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Supporting safety on the water

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Texas Game Wardens provide law enforcement, search and rescue and water safety to the state’s 5,607 square miles of inland water.

“I’ve been a Game Warden for 20-years– and a police officer for five-years before that– and of all the victims I’ve recovered, not one was wearing a life vest,” said Captain Cliff Swofford with Texas Parks and Wildlife. “We are very, very serious about kids, especially, wearing life vests. It may sound harsh, but if anyone has ever pulled a child from the bottom of a lake … people would understand why we’re so serious.”

In Texas each year, approximately 4.5-million people boat. It’s a great way to enjoy a day with friends and family– gliding along on a sailboat or motoring faster on a speedboat towing skiers, wakeboarders or tubers.

Yes, spending time around the water– lakes, rivers or an ocean– is a wonderful way to enjoy time outdoors; if you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, not all 4.5-million boaters know all they need to guarantee a safe day come sundown.

Since 1895, Texas Game Wardens serve the citizens of Texas by providing professional law enforcement, search and rescue and water safety, while working to conserve and protect the natural resources of Texas.

Yep, when it comes to anything related to water, it’s not a local police department or county sheriff’s department that’s responsible for law enforcement; it’s the Texas Game Wardens.

“We’re a state agency, just like any other Texas law enforcement agency, with the same authority,” said Swofford. “We have the authority to inspect any boat– just by being in a boat means ‘implied consent’ for us to board– with full arrest powers for any law violations.”

He added that boat operators are under the BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) rules, which are the same as the state DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) guidelines.

He said that although many wardens are affiliated with county sheriff offices, they are a separate state agency.

“The Denton County Sheriff’s office will act as a contact for us, but in Cook County we office out of the County Commissioner,” he said.

Swofford added that local fire departments assist with search and rescue efforts, such as the City of Lewisville which now operates two Dive Rescue Units that are fully equipped with gear to help with a complete dive rescue operation and have two boats that are housed on the water at Lake Lewisville.

Additionally, the Grapevine Fire Department operates a Dive Rescue Team. A watercraft utilized for firefighting and rescue on Lake Grapevine. The “Mustang” is a 26-foot Sea Ark Marine “Little Giant” craft with twin 225 horsepower motors. It also has a 500 gallon per minute pump for fighting boat and marina type fires.

You hope to never need them, but the Texas Game Wardens will be there if you ever do.

Thanks to a grant in 2015 from CoServ, the Flower Mound Fire Department purchased a specialized watercraft, which bounces off debris in swift water and offers easy deployment, plus training options for emergency crews. This boat is an invaluable tool for water rescues, flood evacuations and other water emergencies.

In 2015, there were 44 boating fatalities and hundreds of boat accidents and injuries on Texas waters.

Where cause of death was known, 76-percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims, 85-percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Swofford pointed out that any child under the age of 13, must be wearing a life vest if the boat is not anchored or moored.

“Just having a vest that fits for each person on board isn’t enough,” he said. “If it’s not within easy reach for immediate use, that doesn’t count. It doesn’t do any good if it’s locked away someplace.”

He also recommended that any pet aboard should also have a vest that fits.

Also important to realize, is that boating is not unlike driving a car. In fact, the top cause of boating accidents and deaths are attributed to operator inattention, operator inexperience and improper outlook. Those operator factors were followed by excessive speed, alcohol use and navigation rules violation. The vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (46-percent), kayaks (12-percent) and canoes (11-percent).

Anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 who wishes to operate certain vessels on the public waterways of Texas must complete a water education course. The minimum age of certification is 12-years-old. A person must be 13-years-old to operate certain vessels alone on the public waters of Texas.

Where instruction was known, only 15-percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.

Of those 15-percent of accidents involving educated boat operators, only two-percent involved U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary-trained operators; a huge decline in total incidents.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Auxiliary course, “About Boating Safely,” will be held on multiple dates in June, July and August on both Lewisville Lake and Lake Grapevine. The course is designed for new boaters, young boaters, hunters, fishermen and personal watercraft operators and features common-sense boating training.

Topics will include trailering a boat or personal watercraft, rules of navigation and right-of-way, inland lakes boat operation, piloting, required equipment and what boaters should carry on the water.

For class dates and registration, visit: www.cgaux.org for the education link.

“It’s important to realize that, just like on the road, that while you might be a good boater, not everyone around you is, too,” said Swofford. “If you aren’t watching out for yourself, nobody else will be. And, even wearing a vest, everyone should learn to at least float, if not actually swim.”

To see the best swimming areas on Lewisville Lake, visit: www.lake-lewisville.org/swimming

To see the best swimming areas on Lake Grapevine, visit: www.lake-grapevine.com/swimming

The final piece of the “water puzzle” to complete the picture, visit the U.S. Corps of Engineers to learn what areas of every Texas waterway is open: http://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/lake/lakefacilities.htm

Safe boating to all!

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