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Safely Enjoying Our Public Waterways

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Summertime in Texas means many area families will be taking to our lakes and rivers in the coming days in search of some great outdoor recreation.  My family and I are looking forward to spending lots of time on our area lakes this summer.  Outdoor water recreation is part of our culture as Texans, and an activity that I encourage everyone to undertake.  Yet, it is important to do so safely so everyone can return home after a great day on the water.

Each year, hundreds of Texans tragically die on our many lakes, rivers and coastal regions.  We have lost three people on Lake Lewisville and Grapevine Lake so far this year. Sadly, most of these deaths prove to be preventable simply by following some general safety instructions and understanding all applicable laws.  Water safety laws are a particular part of public policy that I take a special interest in given the area in which we live.  I have worked over the past three terms authoring and passing legislation on this issue, and am proud of the life saving changes that have been made.

Being safe starts with being educated.  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers great courses on boating education, where participants can learn – in less than a day – Texas’ boating laws and how to safely operate a watercraft on our public waters.  Not only is boater education great for understanding how to avoid getting a ticket, but it will help ensure that your family and friends safely make it off the water at the end of the day.  Even though boating education instruction is now mandatory only for individuals born on or after September 1, 1993, who wish to operate a watercraft without proper supervision, I highly recommend that everyone operating a watercraft take part in this quick and effective instruction.  Many of the leading causes of boating accidents in Texas, such as excessive speeding, boating in poor weather conditions and careless operation of a watercraft are topics that are thoroughly covered through instructional courses.  For more information on boater education instruction, please visit  http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/boater_education/

Next, make sure that everyone in your party has a lifejacket and that they are using it at all times.  State law requires that every person aboard a boat have access to a lifejacket, but I do recommend that water enthusiasts take it one step further and wear their lifejacket whether they are on board a boat or simply hanging out in the water.  With recent statistics showing that over 70% of drowning victims in this nation don’t wear lifejackets, you want to make sure you are always wearing yours.  You truly never know when it will come in handy.  Next, always swim in groups.  People who drown often don’t have the opportunity to call out for help, which is why it is important to never go into the water alone.  Also, make sure you bring lots of sunscreen.  Overexposure to the sun can cause not only discomfort, but also long term health complications.  For more quick tips on general water safety, please visit http://www.nobodyswaterproof.com/

Lastly, if you are planning a day on the water, it is best to leave the alcohol at home.  Alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of boating accidents and water fatalities in our nation.  Furthermore, many do not realize there are certain circumstances when alcohol consumption on the water is against the law. Texas has very strict boating while intoxicated laws that penalize impaired boat operators very much in the same manner that they penalize impaired vehicle drivers.  It is also important to keep in mind that a marine environment does cause alcohol to have a greater effect on a person than it would on land.  Even as few as one or two drinks can have grave consequences on our public waters.

Following these quick tips, we can all make sure to make it home safe from our fun filled day out on the water.  As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives, and I welcome your feedback on this and any other critical state issues.  If you would like to share a thought, please feel free to contact me at my Capitol office at 512.463.0688 or by e-mail at tan.parker@house.state.tx.us.

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