What law enforcement wants you to know before you hit the lake

Two people cling to an inflatable tube pulled behind a boat on Lake Travis on July 1, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
Two people cling to an inflatable tube pulled behind a boat on Lake Travis on July 1, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Boaters are expected to turn out in droves to lakes around Central Texas this holiday weekend, and multiple law enforcement agencies are once again stepping up efforts to keep people safe on the water.

At Lake Travis, Game Wardens, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, and Jonestown police officers will be patrolling all weekend.

Greg Lawrence is used to it. The longtime boater and water sports instructor said on a normal day, the lake can be pretty calm. The Saturday of the July 4th weekend is not a normal day.

“A holiday weekend,” he said, “it’s a little more anarchy.

Lawrence spent Saturday towing family and out-of-town friends behind his boat as they clung to an inflatable tube. As much fun as they were having, Lawrence said he’s always conscious of safety.

“There’s boats everywhere. You have to constantly keep your head on a swivel,” he said. “It’s just the volume of people out here is so much more on a big holiday weekend that you just have to really be alert and be safe.”

“A lot of boaters, lot of party barges,” Travis County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Spinner, assigned to the lake patrol division, said.

He took a break from the lake to tell KXAN he had already experienced a lot of those kinds of party boats by early afternoon, and that was in addition to normal law enforcement duties.

“We’ve already had a shots fired call down the lake where someone was shooting at a water moccasin that was coming toward their boat,” Spinner said. “That’s a first one on me.”

TCSO said they did not cite the man because he was in an isolated spot and not endangering anybody.

Spinner’s department and game wardens will each have several boats on the water throughout the weekend.

“Long days, long hours,” Ben Echelson, a game warden in Travis County, said.

They’ll be writing citations for boating while intoxicated, which Echelson said carries the same penalties as driving while intoxicated.

“I hope to find that everyone’s got a sober driver,” he said. “As far as expecting, you never can tell. It could be one, it could be a dozen” citations this weekend.

Echelson said they’ll also be keeping an eye out for boaters who don’t drain, clean, and dry their boats. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced just this week they found invasive zebra mussels in Lake Travis.

There won’t be specialized patrols to monitor people’s behavior, Echelson said, but they want to prevent anyone from transferring possible mussel-infested water to other Texas waterways.

“You’re harboring the invasive species and they’re going to be able to spread from lake to lake,” he said. “In fact that’s really how it happens. And so we want to keep the spread of any invasive species to a minimum.”

Law enforcement will also be conducting safety inspections, making sure there’s a life jacket for every person (and that anyone under 13 is actively wearing one), a fire extinguisher, a throwable life preserver, and a horn or whistle device.

Spinner said they’ll probably issue 10-20 safety citations a day.

With a lot of people on the lake — some of them doing unpredictable things — Lawrence said you can’t be too careful.

“You kind of have to expect it,” he said. “You really just got to drive defensively and be aware at all times.”

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