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Memorial Day weekend kicks off Tennessee’s boating season

By Tamas Mondovics

While looked upon as the start to the summer boating season, including fishing and swimming, safety is on the top of the list for local agencies this Memorial Day holiday weekend. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wants to emphasize the use of life jackets along with boating in a safe and responsible manner.

And for a good reason. Expected to be one of the busiest of the year, the May 29-31 holiday weekend means many boaters are going to the water for first time in 2021. Sadly, according to recent headlines some that have already ventured out on to the region’s waterways have found out the need for safety first.

A recent explosion aboard a boat near Clarksville on the Cumberland River left one person dead. The initial investigation indicates that the boat, a 38-foot Carver, had just refueled and was getting underway when the incident occurred. Both the operator and occupant were thrown into the water where they were rescued by a nearby boater. A 54-year-old woman from Clarksville was transported by Montgomery County EMS to Tennova Medical Center in Clarksville where she later died. The male operator, age 56 from Clarksville, was treated at Tennova, the report said. The investigation into this incident is ongoing. A Morristown man was also killed after being struck by a boat propeller in a Douglas Lake boating accident at Leadvale Access Area just last week.

According to police reports, just before 7 p.m., James McGee, 66, of Morristown, fell overboard from a small, aluminum boat and was struck by the boat’s propeller causing serious injuries to his arm. Onshore bystanders rescued him from the water and administered CPR until emergency services arrived. McGee was taken by ambulance to Morristown Hamblen Hospital and airlifted to UT Medical Center where he later died. The incident is under investigation by TWRA.

The Douglas Lake boating accident marks the seventh fatal boating accident of the 2021 season. In total, there have been 24 reported statewide boating accidents with nine serious injuries and seven fatalities this year. Along with the use of life jackets, TWRA wants to stress the responsible use of alcohol while boating.

“We want our boaters and fishermen to enjoy their time on our waterways,” said Capt. Matt Majors, statewide boating investigator. “However, boating incidents are preventable. Boating under the influence is irresponsible and illegal. Our wildlife officers will be out to ensure the safety of our boating public.”

According to TWRA officials there has been a noticeable increase in boating traffic during the past year and a boom in the use of paddle craft, such as kayaks and paddleboards throughout the state. PFDs are a requirement on kayaks and stand up paddle craft (SUPs).A recent release said that “over the 2020 holiday weekend, there was one-boating related fatality which occurred in an incident below Fort Loudoun Dam. The fatality was one of 32 during 2020, the most in 37 years, which came on the heels of a record-low eight in 2019. There have been eight fatalities thus far this year.”

TWRA officials are urging boaters that taking a few minutes to check some of the boat components may be the key to having a nice, safe outing.

“We want to continue to stress that the single most important action one can take to prevent drowning while boating is to wear a life jacket,” said Betsy Woods, TWRA Boating Education Coordinator. “We encourage our boaters to
enjoy their time on the water in a safe and responsible matter.”

In addition, Friday, May 21 is Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day. Boaters can share a photo wearing a life jacket at work (or home) on social media along with the hashtag #lifejacket2work and tagging @boatingcampaign (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). Photos can also be emailed to [email protected]. Winners will be chosen randomly throughout the day to receive boating prizes from the Safe Boating Campaign, such as T-shirts, dry bags, first aid kits, stickers, and more. Happy boating.