I noticed tears well up in my sister’s eyes as I sat back to watch the dark storm clouds move unpredictably across Lake Travis. I didn’t like the thought of it either. The lake had that eerie feeling much like the day of the tragic duck boat accident in 2018 on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. An unexpected severe storm caused high waves to engulf an entire tour boat sinking 31 passengers who were without life jackets and drowning 17 of them.
This story nearly killed our post lunch buzz that afternoon, but it felt important to share as our pontoon boat bobbed and weaved through the choppy waters. We were trying to outrun mother nature, and we needed to be on the same page – life jackets save lives.
I turned toward my son, who was the only kid who chose to ride this boat, and asked if he wanted to stick his hand off the side to catch the water that splashed up. We giggled as we got wet, trying to take our minds off of the gnarly storm coming upon us.
That’s when I saw it.
Right in front of us, there was a big dip in the water with a 4 foot wave behind it. I figured we would ride the wave like a ramp and get little butterflies in our tummy. I thought, “this will be fun” and I braced myself for the thrill.
Instead, we hit the water like a brick wall.
The lake splashed up covering all of us aboard. Everything went white. We laughed like it was the final splash at the end of a ride at Schlitterbahn. Once the surge cleared from our vision, we realized this wasn’t an innocent family ride at all.
The front of our boat was underwater and a foot of water now sloshed around at our feet taking all of our belongings with it.
Within a few short seconds as we sobered our minds enough to react to the seriousness of the situation, we could feel the water suddenly pulling as it tugged us in deeper.
We were sinking.
“Get to the back of the boat!”
“Open the gates! Let the water out”
Everyone was on their feet trying to do their part to save us.
The captain threw the boat in reverse, jolting us off our balance and pulling the nose of the boat out of the water. Towels and sandals still swished inside of the boat. I grabbed what I could before everything slipped into the lake as the boat took off.
I looked up at my sister. We both had faces that said, “What the hell was that?”
I spent about a week replaying the event in my mind and thinking about all the other possible outcomes that could have happened. I wondered what I could have done differently to be better prepared. That’s when I reached out to learn more about boat safety, and my hope is this information will better equip more Austin families when they head out onto the water.
I called the local marinas to get some professional advice. Carter Faubus, the General Manager for Luxury Boat Rentals was one of the first ones to help. He says “There is nothing you can do to stop any risk. The only thing you can do is reduce the risk.”
There are many reasons accidents and injuries happen on the water. Oftentimes, it can be narrowed down to one of three things:
- Lack of Awareness
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on number one.
Awareness is your best tool for having a safe experience on the water. It really is a matter of when accidents will happen, not if. Keeping your family safe is a no brainer, and oftentimes it’s when we lack awareness that we fall into danger.
Water is the most powerful force of nature, and people all too often don’t respect the lake as such. Lake Travis is deep, nearing 200 ft. in some areas. This is one reason why the legal age for a boating license increases every year, currently it’s age 28.
Carter Faubus offers his best insights and resources to help educate the Austin community. We hope that you find this informative and we encourage you to spread the awareness of these 6 boat safety tips.
6 Boat Safety Tips
Electrocution: Never swim near marinas. There are a number of high voltage wires feeding the marina with electricity. If a power cord were to accidentally fall over into the water, the electrical current would ground itself through the nearest person in the water, a surge powerful enough that it would undoubtedly kill that person.
Swimming: It is also advised to not swim in high traffic areas. Marinas have boats entering and exiting all day long. There is just too much traffic in these areas, so finding a quiet cove to anchor and swim is the safest option. Most people are out drinking on the lake, so drunk driving is common. Keeping a watchful eye on other boats and staying clear of high traffic areas while swimming is the best way to stay safe.
Carbon Monoxide Poison: Don’t sunbathe and fall asleep on the deck near the engine. The exhaust from the boat engine could knock you unconscious. People have rolled off the deck and drowned this way.
Storms: Get off the water as quickly as possible. Rain white outs make it very difficult to navigate the water to safety. High winds increase the power of the waves making the water dangerous. And worst case scenario your aluminum boat could be struck by lightning because you’re the tallest thing out there on the water. However, the good news about Lake Travis is that the storms tend to pop up and move across the lake in such a way that boats can find safety further up/down stream. The key is to ALWAYS be aware of the weather and forecast for the day.
Propeller: Boats should ALWAYS be off before anyone gets on or off the boat. If someone is dangling their feet off the back or front of the boat or opening the gate on a pontoon to do anything, the motor should be off and the boat should not be moving. It takes one big wave or one accidental slip for someone to fall into the water with a sharp moving propeller. This is also a good standard to practice while tubing. When people are entering and exiting the water to take turns on the tube, make sure the engine is off.
Drowning: This is silent. It may be surprising to know that you won’t hear cries for help when someone is choking on water. Always be aware. Know where everyone is. Keep an eye on the people you’re with, especially the children. Your best precaution is to make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket or has a floatation device in the water.
For more information on boat safety, regulations, and current statistics visit the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division websites.
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