Deaths from boating accidents on Texas public waters decreased last year compared with the year before and Texas game wardens, boater education proponents and others hope to keep the numbers trending downward. The decrease in 2009 came after an unprecedented spike in boating accident deaths in 2008, the highest in more than ten years.
"We don’t know for sure what caused the decrease in boating deaths, but we do think two contributing factors are saturation law enforcement and educational outreach," said Game Warden Maj. Jeff Parrish, the state’s marine safety chief.
Statistics compiled by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department show that 207 boating accidents on Texas public waters in 2009 led to 139 injuries and 38 deaths, compared with 272 accidents, 175 injuries and 62 deaths in 2008. Of the fatalities last year, 25 of the deaths occurred in open motorboats. Only one death was attributed to a personal watercraft.
"While we hate that anyone died in a boating accident last year, we are very encouraged to see that the number of deaths fell so dramatically," Parrish said. "The trick this year is going to be to keep these numbers down and hopefully see them decrease even more."
Last year, in the course of 192,882 boating compliance vessel checks, game wardens issued 9,705 citations and 9,928 warnings. The most common violation was not having a sufficient number of life vests available. Wardens issued 2,488 citations for that offense. Additionally, they arrested 220 persons for boating while intoxicated.
One trend that continues to worry those in marine law enforcement is that most water deaths are connected to one-boat accidents – capsizing, running aground, collisions with fixed or floating objects or falls overboard.
"Staying safe while boating is simple as one, two, three," Parrish said. "First, wear a personal flotation device. The new inflatable jackets are lightweight and comfortable, and they save lives. Second, don’t drink and boat. Third, take a boater education course."
Parrish said studies show that taking a boater education course can cut accident rates in half. Even seasoned boaters can benefit from the 6-hour basic course, plus earn possible boat insurance discounts. Last year, 36,014 participants benefited from water safety programs sponsored by TPWD.