Plano Star-courier > News
Boaters: Have fun, but be careful
By Heather M. Smith, Staff writer
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reminds Plano residents heading out to area lakes for the holiday weekend to use caution during their ensuing fun.
“Boaters should use common sense,” said Capt. Garry Collins, game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). “Don’t go out into the water thinking you’re invincible.”
The biggest problem facing law enforcement is boaters who drink alcohol while operating their vessels. “Boaters can drink while on a boat, but can’t be intoxicated,” Collins explained. “Drinking and operating a vessel is still a big problem for us because people go out there and over indulge.”
Although there are no “open container” laws for boaters, Collins said if a person is a danger to themselves or to others, they can be placed in jail for public intoxication. Also, as of Sept. 1, 2001, a person’s driver’s license will be automatically suspended if the arrested person is operating a watercraft powered with an engine having a manufacturer’s rating of 50 horsepower or above and if the person refuses to submit to sobriety testing. The period of suspension for first-time offenders is 180 days.
Another major issue for weekend boaters is the amount of novice boaters on the lake. All the parks surrounding Lake Lavon are generally full for the holiday weekend. Collins said it’s mainly due to the fact that people are staying closer to home for vacations.
“There will be a lot of novice boaters out there, so always maintain a constant watch to be safe and make sure that others are safe,” Collins said. “The holidays bring in a lot of people that are not expert boaters.”
The law states that any child under 13 must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times the boat is underway. In addition, there must be a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. Collins said people can be ticketed if found in violation of either law.
“Wear a life jacket. If you can’t swim, wear a life jacket,” Collins said. “Make sure not to go in water above the waist if you can’t swim.”
Another area of concern for weekend boaters is the safety of the people they are towing, whether they are skiers or people riding in tubes. Collins said if people see someone fall off another boat they should stay beside the person in the water, to protect the person from other boats, while they wait to be picked up. Also, operators of boats who are towing a person should maintain a proper lookout. Finally, when trying to retrieve someone in the water, people should keep their eye on them and approach them safely.
The water will not only be filled with boats this weekend; there is inevitably an abundance of Jet Skis sharing the water. The biggest problem with Jet Skis is novice operators get on and don’t know what they’re doing, according to Collins. Laws state that people can’t operate a Jet Ski at a greater-than-headway speed, and can’t come closer than 50 feet to another object. The knee-jerk reaction novice operators have when on a collision course is to pull back on the throttle. However, Collins said people should instead steer away from whatever is in their path and apply full throttle.
“Overall, we want everyone to have a good time and to use common sense,” Collins said. “I’ll have as many law enforcement officials at the lake as I have. On holiday weekends it’s hard to pull in extra help because everyone is at their own lake. However, the Corps of Engineers will help out any way they can.”
It is the responsibility of the boat operator who is involved in an accident to report it. Each operator must file a boating accident report if the accident results in death, if there are injuries to a person requiring medical treatment beyond first aid or if the accident causes damage to a vessel or property in excess of $500. Report forms can be downloaded from the TPWD Web site.
For information visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Contact Heather Smith at HSmith@acnpapers.com
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