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Fatalities reported at start of summer boating season

A sailboat takes advantage of a breezy day on Watauga Lake earlier this week, while dozens of boats await their captains at the start of the 2019 summer boating season. With boating season in full swing, local agencies are urging boaters to wear life jackets and keep boating safety in the forefront while on the water. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

In the wake of the traditional National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24), and Memorial Day Weekend, the 2019 summer boating season is now in full swing.
To educate the public about the importance of safe boating practices and wearing life jackets while on the water, local agencies and law enforcement officials joined forces with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in a weeklong effort urging boaters to put safety first throughout the entire 2019 boating season.
“Safe Boating Week is the perfect opportunity before the first major holiday weekend of the year to remind boaters about safety equipment,” said Betsy Woods, TWRA Boating Education Coordinator. “It is also the time to make maintenance checks and all that is needed so they can have a great time on the water and be safe.”
The effort, of course, is for a good reason. Over the 2018 Memorial Day weekend, there were ten boating under the influence (BUI) arrests. TWRA wildlife officers reported three injury-incidents accident and a pair of property damage incidents.
TWRA has reported that there were no boating-related fatalities over the 2019 Memorial Day holiday weekend, which marks the fifth consecutive year without a boating fatality over the holiday weekend.
Unfortunately, 2019 already had its share of boating accidents resulting in fatalities, including the most recent report of TWRA responding to a call of a boat collision on Thursday, May 30 around 9:45 p.m. The accident reportedly occurred near the Hobson Pike Bridge on Percy Priest Lake. Upon arrival, officers reported two boats and three individuals involved. Two occupants in one of the vessels suffered severe injuries. One individual died at the scene, and the other was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital in critical condition. The operator of the second vessel sustained minor injuries.
Preliminary investigation suggests both boats were under power and moving at the time of the collision although the exact cause of the accident is still under investigation. TWRA investigators impounded both vessels for further analysis.
Officials reported that the fatality is the second boating death of 2019 in Tennessee.
During the period from May 24-27, there were five injury incidents and six property damage incidents. TWRA Region IV in East Tennessee had two of the injury and five property damage incidents.
TWRA Boating and Law Enforcement officers made 21 boating under the influence (BUI) arrests, the most since the same number was reported in 2016 over the holiday weekend. The figure shows an increase from ten in 2018.
TWRA also wants to stress the responsible use of alcohol while boating, as well as to consider the effects of drinking and driving, whether on water or land. In a boat on the water, the effects of alcohol increase because of external stressors such as engine vibration, wave motion, and glare from the sun. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Tennessee.
For many residents, the Memorial Day weekend was 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.

• 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 working fire extinguisher if you have enclosed fuel compartments or cabins
• Children age 12 and younger 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
• Maintain a safe speed
• Boating safety courses – log onto for information.