Five Dead in Tennessee Boating Accidents in 2018

Chickamauga Lake looks very peaceful right now. Depending on the weather it is likely to look very different this weekend. The Memorial Day holiday is always the unofficial beginning of boating season. (Photo: Richard Simms)

So far in 2018 five people have died while boating on Tennessee waterways, along with four accidents w/injuries and five property damage accidents. Three of the five fatalities have involved paddlecrafts.

Every year there are roughly 1,000 deaths on Tennessee highways. By comparison boating sounds pretty safe. But there seems to be something different and more tragic about a day of fun in the sun turning deadly.

The coming Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of the boating season. You can expect Tennessee wildlife and boating officers to be on the water in force. Over the weekend in 2017 officers arrested 17 people for boating under the influence (BUI). No one died over the 2017 Memorial Day holiday but officers reported one injury accident and five property damage incidents.

For many people boating and beer (or other alcohol) is synonymous. Unlike driving there is no “open container” law for boaters in Tennessee. And experts say that on a boat the effects of alcohol increase because of external stressors such as engine vibration, wave motion and glare from the sun.

Officers will definitely be on the look out for the operators who have over-indulged. They do not need the same level of “probable cause” officers on the highway might need. TWRA law enforcement officers are allowed to pull anyone over anytime for a routine equipment safety check. Obviously they will always be paying close attention to the condition of the operator.

Just like on the highway the blood-alcohol limit is .08 percent. Of course there are a myriad of other boating safety laws officers check for as well. Past statistics indicate that one out of every 13 boats TWRA checks will get a ticket for something.

For many the Memorial Day weekend will be the first time to have the boat on the water this year. TWRA officials say taking a few minutes to check some of the boat components may be the key to having a nice, safe outing. Performing a simple maintenance check before getting on the water may prevent problems. Check hoses to make sure they are in good shape. Make sure the lights work and carry extra fuses and bulbs. In addition, TWRA urges all boaters to remember the basics:

  • have a wearable life jacket for every person onboard
  • if your boat is 16 feet or longer, there must be a Type IV throwable device onboard
  • have onboard a fire extinguisher if you have enclosed fuel compartments or cabins
  • anyone under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket at all times while the boat is underway– drifting is considered underway
  • any boat operator born after January 1, 1989 must have onboard the TWRA-issued wallet Boating Safety Education Certificate
  • choose a designated boat operator
  • make sure there is a current boat registration

Boat Operation Basics:

  • keep a proper lookout at all times
  • maintain a safe speed
  • cut the engine while boarding from the water or entering the water from the boat
  • be aware of the carbon monoxide hazards that exist and keep fresh air flowing
  • ”no wake” means idle speed
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