Make a splash safely during Water Safety Month

AUSTIN As temperatures across the state start to heat up, many Texans will begin taking refuge in the water. May is National Water Safety Month and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) reminds boaters to follow some simple yet effective safety precautions to prevent accidents and save lives.

In 2023, 175 boating accidents occurred in Texas waters, resulting in 28 fatalities. Cody Jones, Texas Game Warden assistant commander for marine enforcement, is confident those numbers can shrink with more awareness and safety training.

“While we’re grateful the total number of boating accidents and fatalities decreased more than 17 percent and injuries decreased more than 15 percent from 2022, we’re not in the clear yet,” Jones said in a news release. “Accidents on the water can happen quickly and unexpectedly. It’s important to stay aware of your surroundings and practice boating safety.”

Jones also offers these safety tips:

  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Use an engine cut-off switch.
  • Take a boater safety education course.

In 2023, drowning accounted for more than 57 percent of deaths on the water and was the leading cause of death in recreational boating fatalities. Of those, 75 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.

“Wearing a personal flotation device or life jacket is one of the easiest things someone can do to protect themselves while on the water,” Kimberly Sorensen, boating education manager, said in the release. “In the event that an accident does occur, it is unlikely someone will have time to find their life jacket and properly secure it, so it is best to wear one at all times when on the water.”

Under the Water Safety Act, Texas law requires that a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be available and accessible for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children under the age of 13 are required, by law, to wear their life jacket while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting.

“It’s important that each person have a properly fitted life jacket,” said Sorensen. “Adult-sized life jackets are not appropriate for children to wear, and you should never buy a life jacket for your child to ‘grow into.’”

If a life jacket is too big, whether on an adult or child, it can push up around the swimmer’s face and will not perform properly. TPWD has put together a quick, informative video about how to select the correct size of life jacket for children. Please refer to TPWD’s Boater Education website for more information about life jacket fitting, safety and regulations.

Engine cut-off switches are another important tool to prevent injuries and fatalities. Most motorized boats are equipped with this device, typically attached with a lanyard. Texas law requires that anyone operating a personal watercraft or motorboat less than 26 feet in length must have the engine cut-off device attached to themselves, their clothing or their life jacket when operating at greater than idle speed. In the event the boat operator falls off the boat or moves from the helm, the engine automatically and immediately shuts off.

“Most accidents and injuries happen when people are cruising around in boats or relaxing on the water; nearly a quarter of all operators involved in an accident have had more than 500 hours on the water,” Jones said. “This shows that even seasoned boaters in relatively benign circumstances can experience a mishap, so don’t let your guard down. Accidents can happen when it’s least expected. We want everyone to stay safe on the water.”

While enjoying Texas State Parks and water resources this May, please stay safe, stay aware and stay buckled into your life jacket.

For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws webpage. To enroll in a boater education safety course, visit TPWD’s boater education webpage.