Beware that which Lies Beneath
In a heartbreaking Mother’s Day boating excursion gone awry, a Mont Belvieu-Dayton family lost their 16-year-old daughter in a freak accident on the Trinity River, near the Chambers-Liberty County line. The whole family, including both parents, the daughter and a 24-year-old son, were out on the river to celebrate the holiday. The father was driving the boat and the mother was watching behind them, as the two siblings rode behind in a big, towed tube. As the boat came around a large bend, the tube suddenly and violently struck a partially submerged tree floating in the water and the teenaged girl and her older brother were thrown off and into the water near the tree. Both siblings were recovered into the boat, but the daughter was seriously injured and the parents called 911 and raced to the nearby Trinity River Bridge boat ramp. There, they were met by Chambers County Sheriff’s deputies, a Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit and officers of Texas Parks and Wildlife. The girl was Lifeflighted to Memorial Hermann Hospital’s trauma unit, but she died later in the day. As if that was not tragedy enough, once the family arrived at the hospital, the older brother collapsed from internal injuries and was rushed into surgery. He is listed in stable condition and is expected to recover. An investigation is underway as to the cause of the tragedy.
This sort of horrific incident seems like it came as a bolt out of the blue. But, sadly, according to U.S. Coast Guard, (USCG), statistics, they are far more common than might be imagined. In 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, the USCG recorded 4,515 boating accidents, which caused 651 deaths and roughly 3,000 injuries. They also caused an estimated $38 million in property losses. These statistics were down from the previous couple of years, but still equally 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. Almost 71% of fatalities were caused by drowning, and of those almost 85% were not wearing a life jacket. And, 86% of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had no formal safety training. Seven in ten of those who drowned were on vessels of 21 feet in length or less, and operator inattention, inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed were the most frequent causes. Alcohol and drug use was implicated in 17% of fatalities. The types of boats most involved were: motorboats, (47%), personal watercraft, (such as jet skis), (19%), and cabin boats, (15%).
Both the USCG and the American Boating Association are ready resources for training, education and safety tips for recreational boaters. If you own a boat, learn and practice the rules. And if you only intend to go out on one, make sure the operator does so too. As this awful story vividly illustrates, crisis can develop in a couple of seconds and the best way to deal with them is to avoid them!