LAKE TRAVIS, Texas (KXAN) — Justin Barnes with the Texas Game Wardens pulled up to a large rented boat on Lake Travis. Named Large Marge, Barnes worried about how many passengers were on the top deck. Too many people on top of the barge and it risked tipping over.
“You can see a lot of people up top. I just want to look at their stability letter and make sure it didn’t mention maximum amount of number of passengers are allowed to have on top.”
While Barnes boarded the boat to check the letter, his crew counted the number of people, college students from Texas A&M, were on top.
“You can see they’re just big barges. They’re prone to capsizing,” Barnes said.
After checking the letter and doing a count, the Wardens decided the boat was in compliance. The students on board then took pictures with the Wardens, documenting the unexpected visit during their party.
The Wardens then departed in good spirits. The party continued.
Unique challenges on open water
According to Barnes, the majority of the issues they’ll address on the lake are like this. He checks with the boat captain about an issue, they have a polite chat, and move along.
“They don’t like it. But they understand why we do what we do. And sometimes you got to defuse some situations, just like, ‘Look, man, it’s not a big deal. It won’t take that long.’ We just want to make sure everything’s been done right,” Barnes said.
Earlier in the day, Barnes leaped from boat to boat as he made his way to a dangerous situation. Strong winds on the lake had pushed the boats anchored in Devil’s Cove, a popular party spot, extending their lines in the water.
“The problem with the line [is] it sticks off, I don’t know, 20 or 30 yards off the front of that boat. A lot of people are going to expect that line to be straight down and taut like a typical anchor line,” Barnes told the boat’s captain.
The Texas Game Warden was concerned another boat in the busy part of the lake would drive over the boat, get tangled up in the line and then need a tow.
“When we come into Devil’s Cove, one of the things we’re looking for is just people being safe,” he said.
Barnes checks for people swimming near boats with their engines on, people drinking too much alcohol, fights and that nobody is speeding.
Enforcing law on the lake
According to Barnes, the Texas Game Wardens are one of two agencies that patrol the lake. The other is the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.
“Lake Travis is massive. It’s 65 miles of water, 33 of which we patrol on a routine basis. And imagine 33 miles of area that we’re patrolling and we get a 911 call and have to get across that. It takes a while,” Kristen Dark with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said.
Barnes said a recent call reminded him of the size of the lake.
“We responded to a call that was over by mile marker 28… It [took] us 45 minutes to run up to [that] area,” Barnes said.
Another issue with the lake is that it is narrow. “The lake being less than 50% capacity, the main channel is only you know, 300 or 400 yards across. And even narrower in some points,” he said.
Those narrow channels can result in large swells, Barnes said, which may catch swimmers and boaters off guard.
Risky behavior on the lake
Most of the activity on Lake Travis, according to Barnes, is bachelor and bachelorette parties, which can come with a lot of hard partying that his team will watch out for this summer.
“Boats are treated the same way as motor vehicles in the state of Texas. You know, 0.08 applies. Operating a watercraft on public waters intoxicated is an arrestable offense,” Barnes said.
The Texas Game Wardens also check boats for life vests, one for each passenger, fire extinguisher and a special type of life preserver.
“The Wake: Secrets of Lake Travis” premieres Monday, May 29th on KXAN.com. You can watch it on KXAN at 4:30pm and The CW Austin at 7:00am and 9:30pm.