With the water levels coming back up, the number of boats on Lake Conroe has definitely been on the rise. The lake level is still two feet down from the normal pool level of 201, as always there is the need to keep an eye out for water hazards. With the start of the boating season Pct. 1 Constable Don Chumley want to remind boaters of some of the basic water safety rules.
First, he says it¹s important to know who can operate a boat. A person less than 13 years of age may operate a PWC or a boat with a horsepower rating of more than 15 hp, only if he or she is accompanied on board by a person who is 18 years of age or older. Any person who is at least 13 years of age and born after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a Boater Education course approved by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. You can take the course on-line or at an approved location.
Proper equipment is essential, all personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in serviceable condition, they must be readily accessible and of the appropriate size for intended user. All children under 13 years of age in motorboats that are under 26 feet in length must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD while underway. Underway means not at anchor, made fast to the shore or aground. All too often we see boats operators pull out old, torn or rotten life preservers that were hidden away in a forgotten locker on the boat. Or they pull them out and they are brand-new and not the appropriate size for the passengers or adjusted correctly. When you are in the water, that is not the time to try to put one on or adjust it. It is nearly impossible to put it on correctly because of the buoyancy and the stress and anxiety of the moment. Fire extinguishers are another required item that we all too often neglect. If it is not readily accessible or not charged, it will not help in an emergency. If deployed early enough it can make a huge difference and possibly save the entire boat. They need to be checked regularly as they can discharge, we have even seen new boats with discharged extinguishers.
“It is always our goal to improve safety on the Lake. We will be working hard to extend our 4-year record of no boating while intoxicated (BWI) fatalities. I want to remind boaters that alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.” says Chumley.
In Texas, it is illegal to operate a watercraft (boat, Jet Ski, motorized ski-board, Sea Doo) with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher or when you have lost your normal physical or mental faculties. It is the policy of this county to rigorously enforce the law. Texas law does not require that a peace officer have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop a watercraft operating on the waters of Texas. For an automobile vehicle stop Probable Cause is required but officers may board your watercraft at any time for safety and security reasons (operator license or flotation device check).
The penalties for a BWI are the same as for DWI: First conviction carries a fine up to $2,000 and/or jail time up to 180 days. Second conviction carries a fine up to $4,000 and/or jail time up to one year. Third conviction carries a fine up to $10,000 and/or jail time of 2-10 years. A person¹s driver’s license will be automatically suspended if the arrested person: Is operating a watercraft powered with an engine having a manufacturer¹s rating of 50 horsepower or above; and the person refuses to provide a specimen (breath or blood) to determine intoxication. The period of suspension for 1st time offenders is 180 days.
“It is our goal for all to enjoy the recreational opportunities of our area. Our presence is there to serve, protect and add to the safety call on my officers when ever assistance is needed.” says Chumley. If you have any questions about the lake or boater safety, feel free to call the Pct. 1 Constable office. To schedule a free inspection prior to going out on the water call (936) 539-7821. There are lake specific rules for Lake Conroe more information can be found on-line at www.sjra.net. For general questions concerning state boating laws you can go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.