New Texas Boating Laws

If you are planning to head to the lake soon, you might want to take note of new state laws designed to enhance safety on the water.

During its most recent session, the Texas Legislature passed bills on the use of lifejackets, boater education and other areas related to safety on our lakes and rivers.

Lawmakers were prompted to act in part by a legislative report by the Texas Advisory Panel on Boating Safety. The report shows drowning is the top cause of boating deaths, with 543 in 2009. Of those 385 were not wearing lifejackets, often in rough weather or on hazardous water. Here is a breakdown of these water safety laws:

Boater education courses

One law, H.B. 1395, requires anyone born on or after Sept. 1 1993 to complete a state-approved boater education course to legally operate a boat with a motor of more than 15 horsepower or a wind-blown vessel longer than 14 feet. Previously, state law required the course for boat operators ages 13 to 17.

The law, which went into effect as soon as it passed, does not extend the requirement to anyone born before the 1993 date. Boaters covered by the boater education requirement are required to carry a valid ID and documentation showing they passed a boater education course. Driving a qualifying boat without meeting these requirements is a Class C misdemeanor, though violators can have the citation dismissed if they complete a boater education course within 90 days.

The Brazos River Authority has long offered qualifying boater education courses at Possum Kingdom and Granbury lakes. There is still time this year to take one of these courses. Class dates available are: August 20 at Lake Granbury and August 13 or September 17 at Possum Kingdom Lake.

Life Jackets

H.B. 308 requires all motorboats must carry at least one readily accessible life jacket for each person on board. Previously, such watercraft were just required to have a life preserver or other approved floatation device per person. The provision includes boats carrying passengers for hire.

The law also requires every person younger than 13 must wear a life jacket if on a watercraft less than 26 feet in length. The legislation says other floatation devices such as life belts or ring buoys do not meet the requirement. The new law, which went into effect upon passage, includes canoes, kayaks and paddleboats in this lifejacket requirement.

Other Changes

H.B. 2981, which goes into effect Sept. 1, makes it illegal to allow people of any age to ride in or on a boat or personal watercraft that is being towed on a highway or street. The law makes an exception for watercraft being towed in an emergency, parade or on a beach.

Finally, H.B. 596 prohibits a boater from operating a motorboat in a circular course around any other boat, watercraft if an occupant is fishing, water skiing or is involved in a similar activity. The law makes an exception for someone circling to retrieve a downed water skier. The legislation is also known as the Britteny Sage Lindt Act. It was named for a teenager who was killed in 2006 on Lake Lewisville when she was struck by a boat while floating in an inner tube. This last law goes into effect Sept. 1. For more information about these and other laws passed in the most recent session, please click here.