Safely Enjoying the Water This Summer

The stories are all too common, yet gut-wrenching every time we hear them.  All across this great state countless groups of friends and families set out on our many public waterways for a day of fun, sun and relaxation.  However, some come home with only heartbreak and tragedy after horrific events that led to the unexpected loss of someone close.

It can happen all too easily.  Perhaps a veteran swimmer takes off a bit too far from the coastline and is unable to return.  Or a child without a life jacket slips off a boat trying to navigate a heavy wake.  Equally likely a group sets out on a boat without anyone onboard fully capable of operating the watercraft, only to find out the hard way how very dangerous that can be.  Recently, we all read about the tragic loss of life when a father went into the water to rescue a child who could not swim, only to not surface himself.  And never discount the likelihood that alcohol on the water in any circumstance can lead to deadly trouble.

As a state lawmaker, I have read many of the recounts and studied endless data on water accidents.  With my two young daughters reaching the age of wanting to be out on Lake Lewisville, it all hit too close to home.  My findings led me to author new state laws that overhaul how we approach lake recreational safety, including requiring certain boat operators to take a boating education course before setting out on the water and outlawing certain boating maneuvers that pose an immediate danger to nearby swimmers.  Recently the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department implemented the last piece to my lake recreational safety package, which was to produce a short public service video to be shown in all drivers education classes that emphasizes the importance of being safe on the water.  Whether you are new to the water or not, I highly encourage you to watch this powerful message at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/boat/safety/

There are several simple steps you can take to make sure that you and those you love make it home safe from our lakes, rivers and coastal waters.  First, make sure everyone in your group is a good swimmer, especially young children.  A recent study by the American Red Cross yielded that more than half (54%) of Americans cannot meet the requirements to be a basic swimmer.  Three-quarters of all drowning accidents result from a person who went missing for less than 5 minutes.  It can happen unexpectedly and fast so in addition to being adequate swimmers, see to it that everyone in your group is wearing a life jacket.  Remember that drowning is the number one cause of death for children under the age of four, therefore think twice before taking toddlers out on the water. 

Likewise, if you are going out on a boat, take a short boaters education course first and make sure that someone in your group is qualified to operate the watercraft.  Know the state and local laws governing boating activities as well as procedures for handling an emergency, as they are there to ensure your personal safety.  Also, check with local game wardens about the weather and water conditions before setting out.  With our persistent drought conditions, lake levels have fallen by 10 feet or more and areas where boats routinely could safely pass are now riddled with debris, sandbars and other dangerous obstructions floating just beneath the waterline. 

It is estimated that every day ten individuals in the United States drown.  That is why I have made water safety a high priority as a state lawmaker.  Our lakes, rivers and coastal waters are a rich part of our state’s heritage and a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with our friends and family, if we are safe with our actions.  So I ask you to join me in doing two things this summer, enjoying our many public waters all across this state and also taking the steps necessary to return home safe and secure at the end of the day.

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 with me, please feel free to contact me at info@tanparker.com