By Iuliana Petre
Killeen Daily Herald
With the rising summer temperatures, water will begin to play a more significant role in Central Texans' recreational activities.
Already this year, boating accidents have claimed 13 casualties across the state; four of them were people killed while boating in Central Texas.
Last month, KCEN-DT reported on its Web site that "two people died on Lake Belton after four men fell overboard when their boat capsized on March 19. An elderly man and his teenage grandson died in a boating accident on Richland-Chambers Lake near Corsicana on March 23."
While the investigation of the Belton Lake incident was still going on in late March, Game Warden Maj. Rolly Correa, who led the Belton Lake search, said that "nobody (in the capsized boat) had a life jacket on and alcohol was involved. People who live on the lake or spend a lot of time out there sometimes get complacent and just get in the boat and go."
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on its Web site offers four principles for safe boating: (1) Wearing life jackets save lives; (2) Designate a driver. Sober boating saves lives; (3) Boater education saves lives; (4) Safe boats save lives.
"Approximately one-third of boating fatalities in Texas are alcohol-related,"Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, chief of marine safety enforcement said, adding that boaters should designate a sober driver on the water and for the ride home.
The TPWD reported on its Web site that despite increased boating safety outreach and education efforts and enforcement of safe boating regulations across the state, 2008 saw a 10-year high in the number of boating accidents, 271, and fatalities, 61, across Texas. At the same time, the number of registered boats in the state had fallen slightly.
"Nearly all of the boating fatalities we've seen in the past year were preventable," Campos said. "Boaters under the age of 18 are required to complete an approved boater education course, but that $13, one-day class is optional for everyone else. We believe even the most basic boater safety education makes a difference on the water."
The Texas Boater Education Program stresses boating safety and responsibility, including: tips on choosing the right boat; legal requirements for your boat; navigation rules and aids; getting under way, docking, anchoring and trailering; handling accidents and emergencies; weather; basic water safety; fire on board; and water sports.
Boating courses are taught by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadron and trained volunteer instructors, as well as teachers and game wardens.
A person may take a home-study course by completing an online certification course or by purchasing a home-study video and workbook from Boat Texas, 2906 Ladybird Lane, Dallas, TX 75220, phone 1-800-460-9698.
For more information, visit the TPWD's Web site at tpwd.state.tx.us.
"A person convicted of boating while intoxicated may be jailed for up to 180 days and fined as much as $2,000, as well as lose their automobile driver's license," Campos said.
The Wear It! Campaign
And in an effort to educate the boating community about life jacket wear and the options that are available when it comes to comfortable and lightweight life jackets, the U.S. Coast Guard initiated the Wear It! Campaign as part of the North American Safe Boating Campaign.
According to Coast Guard statistics, "in 2007, more than 69 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those who drowned, more than 89 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Consistent with previous years, 75 percent of reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction."
The Coast Guard has not yet released statistics for boating fatalities for 2008.
"Anybody 12 and under, who is in a boat, must wear a life jacket," said Mike Dunlap, a salesperson at Harker Heights' Texas Boat World. "Anyone who is over the age of 13 is only required to wear a life jacket when towed, such as tubing or water skiing."
Texas Boat World sells Coast Guard-certified life jackets in children's and adult sizes, and also life preservers for pets. Dunlap recommends buying a life jacket one size larger than one's shirt size. A man who wears a large T-shirt should buy an extra large size life jacket.
Contact Iuliana Petre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7469.
Boater safety course
Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area is hosting the Boater Education/Safety Course from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
May 23. The free course is an opportunity to learn the tools to boat safely and is taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Participants requiring a certificate may purchase one for $13.50. The certificate is transferable to other states.
The Boater Education/Safety Course is open to the public. To reserve a spot, call the BLORA Marina at 287-6073 or 287-5526.
BLORA is located on North Nolan Road approximately 10 miles from East Range Road. Access to BLORA is also possible from Farm-to-Market 439 and Sparta Road.