Going to Lake Travis for July 4th? Beware of water hazards, dehydration, authorities warn

·4 min read

As water levels at Lake Travis continue to drop amid intense drought and extreme heat, authorities are bracing for an increase in boating activity on the lake over the July Fourth holiday weekend.

Even with Lake Travis at 57% full, people can still safely boat and swim there, said Maj. Craig Smith of the Travis County sheriff's office, which is tasked with patrolling the lake. But visitors need to go with extra caution.

Smith said many incidents that deputies respond to on the lake involve people unfamiliar with the lake. Boaters and swimmers can hit rock ledges or face hazards under water because of Lake Travis's unique, rocky terrain.

Smith is encouraging everyone — including those familiar with Lake Travis' myriad gullies and coves — to pay close attention to the terrain as more of the lake bed is exposed.

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A boat floats last month next to islands that have emerged because of low water levels in Lake Travis.
A boat floats last month next to islands that have emerged because of low water levels in Lake Travis.

"There are hazards today that were not hazards two weeks ago, or maybe last summer, or maybe the last time that a person may have been out on Lake Travis," Smith said. "Since it's a lake that changes literally weekly, it presents a lot of danger that people need to be careful with."

Last year, 10 people lost their lives on Lake Travis, and one person has died on the lake this year, according to the sheriff's office. In a partnership with the Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the lake for flood control and hydroelectricity, and local businesses, the sheriff's office hopes to prevent more deaths this year.

This year, the LCRA and the sheriff’s office launched the Be LakeWise campaign to share water safety tips.

The campaign will distribute stickers, koozies and other swag with safety information to marina operators and rental facilities. Renters can reference these items in case of an emergency, said John Hoffman, LCRA executive vice president.

Smith said the sheriff's office will have extra patrols on the water 24 hours a day through the long weekend. Those patrols will be joined by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Lakeway and Austin police to look out for intoxicated boaters.

How to stay safe on the water

Wear a personal flotation device: Smith emphasized wearing a life jacket or some other personal floatation device is the No. 1 way to prevent drowning.

Even with lower water levels this year, Smith said the water can be 60 or 100 feet deep in some places, so when swimming off the back of the boat, he encourages people to carry a life jacket.

"Take a floatation device with you. Sit on it, hold on to it, wear it. Don't be afraid to use those life jackets," Smith said. "It really makes for a comfortable afternoon in the water when you float on the life jacket out behind the boat."

Know the signs of drowning: People on the lake should keep a close eye on everyone in their party to spot signs of drowning.

Signs of drowning could include silence, head tilted back, arms moving downward or floating face-down. Plunge drowning occurs when someone jumps into the water but doesn't come back up.

"It's not like what you see in the movies, in terms of people yelling and thrashing about in the water oftentimes, and the officers can tell you this when they do an investigation after one of these horrific drownings is people are just going underwater," Hoffman said.

"Take a floatation device with you. Sit on it, hold on to it, wear it. Don't be afraid to use those life jackets," advises Maj. Craig Smith of the Travis County sheriff's office.
"Take a floatation device with you. Sit on it, hold on to it, wear it. Don't be afraid to use those life jackets," advises Maj. Craig Smith of the Travis County sheriff's office.

In case of emergency: The Be LakeWise campaign's stickers, laminated cards and koozies outline steps for people to take in case of emergency.

  • Call 911 immediately.

  • Throw a flotation device out to someone in distress.

  • Know where you are on the lake using landmarks, mile markers or GPS location so help can find you.

  • Make noise using a horn, whistle or by yelling to get other boaters to come to assist you.

Stay hydrated: Dehydration is a real threat this weekend with temperatures forecast to reach triple digits. In case of an emergency, being hydrated ensures the ability to swim to safety without cramping or passing out.

“It is very, very important when you're exercising in the water, recreating in the water or drinking alcoholic beverages that you understand and appreciate the need for hydrating yourself so that you can remain lucid and able to take care of yourself,” Hoffman said.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: July 4 at Lake Travis: Watch for water hazards, dehydration