The sun was setting on summer 2019 and Lake Conroe had enjoyed its safest lake-going season in years with only two fatalities. The popular destination appeared to finally wash away its notoriety as Texas’ deadliest lake.
Then 2020 happened.
Montgomery County Precinct 1 Constable’s marine division, which patrols Lake Conroe, has been steering through choppy waters ever since COVID closures caused a surge in daytrippers, which in turn led to a spike in drownings — five in 2020 and six plus a watercraft wreck fatality in 2021.
Even with a seeming return to pre-COVID normalcy during this Memorial Day weekend, Pct. 1 Lt. Miguel Rosario, who heads up the lake patrol, is not projecting a dip in visits.
“The lake, just every weekend, it keeps getting busier and busier,” Rosario said, adding, as the lake’s draw “is increasing, our manpower has stayed the same.”
However, Pct. 1 Constable Philip Cash is eyeing to add a lake patrol deputy to its current crew of seven.
In the meantime, Rosario noted county commissioners have granted the marine division with an overtime budget, which has helped to cover patrolling duties when a deputy has called in.
The challenges on the lake reflect those at the national level as the marine division’s fleet suffers from supply shortages resulting from a high demand for boats since the pandemic’s start, Rosario explained.
Of the six patrol boats, one is waiting for motor replacements from a specific maker since November. Expected availability may take up to possibly a year, Rosario noted.
“I can’t even put that boat in the water right now because the motors on it are pretty much shot. It’s not safe to operate, and if you do operate, it’s more than likely going to break down on you,” Rosario said.
Whatever stumps the lake patrol has been hitting in the past two years, efforts at educating the public have sprung results.
Even though a medical emergency led to the death of a man on Lake Conroe earlier this month, as of Saturday morning, 2022 had seen zero drownings, according to Rosario. By this time last year, there had already been four drownings on the lake.
Informational campaigns on social media about avoiding boating while intoxicated have helped reduce the number of that violation to only two last year, Rosario mentioned.
Voluntary checks have deputies inspecting watercraft for six state-required safety items: life jackets for all aboard, a fire extinguisher, a horn or sound-producing device, a Type IV throwable personal flotation device, a cut-off switch device and the vessel’s registration card.
Rosario is urging lakegoers renting vessels first learn how to operate them and locate their safety equipment and their uses.
“A lot of our drownings that we have, come from those people that are on rented vessels,” Rosario warned.
Patrol deputies have taken to conducting one-hour PowerPoint presentations on safety guidelines at home owner association meetings of some of the subdivisions lining the lake. The force has also gone out to schools in the Montgomery and Splendora school districts to instruct student fishing clubs on safety.
“We can’t stop everything, but if we can educate the public on some of this stuff on the lake, it’s our hope that it will work,” Rosario said.