Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As Texans head to lakes, rivers and pools for Memorial Day weekend, state and local officials are reminding people to always keep an eye on children, wear life jackets in open water and avoid alcohol when boating.

“[Drowning] can happen to anyone, regardless of age or swimming ability. ... No one is immune to this danger,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin/Travis County medical director, during a May 22 news conference. “Let's work together to ensure that our recreational areas remain safe places for enjoyment and relaxation, and not places for tragedy.”

What you need to know

Texas had 175 boating accidents in 2023, including 28 deaths and 97 injuries, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Most incidents were caused by collisions or people being hit by boats, the department reported.

“Boating while intoxicated is illegal, just like it is with driving while intoxicated,” Travis County Park Ranger Chris Hatchett said. “And it increases the risk for collisions and injuries or drownings resulting from collisions.”

The U.S. Coast Guard requires all recreational water vessels, including boats, kayaks and paddleboards, have one life jacket for each person on board. Children under 13 years old must wear life jackets while on a moving vessel, and everyone is required to wear a life jacket when using a personal watercraft, such as a jet ski.

In an emergency on the water, Hatchett said Texans should follow these steps:
  • Throw a floatation device to the distressed person.
  • Call 911 immediately. Use maps, landmarks and your phone to determine where you are.
  • Never jump in to assist others if you are not wearing a life jacket.
  • Alert boaters around you with a whistle or horn.
Anyone driving a boat or jet ski must have an emergency shut-off device attached to their body, officials said.

A closer look

“Drowning doesn't always look like what you see on TV,” said Maj. Craig Smith from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. “It may be something where you see someone that's struggling, but more often than not, someone goes underwater and it's silent. And unless you're looking out for each other and unless people are wearing their personal floatation device, they can be gone in an instant, before anyone even realizes it.”

According to Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, someone may be drowning if:
  • Their head is low in the water or titled back with their mouth open
  • Their eyes are glazed over or unfocused
  • They are hyperventilating or gasping for air
  • They do not respond when asked if they are OK
  • They are not using their legs
  • They are trying to swim but are not making any progress
“Make sure that you're watching kids when they're around water and have a water guardian—make sure that person is sober and has a good count of how many children they're supposed to be watching,” ATCEMS Public Information Officer Christa Stedman said. “Teach your kids how to swim, and have older children swim with a buddy.”

Also of note

The Texas Highway Patrol will increase traffic enforcement through May 27, according to a news release. Around Memorial Day 2023, state troopers issued over 37,000 citations and warnings, and arrested 150 people for driving while intoxicated, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported.

“Memorial Day weekend is commonly recognized as the unofficial kickoff to summer, and it is important for drivers to remember that our roads will [be] busier than usual,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said in the release. “To keep yourself and your loved ones safe, DPS asks that motorists take a little extra time when driving, obey traffic laws and be mindful of others when sharing the road.”