A C C I D E N T S ON LAKE TRAVIS The Travis County Sheri’s Oce reported a total of 20 boating accidents as of Sept. 13, which represents an increase of nine when compared to the total in 2019.
“ We hold boating and outdoor recreation near and dear as a department and as Texans, and we want to see everybody enjoy our outdoors, but we want them to do it safely. With the new desire for people to get outdoors, a little bit of education goes a long way. ”
20 +82% FROM 2019
CODY JONES, TEXAS PARKS &WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT COMMANDER FOR MARINE ENFORCEMENT
attribute the increase in accidents to a booming boat industry. He said annual accident and drowning rates are cyclical—some years are just higher than others. For example, the TCSO reported 26 boating accidents in 2017 and just 17 accidents the fol- lowing year. “Last year the lake was full; there were a lot of boats out; but we didn’t have very many incidents,” Fair said. “This year we’ve probably had a few more [boating incidents].” The same holds true for annual drownings, per the TCSO’s data. Four individuals have drowned at Lake Travis this year compared to three in 2019 and seven in 2018. Despite a so mewhat natural rise and fall in annual incidents and drownings, there are several factors that can contribute to accident rates, according to Jones, who said alcohol consumption remains the leading contributing factor to fatal boat acci- dents in Texas. “Whether you’re the operator or the passenger on the boat, you need to be cautious about your alcohol consumption,” Jones said, adding that it increases an individual’s risk of drowning by nearly 50%. Nationally, alcohol was the primary cause of about 23% of drownings, as reported by the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2019 recreational boating statistics study. Out of the 37 drownings that occurred on Lake Travis reported by the TPWD since 2010, at least ve
involved alcohol. Water levels can also play a role in safety on the lake, Jones said, add- ing that levels on Lake Travis can uctuate dramatically compared to neighboring waterways. Texas’ driest year on record was 2011, and low lake levels forced boaters to use smaller areas, according to Jones, who said the sheer density of boats on the water led to a rise in accidents. In contrast, a higher lake level can carry its own risk. Lake Travis is essentially a ooded canyon with a maximum depth of around 200 feet, according to a Sept. 29 Lower Colo- rado River Authority report. When the lake is full, Jones said deep drop os, sandbars and holes caused by sediment erosion are often disguised. The geographic nature of Lake Tra- vis can also make waves and boat wakes worse, according to Jones. On one side, the lake is bordered by a sec- tion of natural clis and on the other, a steep bank built up by marinas. “Those waves just start coming from every which direction, and it’s like a washing machine or a kid play- ing in a tub,” Jones said. New or out-of-town boaters are often unfamiliar with Lake Travis’ unique geography. Jones said, with- out practicing necessary caution, those boaters could be at greater risk. Jones said it is incumbent upon all boaters to operate in a safe and judi- cious manner.
SOURCES: TRAVIS COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE DEPARTMENTCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Preventing loss of life With the interest in boating and outdoor recreation continuing to grow, Jones, Fair and Watkins are working to ensure residents take safety seriously. Boat operators born after Sept. 1 1993 must complete a boater education course through TPWD, however, Fair said the course can be benecial for all new boaters. Local boat retailers such as Sail & Ski also provide instructional guid- ance for new buyers, according to Watkins, who said as Texas moves into the fall and Lake Travis sees fewer daily boaters it’s the perfect time to learn the basics. “We hold boating and outdoor recreation near and dear as a depart- ment and as Texans, and we want to see everybody enjoy our outdoors, but we want them to do it safely,” Jones said. “With the new desire for people to get outdoors, a little bit of education goes a long way.”
BOATER S A F E T Y
C H E C K L I S T Deputy Joesph Fair serves on the Travis County Sherrif’s Oce Lake Patrol team. There are several safety measures he recommends prior to enjoying a day on the lake.
PLAN AHEAD: Boaters should plan an itinerary prior to heading out on the water and share it with an individual who is not accompanying them. PACK YOUR LIFEVESTS: Properly tting life vests must be available on board for each individual. USE YOUR KILL SWITCH: Operators are required to have a kill switch or engine cuto, which instantly stops the boat’s engine, attached to a lanyard.
SOURCES: TRAVIS COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
For more information, visit communityimpact.com .
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LAKE TRAVIS WESTLAKE EDITION • OCTOBER 2020
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