Lakecaster Online

Texas Boating Accidents Decline Sharply


AUSTIN, Texas--Texas boating fatalities are about the same as last year, but boating accidents and injuries are down significantly for the first time since 1992, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW).

A total of 161 boating accidents were reported between Sept. 1, 1998, and Aug. 31, 1999, compared to 269 the previous year. Boating injuries decreased to 119 from 198 the previous year. (TPW, the agency of record for water fatalities, keeps statistics by fiscal year, Sept. 1 through Aug. 31.) "We'd like to think that a combination of factors contributed to the lower number of accidents and injuries," said Jim Robertson, TPW law enforcement director. "The factors include boater education, more coverage in the media, more awareness among the general public, cooperative programs among law enforcement agencies, and Texas Parks and Wildlife's water safety initiative. There's not one particular thing that is going to eliminate boating fatalities, but all of these elements working together are a powerful force."

Since 1996, Texas Parks and Wildlife's boating safety initiative "Don't Be A Pain in the Boat" has included more law enforcement, boater safety education, and a public awareness campaign. The three basic tenets of the initiative encourage boaters to wear life jackets, avoid alcohol, and be especially careful on personal watercraft.

Forty-three boating-related fatalities have been reported since Sept.1, 1998, nearly identical to the 44 reported at the same time last year. TPW is quick to point out that the total number of boating fatalities for fiscal year 1998 eventually increased to 57, and this year's number of boating-related fatalities is expected to increase as more reports come in from local law enforcement agencies. Since 1990 the greatest number of boating-related fatalities was 70 in 1992, the least was 37 in 1996, with a yearly average of 54.

"While we are thrilled that the number of accidents and injuries are down this year, we'd like to emphasize how to further decrease boating accidents," said Carlos Vaca, TPW water safety enforcement director. "Not maintaining a proper lookout is a primary cause of boating accidents in Texas.

People seem to forget that the law requires boaters to have a proper lookout in addition to the operator while underway. It's in the best interest of everyone in the boat to have someone help them keep an eye out for other boats, submerged objects, and other hazards." Although the number of accidents involving personal watercrafts (PWC) has decreased, the percentage of PWC involved in accidents has not changed since last year--43 percent. TPW law enforcement officials believe the high percentage has to do with PWCs' operating hours as well as the fact that many people borrow and lend this type of motorboat.

"Compared to other motorboats, the number of hours spent operating PWCs is much higher. It's estimated that the average PWC is operated by as many as seven people. Many people with no boating experience borrow or rent personal watercrafts. They are not toys. Knowing how to operate the vessel, the rules of the waterway and the meaning of navigational markers is essential before you try to operate a personal watercraft."

Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens enforce the boating-while-intoxicated (BWI) statute. BWI arrests, which carry penalties similar to driving while intoxicated, total 170 this year. Game wardens say boaters seem to be getting the message that law enforcement officers are cracking down on BWI offenders.

"More and more, game wardens are finding that people are aware of the BWI law, they know that we'll be out there to take them off the water if they are operating while intoxicated, and they're appointing 'designated skippers' who abstain from drinking," added Vaca.

"Besides the operator, everyone on board should avoid drinking alcohol because passengers who drink have a tendency to lose their balance and can easily fall overboard."

The average boat accident takes place on a weekend between noon and 7 p.m. in clear weather and calm water, according to TPW boat accident reports. The average operator is a 25-50-year-old male with at least 100 hours of experience.

"These numbers stay the same year after year," stated Vaca. "It's a misperception that young adults with little boating experience are involved in a majority of the accidents. The reality is that the average adult male, who is perhaps on the high end of the operator experience scale, is more likely to be involved in an accident. This should serve as a wake-up call to everyone who thinks it only happens to the other guys who are less experienced."

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