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Houston police patrol Lake Houston for safety

© by Bonnie McKenna
Observer Intern



“Good morning,” Officer Steve Wiggins calls out, to a group of boaters, as the Houston Police Lake Patrol (HPLP) boat comes along side. “We’d like to do a safety check on your boats”. Heads turn toward Officer Wiggins as he informs the boaters what he wants. “I want to see life jackets for everyone on board, a horn or whistle, a type IV seat cushion (personal floatation device), a fire extinguisher and your boat registration.”

This is the routine check, performed many times during the day, as the lake police monitor the safety of boats on Lake Houston. “For the most part, everyone out on the lake is in compliance, they know the rules. On occasion you get a ‘gut-feeling’ about a boat and sure enough, we find something that is not right,” said Wiggins. Lake Houston is designated, by the city, as a park. The police are on the lake for safety and security of everyone utilizing the lake for recreation.

“We do not want to have boating accidents or anyone drown. We do not want people fearing us; we want people to respect us for their safety. We do boat checks not only to make sure all the equipment is on board and functional, but to remind people they need to know where their safety equipment is located. We do not want people to panic in an emergency,” adds Officer Jason MacAllister. When the boating season begins the police give out a lot of verbal warnings to boaters and Jet Skiers for lack of safety equipment and for not following the ‘rules of the road.’ According to the police the most frequent complaint is against Jet Skiers. Jet Ski operators, when out on the water, are required to stay 50 feet from other boats and the beaches. Boats and jet-skis must carry a minimum of safety equipment. These regulations are the U.S. Coast Guard Inland Waterway Rules. Jet-skis are required to have a whistle or horn, fire extinguisher, life jacket, cut-off lanyard (if delivered from the manufacturer) and a registration card. Boats over 16-feet in length are required to have a whistle or horn, fire extinguisher, life jackets for each person on board, a type IV personal flotation device and a registration card. Boats that are less than 16-feet in length are required to have a whistle or horn, fire extinguisher, life jackets for each person on board and a registration card.


The lake patrol police officers suggest that when buying life jackets; choose orange or a light color because it is more visible in the water. They also suggest not relying on the boat’s electrical horn as a primary signaling device. A secondary signal such as an air horn is best, but a whistle will do. Lake Houston contains 12,000 surface acres of water and has approximately 75 miles of shore line. The lake patrol police monitor all aspects of the lake. Not only are they responsible for boating safety, but they are also tasked with checking the train trestle, the McKay bridge and the dam spillways. “We inspect these areas every day, looking for deterioration, large hazardous debris and any unusual or suspicious activity,” said MacAllister The lake patrol police also work with the state game warden in protecting the lake and its resources. They check for fishing licenses and gear tags on trot-lines. A trot-line is a long cord with a number of fish hooks hanging from it. Lines are identified by floats on each end. Every trot-line must have a gear tag. The gear tag must be renewed every 30 days. If the trot-line gear tag has expired, the game warden and the police remove the line. The trot-line is then taken to the local justice of the peace to obtain an order to have it destroyed. According to the police, the summer of 2005, so far, has seen a noticeable decrease in the number of boating accidents and drownings. Most boating accidents are caused by operator error. Inexperience in handling a boat or Jet Ski is the primary cause.

“We have only had two drownings this year and both were alcohol related. People just do not understand that alcohol and operating a boat or Jet Ski just do not mix,” said Wiggins.

Houston police on routine lake patrol.
Left to Right: Officer Jason MacAllister and Officer Steve Wiggins.
Houston Police Lake Patrol substation
on Lake Houston