Play It Safe and Shore Up Summer Fun with these 6 Boating Tips
by Lisa A. Beach
For many teens, nothing beats an afternoon on the lake with friends. Before you celebrate their decision to unplug from a screen and spend the day outdoors, review some guidelines with them to ensure their day of fun in the sun is safe.
Although your teens might still need prompting about applying sunscreen, they’ve now got even bigger issues to deal with-the potential dangers of boating, swimming, and drinking alcohol. It’s important to have frank discussions with them.
For starters, share these sobering statistics:
• Drowning is the third leading cause of injury-related death among children 19 and under, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.
• Nearly 85% of boating fatality drowning victims in Texas were not wearing a life jacket, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
• Alcohol plays a role in 50% of all boating accidents, according to Boat Owners Association of the United States.
• In Texas in 2015, alcohol use was a contributing factor in seven accidents, six injuries, and one death, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Of course, if your kids are like most teens, they may have questionable judgment and an invincible mentality.
“A teenager’s frontal lobe (the judgment and decision-making area) is not yet developed. This is why teens act impulsively and appear to make poor decisions,” explains Stacie R. Allphin MS, LCDC, Director of Adolescent Services, Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center in Houston. “As a result, many teens participate in high-risk activities, such as jet skiing while intoxicated, jumping off cliffs into water, etc.”
Adding alcohol into the mix only increases the odds of a lake-side disaster.
“A few years ago, a group of teens were celebrating their high school graduation at a lake by renting a big party boat with a slide and diving board,” recalls Allphin. “They were all drinking and, unfortunately, one of them died. He was heavily intoxicated and, after jumping into the water, he passed out and drowned.”
Before your teens decide to crank up the tunes and pop open a cold one on the boat, remind them that drinking and driving is a crime on land and water. Texas’ Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) law states that “a person who either appears to be impaired and/or has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher while operating a boat can be arrested.” This could result in up to 180 days of jail time, up to $2,000 in fines, and a driver’s license suspension.
Even if alcohol isn’t involved, there’s the issue of liability if the person operating your boat or jet ski causes an accident.
“The liability and rules that apply to driving in a vehicle are almost the same for boating,” explains Robert L. Chaiken, an attorney and partner in Chaiken & Chaiken P.C. in Plano that specializes in civil litigation, including personal injury and wrongful death. “If you’re operating a boat and cause an accident, you’re liable just like you’d be if you were driving a car-to the people in your vehicle and anyone else you get in an accident with.”
Speaking of liability, what about any mishaps that occur at your lake house?
“If someone gets injured on your lake house property, you’d have the same kinds of liability and concerns that you’d have in your own home,” Chaiken says. His advice? “Get the same kind of insurance protection (homeowners insurance) on your lake house as you have on your home.”
To balance both fun and safety, it all boils down to using a common-sense approach.
“Limit the number of people you allow at the lake house, identify them ahead of time, and square it away with all their parents,” advises Chaiken. “Plus, know your kids’ level of maturity and responsibility, have a lot of rules, talk about what’s acceptable, and check in with your kids to monitor what’s going on if they’ll be unsupervised.”
Stacie R. Allphin, MS, LCDC, Director of Adolescent Services,
Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center | memorialhermann.org
Robert L. Chaiken, partner, Chaiken & Chaiken, P.C. | chaikenlaw.com 214.265.0250
To jumpstart your conversation about water safety, boating, and alcohol, cue up these safety tips:
1. Know your surroundings. Swimming in a pool is a lot different than swimming in open water, where cold temperatures, strong currents, jagged rocks, uneven surfaces, submerged objects, and unpredictable weather increase the dangers.
2. Avoid alcohol. Allphin points out that alcohol dehydrates, slows reaction time, and impairs balance, coordination, and judgment. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the probability of being killed in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved.
3. Always wear a life jacket, even if you know how to swim.
4. Never swim alone. Swim in areas supervised by a lifeguard. If that’s not possible, always swim with a buddy so you’ve got some built-in help if needed.
5. Keep others informed. If you’re heading out for a swim (or a jaunt on a boat, inner tube, etc.), tell someone on land where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
6. Be prepared. Learn how to perform CPR.
With more than 580,000 registered boats in Texas, education is key. The Texas Water Safety Act requires boater education training for anyone born on or after September 1, 1993 who wants to operate certain vessels.
For information on approved boater education courses, visit tpwd.texas.gov/boatered or call (800) 792-1112.
Most course fees start at $20, but boaters can take a free online course available through The BoatUS Foundation.