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TPWD Warns Its Game Wardens Will Be Out ‘in Full Force’ Memorial Day Weekend

Texas Game Wardens will be out in full force this weekend. This year alone -- from January through April -- Texas experienced a 40-percent increase in open water-oriented fatalities, including boat-and-swimming incidents, compared to the same period in 2020. Image courtesy of TPWD.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) warns its game wardens will be out in “full force” over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Canyon Lake boaters are especially urged to wear life jackets as the number of fatal water accidents has increased dramatically around the state.

TPWD also will be on the lookout for drunk boaters. Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol can result in fines, the loss of a driver’s license, and an increase risk of accidents or fatalities on the water.

The months of May through August traditionally have the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities statewide, with weekends seeing the peak figures.

“Texas Game Wardens will be out in full force Memorial Day weekend to ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly, however, we need boaters to ensure they are taking safety seriously, too,” said Cody Jones, sssistant commander for Marine Enforcement at TPWD. “Most of the deaths and serious injuries that occurred in Texas waters last year were preventable by following a few simple, important steps – including using the safety ignition cut-off switch (ECOS) and wearing life jackets.”

In 2020, boating accidents were at a 30-year high, TPWD said in a press release it issued in conjunction with National Safe Boating Week, May 22-28.

Fatalities on Texas waterways increased 45% in 2020 from 2019, while fatal accidents on the water rose by 61%.

Overall, accidents on the water were up 67%, and injuries were up by 64%. More than 70% of boating accidents that occurred in 2020 were on open motorboats or personal watercraft.

This year alone — from January through April — Texas experienced a 40-percent increase in open water-oriented fatalities, including boat-and-swimming incidents, compared to the same period in 2020. In 2020, 55 boating fatalities and multiple boat accidents occurred on Texas waters.

TPWD stresses the importance of life jackets. In 2020, game wardens issued 641 citations for children not wearing a life jacket, up 11% from the previous year. Some 1,821 citations were issued for insufficient life jackets onboard, up 26% from 2019.

According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children under the age of 13 are required to wear a life vest while on the boat or when the paddle craft is underway or drifting.

“Drowning is the highest reported cause of death in boating fatalities,” said Kimberly Sorensen, TPWD’s boating-education manager.  “Most victims are found not wearing a lifejacket. Simply stowing your life jacket on the boat is inadequate. Accidents on the water can happen quickly leaving insufficient time to put on a life jacket when most needed. For everyone’s safety, wear your life jacket and ensure others wear theirs at all times when on the water.”

Boater education is key to helping reduce accidents and fatalities, TPWD said in its statement.

Of the fatalities and accidents in 2020, more than 60% of boat operators had not completed the state-mandated boater safety course.

In order to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15-horsepower rating or more, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 must complete a boater education course. Boaters can find a selection of online boater courses that can be taken anytime on TPWD’s boater education web page. In-person courses are available. Paddlers can also access a free paddling safety course online.

Other important safety precautions include checking the weather before heading to the water, learning to swim, checking your equipment, ensuring sufficient backup and waterproof communication devices, wearing a life vest, using the safety engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and knowing the rules of the waterway before launching on the lake. The public is encouraged to check with managing authority of the waterbody they intend to visit for any local ordinances in place. All boating laws are still in effect.

For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website. Check out the Life Jacket Association website for a guide to proper cleaning and storing of their Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs).


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