Stranded on the water? Here’s what to do

Stranded on the water? Here’s what to do

It can happen in the blink of an eye.

You’re set for a day on the water and suddenly, your boat engine malfunctions. You’re stranded. Or maybe you were involved in an accident with another boater. Regardless, emergencies on the water happen. 

When heading out on any of the Brazos River Authority reservoirs, it’s important to think ahead and always be prepared for whatever could happen. Whether it’s an engine malfunction, a sudden change in weather or water levels, or maybe an accident, considering these scenarios before hitting the water could keep you from being stranded, injured or worse. 

The idea, of course, is not to reach the point that calling 911 is necessary, said David Coston, a lake ranger at Possum Kingdom Lake. 

Before any trip on the water, visitors should ensure they have all the necessary safety equipment on board. First and foremost, comply with the law.  Each boat should be equipped with one personal flotation device per person. In addition, Texas Parks and Wildlife also states that a throwable flotation device is also required for boats that are 16-feet and longer. 

A fire extinguisher should also be included in your emergency kit, which can differ in type depending on the size of the watercraft. Boats that are under 40-feet long are required to carry a whistle or horn to signal positions. If a boat is longer than 40-feet, it is required to carry a whistle or horn and a bell. Boaters are also encouraged to carry visual distress signals, such as distress flags or flares.

Boaters are advised to have a first aid kit on board, including multiple-sized waterproof bandages, gauze, antiseptic and tweezers. Along with those essential items to keep on board, Boat-Ed said that boaters should consider a cell phone as a part of standard boating gear. Dialing 911 will connect you with your area law enforcement, who will then locate the nearest Game Warden or Lake Ranger on the reservoirs.

If you find yourself in a situation to contact 911, remember to stay calm and be sure to provide accurate information to law enforcement. At Possum Kingdom Lake, cell phone service is generally good across most of the reservoir. In case of an emergency and if the boater has a smartphone, a map app could be opened, and landmarks nearby could serve as a reference point. If an app is not available, start by noting your surroundings.


“If you tell me you’re in front of Sandy Beach, I know exactly where to go,” said Coston. “If you say there’s a house with a blue roof, I might not be as familiar.” 

If you’re visiting Lake Granbury and experience a water emergency, centerline buoys stretch across the reservoir. Much like the driver of a car on a highway pays close attention to mile markers, the centerline buoys are numbered for easy location on the reservoir, said Lake Ranger Kyle Lewis. 

The GPS coordinates of the centerline buoys are already logged in lake ranger patrol boats, but most of the lake rangers already know their location by heart, Lewis said. 

However, if a boater isn’t near the main part of a lake, near the buoys, a general description of the area will help a lake ranger locate the position. Lewis said lake rangers are very familiar with the reservoir, and a boater could help themselves be located by describing what neighborhood they are adjacent too, what side of a bridge they are located, any type of landmark, or if light towers can be seen, Lewis said. 

“By and large, the buoy numbers are the fastest and easiest way to locate someone,” Lewis said.

If you find yourself stranded on Lake Limestone, landmarks are the key to being located. 

“We do not have any lighted buoys at Limestone,” said Lake Limestone Reservoir Manager Davy Moore. “If someone is stranded on the water and does not know where they are, we ask them to look around and tell us what they can see.” 

Though there are no lighted buoys on Lake Limestone, there are no-wake buoys in some of the coves and “keep out” buoys near the Sterling C. Robertson Dam. 

Key landmarks on Lake Limestone include lights on the dam, as well as power lines and towers that cross the lake, bridges and park areas. Moore says that when attempting to locate stranded boaters, law enforcement will ask if the boater remembered in which direction they headed after launch. 

If stranded boaters are unable to describe where they are, Moore advises them to watch for the patrol boat and either signal or call 911 to guide patrol in their direction. 

To learn more about safety requirements for Texas boaters and other helpful boating tips, click here