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Texas Boating Accidents Soar During COVID-19

When the pandemic started, one boat seller in Central Texas was convinced that they’d have a slow season. In April, they closed their showroom and sent workers home to work. By May, they had cleared their inventory and had sales that were doubled over the same period from the previous year.

Buzz Watkins, the owner of the showroom, thinks the surge in sales occurred as people were looking for things to do outdoors. If families want to socially distance, it seems like being on a boat is an appealing way to try and do that.

Watkins’ business isn’t the only water-oriented establishment to see great sales during a shrinking economy. Places that sold kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and other types of recreational water equipment were also sold out of their inventories during the spring and summer months.

An Increase in Recreation Led to An Increase in Texas Boat Accidents

According to Cody Jones, the assistant commander for Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), there was also an increase in boaters and swimmers in the state’s waters. As more people took to the lakes, rivers, and marinas of Texas, more people than ever sustained injuries.

By Memorial Day, TPWD officials weren’t just urging people to practice social distancing while on and near water, they were asking them to help stop an increase in boating fatalities.

“With the virtual teleworking and schooling that is taking place, a number of people have used extra free time and decided to hit the Texas waterways,” said Jones. “This stark increase in boating and open water recreation has brought a sobering reminder that water is the great equalizer. During March and April of 2020, Texas has experienced a roughly 45 percent increase in open water-oriented fatalities including boating and swimming incidents over the same period in 2019. Summer has arrived early for many and with it comes the need for people to remember to wear their life vest.”

By October, boating injuries had increased by 68 percent statewide. There was also an increase of water-related accidents of 55 percent compared to 2019. According to Jones, this spike is likely because Texans who are interested in enjoying the water are bringing inexperience with them and into their boat-operating practices.

Texas Among Top 5 Worst States for Drunk Boating Incidents

Adding to the danger on Texas waterways is the proclivity the state’s recreational boaters have for driving a boat while drunk. According to data from 2019 released in June, there were nearly 13 alcohol-related boating accidents for every 100,000 registered watercrafts in Texas.

States with the most alcohol-related boat accidents in 2019 include:

  • Maryland (19.37)
  • Utah (19.21)
  • Washington (16.35)
  • Alabama (13.08)
  • Texas (12.62)

While data hasn’t been released for home many alcohol-related boating accidents happened during 2020, it isn’t unreasonable to expect this year’s numbers to surpass last year’s tally—especially after taking in the surging popularity of water recreation.

How to Prevent a Boating Accident

It isn’t hard to legally operate a recreational vessel in Texas. In fact, most people who want to operate a boat can do so with no license or training in the state. The only people required to take a boating education class is anyone born on or after September 1, 1993 (as of 2020). In other words, it’s likely that many of the people sharing the water on the busiest days have had little to no safety education. However, the TWPD encourages all boaters to take a safety class, even if they are old enough to skip one.

“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,” Jones said. “With the new desire for people to get outdoors, a little bit of education goes a long way.”

One of the best ways to prevent boating accidents is by following simple safety protocols.

Safe boating practices include:

  • Making sure all boat occupants wear life vests
  • Having a designated boat operator who won’t be consuming any alcohol
  • Looking out for other boaters and swimmers
  • Maintaining a safe speed for conditions

Know the Limits of Your Boat

Since boats are easy to rent and nearly anyone can operate one for the right price, one of the best rules to follow as a new boater is to respect the limits of your watercraft. Many accidents are caused by inexperienced boaters who operate boats as though they are cars. Since boats are typically associated with having fun, many new operators have lowered judgment and are much more willing to make risk maneuvers.

Remember the following while using a boat:

  • They turn slower than cars
  • They are harder to stop than cars
  • They aren’t as stable as a car

Distracted Boating Is Dangerous

Distracted boating is as dangerous as distracted driving. No matter what or where you are driving, pay attention to your surroundings, use common sense, and don't text and drive. Use your boat's lights if the weather or visibility calls for it. Don't drink and operate any water-going vessel. Obey speed and traffic laws in the water just as you would when driving your car on the road.

"Boaters could be coming at you from another direction and you just might not be prepared if you're not looking about and scanning the environment," said Ted Sensenbrenner of the Boat U.S. Foundation. ‘When the operator is not tending to their primary task, which is the operation of that boat and operating that boat safely, that means something else is taking their attention away from what they're supposed to be doing."

If you've been involved in a boating accident, call our team now for a free consultation at (888) 493-1629.

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