TYLER, Texas — Boating is popular pastime in East Texas.
There are several lakes in the area for East Texans to enjoy including Lake Tyler, Lake Palestine, Lake O' the Pines, Lake Fork, Lake Athens, Lake Cherokee and Lake Striker.
While it is fun, if basic safety rules are ignored, boating can be deadly.
According to U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), 633 Americans died from boating accidents in 2018.
However, there are several steps you can take to ensure the safety of you and everyone else on board.
If you are driving the boat, first and foremost, you should take a boating safety class. All persons born after September 1, 1993, who operate a boat, must have a vessel license and take a boating safety course. To operate a vessel alone in Texas, a boater must be 13-years-old to operate vessels of more than 15 horsepower; or windblown vessels over 14 feet in length; and meet the Texas education requirements. In addition to those operating boats, it is recommended that everyone take the time to take a course for safety. Click here to find a boater's education course near you.
“Take a boater's ed class this time of year, even if you are not required by law,” Gregg County Game Warden Todd Long said. "It is an awesome opportunity to refresh your skills about boating water safety rules and regulations."
Make sure you have the necessary safety equipment, most importantly—life jackets. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) says 85% of boating fatalities are drownings due to victims not wearing life jackets. There are five types of life jackets, each with different purposes. Click here to learn about the different types of life jackets.
All boats must enough have life jackets for each person on board, per Texas law, though the type of jacket required for each vessel varies depending on the size of the boat.
State Farm also says boats should have:
- Complete first-aid kit
- Tool kit
- Horn or whistle
- Fire extinguisher
- Marine VHF radio
- Extra dock line
- Throwable flotation device
Make sure you also have carbon monoxide detectors and ensure everyone stays away from any fumes that could produce carbon monoxide.
By law, all vessels must have at least one light when operated between sunset and sunrise. Most boats are required to have a red light on the port side and a green light on the starboard side.
State Farm recommends a "float plan" you can leave with someone on shore in the case of an emergency. The plan includes the type of boat, equipment, itinerary and passengers. You can download the float plan from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security here.
According to the USCG, there were 177 accidents and 25 deaths due to people being hit by the propeller of a boat in 2018.
According to State Farm, captains should ensure everyone is accounted for and there is no one near the propeller before the motor is cranked up. If people are outside the boat in the water, make sure someone on the boat is monitoring area surrounding the propeller.
At all times, especially when in motion, make sure to wear the emergency cut-off switch, or killswitch. Wearing a killswitch is required by Kali's Law, which was passed in 2019.
Kali’s Law was established in response to the death of Kali Gorzell, a 16-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a boat propeller near Aransas Pass in 2012. An ignition safety kill switch shuts off the boat motor automatically if the operator is thrown from the helm. The law requires operators of boats less than 26 feet in length that are equipped with an ignition safety kill switch to use it whenever the vessel is moving at greater than headway speed. Headway speed is defined as slow, idle speed, or speed only fast enough to maintain steerage on course.
The new law does not require the retrofitting of older vessels that are not equipped with a kill switch. It does not permit the removal of a kill switch device that was originally installed on the vessel. Wireless kill switch devices are permitted for those with concerns about the lanyard style devices
State Farm also recommends boat owners schedule a vessel safety check with the USCG. The Coast Guard will conduct the check free of charge and at the convenience of the owner.
Also, never get behind the helm while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. State Farm says one-third of deadly boating accidents are alcohol-related.
Operating a boat while under the influence is against the law. Your driver's license can be suspended for 180 days if you are cited for operating a boat under the influence.
Open containers are legal, but operators of boats are subject to boating while intoxicated laws, similar to driving a vehicle. Operators or passengers may also be subject to public intoxication laws. Open containers are required to be in the passenger area of the boat.
It's also important to know lake etiquette. Anglers use the lake differently than recreational boaters and kayakers.
Watch your wake. There are few speed limits on most waterways—the exception is 5 mile-per-hour “no wake” zones which are usually clearly marked, according to Get My Boat.
Make sure you create space between your boat and others. Get My Boat recommends when passing a slower boat, give it as much room as possible.