Independence Day weekend kept Texas game wardens busy as thousands of people flocked to Texas waterways.
According to a July 8 news release from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, more than 1,474 boating safety law violations and 1,797 warnings were issued July 2-4. Statewide, 42 individuals were arrested for boating while intoxicated.
Wardens also assisted in several search-and-rescue missions and responded to 18 boating crashes, including one on Lake Austin and two on Lake Travis. In Travis County, the TPWD dive team assisted with an open-water fatality on Lake Travis that required the aid of 10 game wardens, four vessels and one helicopter, per the release. The incident was one of seven open-water fatalities in Texas over the holiday weekend.
“The dedicated efforts of the game wardens while working these traffic events is second to none and is never the easiest part of the job,” said Cody Jones, TPWD assistant commander for marine enforcement, said in the release.” “We keep the families who have suffered in our thoughts and prayers.”
The incidents come at a time when the TPWD and game wardens are stressing water and boater safety. Statewide, boating crashes hit a 30-year high in 2020 and waterway fatalities spiked 45%, according to data from TPWD.
The department recently teamed up with local agencies including Austin Lake Patrol and Austin Park Rangers to host free vessel safety checks July 4 on Lady Bird Lake. Volunteers provided safety demonstrations and conducted checks for paddle crafts, which include kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
Per the release, TPWD Boater Education Manager Kimberly Sorensen and Austin Lake Patrol made contact with 60 individuals who did not have proper life jackets on their paddle crafts—a violation of the Texas Water Safety Act, which states everyone on board must have a life jacket that is easily accessible and those age 12 or younger must wear a jacket.
Community Impact Newspaper previously reported that among the fatal waterway incidents in 2020, 40% involved a paddle craft.
“Many accidents and fatalities could be avoided by taking a boater education course and using life jackets,” Sorensen said in the release.