Lake Travis safety checks ramping up ahead of busy season

Boating safety checks on Lake Travis are now ramping up. 

Maj. Craig Smith, who heads up the Travis County Sheriff’s Office Lake Patrol, took FOX 7 on the water Thursday. Patrol deputies are trying to get a springtime jump on what's expected to be a busy season.

"The message is, as of a couple of weeks ago, lake patrol deputies went to their summer staffing, so we are at 100% enforcement and staffing levels," said Smith.

The safety check checklist is not long. Required equipment includes:

  • Life jackets
  • A noise making device
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Boat registration card
  • Throw cushion

"Most items that we see missing from the boats are the throw cushion, the square cushion that has handles. It's a built-in flotation device," said Lake Patrol Deputy Joseph Fair.

The dive team is also preparing. A training exercise Thursday near Windy Point was a chance to become familiar with the lake, and the dangers just below the surface. There are sunken groves of trees and deep crevices. Even old structures and roadways can be seen by divers. 

Last year, the team recovered 10 drowning victims from Lake Travis, that's a record number.

"Our lake patrol deputies were literally in recovery missions for nine weeks straight last year," said TCSO spokesperson Kristen Dark.

It's important to understand that Lake Travis is essentially a flooded river canyon. There are steep drop-offs and also shallow spots that can quickly damage boats.

"There are areas where, as you look across the lake, may look perfectly normal, but there could be a sandbar underneath there, there could be trees underneath, it could be rocks," said Maj. Smith.

Knowing what to do in a crisis on the water is critical. Here are some important things to remember:

  • Know your location, that helps when you call 911.
  • Don't jump in, you could be pulled under by the person you're trying to help.
  • Toss out a flotation device.
  • Try to get the attention of people in the area who may be able to provide assistance.

Last year, between March and October, Travis County deputies responded to almost 1,200 calls for help on the lake.

"So we are doing our best as an agency to try to educate people as they are getting on rental boats, as they are getting on party barges, to make sure people know what to do to protect their lives,"said Dark.

Lake safety promotion materials are being put together now. They will be ready for distribution in the coming weeks.