‘Alarming’ number of kayak-related deaths reported in Texas

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A 36-year-old man who drowned while canoeing on Lake Georgetown on Saturday was one of four people who died while boating in Texas last weekend.

As the Fourth of July holiday nears, Texas Parks and Wildlife says the number of boating-related fatalities on Texas waterways this spring and summer is “alarming.” Six months into the year, the state says there have been more than a dozen boating-related fatalities and almost half involved kayaks; in 2015, approximately 40 percent of boating-related fatalities in Texas involved paddle crafts.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard statistics at least 85 percent of people who drown in boating accidents were not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) at the time.

Authorities contribute some of the deaths to the increased water flows along rivers and creeks due to the heavy rains and flooding in May. In Austin, Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin were closed to recreational boating for long periods of time due to swift water. Over Memorial Day weekend, a woman died while tubing with friends on Barton Creek. Over the next two weeks, another two people died while swimming in Barton Creek.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden boat on Lake Georgetown. (KXAN  File Photo)

Records show there have been more than 34 non-boating related drownings reported in Texas since January. Earlier this month, a 31-year-old man from New York died while out on a party barge on Lake Travis.

If your holiday weekend plans include a lake or a river, the state wants to remind you to wear life jackets, avoid drinking alcohol and follow other safety practices heading into the peak summer boating season.

“A day on the water in Texas should be all about the fun and following the basic rules of water safety can help keep your loved ones from harm. If you don’t know how to swim, learn and if you are impaired or unfamiliar with the water conditions don’t put yourself in jeopardy by taking unnecessary risks. Keep an eye on kids especially. It only takes a second to turn a fun day on the water into a tragedy,” said Texas Game Warden Col. Craig Hunter.

The Lower Colorado River Authority and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office will be canvassing Lake Travis over the Fourth of July weekend to make sure boaters and swimmers are aware of the dangers of a full Lake Travis.

The Austin Police Department will have Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake covered, and will be checking for life jackets.

“We’ve been pretty big sticklers,” said APD Lake Patrol Officer Robert Chapman.

He says the biggest violation he comes across is children not wearing life jackets, which is illegal in Texas. The law states anyone under 13 must be wearing a life jacket in the boat at all times. Anyone older must have a life jacket with them that is easy to reach.

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