boating safety needs to start long before getting to the lake, first by making sure the boat and trailer are in good working condition. Depending on use, engines need to be tuned, lights should be checked and old fuel replaced.

When packing for a day on the lake, pack wisely and along with all the drinks, whether soft drinks or more adult beverages, put in lots of water. Boaters often don’t realize how much the sun’s reflection and heat takes out of them.

Sunglasses, hats and sunscreen are important as well.

Now for some legal stuff.

In Texas, there must be a life jacket on board for everyone on the boat. Those 13 and under are required to have it on at all times, if the boat is moving.

Life jackets are hard to wear in Texas during the summer because they are hot. One option, although expensive, is suspender-type flotation devices. They inflate when submerged. Again, they’re expensive, but what is the price of safety?

And these days, officials warn that smaller vessels, such as paddleboards and kayaks have their own risks.

“It’s so easy to get in a paddle craft now - people are going out and having fun but they don’t know a lot about the boat they are operating,” TPWD says.

Frankly, everyone can use a break about now. And these summer weekends are a great time to reflect on what unites us, rather than divides us.

But let’s not ruin it with thoughtlessness out on the water.