Posted on behalf of Stephens, Anderson & Cummings on May 22, 2017 in Boating Accidents
On Friday, President Donald Trump designated the week of May 21 through May 27 as National Safe Boating Week. All week long, the U.S. Coast Guard and its federal, state and local partners will encourage boaters to take safety precautions to avoid accidents that could cause injury or death.
The president's proclamation encourages all Americans to observe National Safe Boating Week by learning more about staying safe while boating and taking advantage of opportunities for boating safety education.
This is particularly important in places like Texas, where boating is a popular leisure activity and many people will be hitting the water this Memorial Day weekend.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has several tips to help prevent boating accidents and keep boating occupants safe if an accident occurs.
Wear a Personal Flotation Device
According to the TPWD, 85 percent of people who drown in boating accidents are not wearing life jackets, also known as personal flotation devices (PFDs).
The TPWD website has a page on the five types of life jackets, their advantages and disadvantages, and the situations where it is best to use each type.
Any boat less than 16 feet long must have a Type I, Type II, Type III or Type V PFD for each person on board the vessel, according to the Texas Water Safety Act. It is also advisable to carry extra life jackets in child and adult sizes.
Vessels more than 16 feet long must meet this requirement and have a Type IV throwable PFD that is readily accessible. However, canoes that are more than 16 feet long are exempt from the requirement to have a Type IV PFD.
While wearing a PFD is not a legal requirement for adults, it is for children 12 years old and younger who are on vessels under 26 feet in length. These children have to wear a PFD that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. It greatly increases your risk of being involved in an accident that could cause you and others severe injury or death.
Like drinking and driving, boating while intoxicated (BWI) is also illegal and carries penalties similar to a drunk driving offense:
- BWI is a Class B misdemeanor that comes with a jail sentence of a minimum of 72 hours
- Causing serious bodily injury to another person because you were boating while intoxicated is a third-degree felony
- Causing another person's death because you were boating while intoxicated is a second-degree felony
Open containers are legal on boats but all boat occupants may be subject to public intoxication laws. Under this section of the Texas penal code, it is illegal to appear drunk in public to a degree that you may endanger yourself or others.
Keep a Close Eye on Children
You should always stay close to children and keep your eyes on them because it only takes a second for a child to fall off a boat and go under water. Drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children.
Learn How to Swim
Formal swimming lessons are a great way to reduce the risk of drowning if you go overboard while boating. Lessons will help you feel more comfortable in the water and give you the skills to stay afloat and keep your head above water.
Ensure the Boat Has Required Safety Equipment
In addition to PFDs, all boats must have a variety of other equipment to help ensure the safety of everyone on board, along with the safety of people on other vessels on the water at the same time. The type of equipment and location is explained in a quick reference chart on page two of the TPWD's guide to the Water Safety Act.
Required equipment includes:
Whistle or Horn
Motorboats less than 12 meters long must have a sound-producing device, such as a whistle or horn, to make other vessels aware of the motorboat when there is reduced visibility.
Motorboats longer than 12 meters must have a whistle or horn and a bell.
Every type of watercraft, when it is not docked, is required to have and use a bright light, lantern or flashlight from sunset to sunrise during periods of restricted visibility.
There are different requirements for navigation lights on different types of vessels.
Any boat towing a person, such as a water skier, must have an observer who is 13 years of age or older. If there is no observer, the boat must have a rearview mirror that is no less than four inches from top to bottom and from one side to the other.
Motorboats are required to carry fire extinguishers if they have any of the following features:
- Closed compartment under thwarts and seats where a portable fuel tank could be stored
- Double bottoms that are not sealed to the hull or are not filled entirely with flotation material
- Closed living spaces
- Inboard engines
- Closed storage compartments storing combustible or flammable materials
- Permanent fuel tanks
Boats must also be equipped with the following:
- Backfire flame arrestors
- Exhaust water manifold
- Engine cut-off switch lanyards for personal watercraft
Operate Your Boat Safely
When you are out on the water, there are several things you can do to help keep yourself and others safe:
- Travel only at safe speeds
- Adhere to your boat’s weight and occupancy limits
- Enlist a passenger to be an extra set of eyes for the boat driver, looking for people or submerged objects in the water
- Only allow someone who is less than 13 years old to operate a personal watercraft if he or she is supervised by someone else who is at least 18 years old and is legally allowed to operate the boat
Take a Boater Education Course
Enrolling in a boater education course is a smart idea for anyone who will be boating, not just operators.
The state of Texas requires the following persons to take a boater education course certified by the TPWD:
- Boaters born on or after September 1, 1993
- Boaters with vessels over 15 horsepower
- Boaters with wind-blown vessels exceeding 14 feet
- All personal watercraft operators
BoaterExam.com and Boat-ed.com offer TWPD-certified courses for just $20. You can also take the BoatUS Foundations' Texas Boating course that is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrations (NASBLA). This consists of six lessons and a final exam and the entire program is free.
If you suffer an injury or lose a loved one in a boating accident this Memorial Day weekend, contact Stephens, Anderson & Cummings for a free case evaluation.
Our Fort Worth personal injury lawyers may be able to file a lawsuit to recover fair compensation for the damages you have suffered.