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The Common Law: Boating Laws and Night WaterSkiing

Boating Laws and Night Water Skiing

By Luke Ellis, Fri., July 5, 2013

My group of friends like to water-ski and wakeboard late in the evening when there's less boat traffic. Someone told me that we could get a ticket for waterskiing at night – is that true?

Yes. If common sense doesn't convince you that waterskiing at night could be dangerous, then Texas law will. The Texas Water Safety Act (codified in Chapter 31 of the Texas Wildlife and Safety Code) is the statewide law that addresses general water safety issues. According to section 31.103, you cannot operate a boat while towing a person on water skis (or similar devices like wakeboards) "between the hours from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise." So in your situation, your friends have a 30-minute window after sunset to continue to tow skiers and boarders.

The July 4th weekend is one of the busiest of the year for Central Texas lakes and rivers, especially for people who don't usually spend time on the water. Here are some other basic Texas boating laws to know:

Excessive speed – a driver cannot operate a boat at a rate of speed "greater than reasonable or prudent." While there is some room for ambiguity here, you can expect to receive a ticket if you drive the boat at an unsafe speed, which is determined by considering factors like weather or density of traffic.

Hazardous wake/wash – despite all the Caddyshack movies you've seen, it's against the law to operate a motorboat that creates a hazardous wake.

Obstructing passage – you may not anchor a boat in a traveled portion of a river or channel in a way that impedes the safe passage of another boat through the same area. This is especially important on crowded boating weekends like July 4th.

Keep in mind that the specific laws mentioned above serve as only a few examples of numerous boating regulations under Texas law. Depending on the circumstances and the severity of the offense, the criminal penalty for violating boating laws can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a felony. The policy underscoring boating laws is simple – be safe on the water!

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Dawson, Sodd, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.dawsonsodd.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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