Fri
May 23 2008
10:57 am

Memorial Day weekend marks the launch of summer boating season*, and we are blessed with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities on Tennessee's beautiful rivers and lakes. But each year we read about too many deaths and serious injuries on our waterways.

Here are some TWRA statistics (PDF format) from the 2007 boating season:

• The number of boating fatalities for 2007 was 17. This was an increase from 2006 which reported 16.

• The type of accident that resulted in the most fatalities was falls overboard with 6.

• The top contributing causes for fatal accidents were alcohol use and reckless behavior at 5 each.

• The number of injury accidents in 2007 was 94 resulting in 111 injuries.

• The leading contributing cause of injury accidents was operator inattention.

• The number of property damage accidents in 2007 was 78. This was a decrease from 2006 which reported 100.

• The type of accident that most commonly resulted in property damage was collision with another vessel.

• The body of water that reported the most property damage accidents was Norris Lake and Chickamauga Lake with 9 accidents each.

• The leading contributing factor in property damage accidents was operator inattention.

• The number of Personal Watercraft involved in accidents in 2007 was 61.

• The number of PWC involved in injury accidents was 42.

• The number of PWC involved in fatal accidents was 5.

• The leading contributing factor for PWC accidents was operator inexperience.

• The body of water with the most PWC accidents was Chickamauga Lake.

• The most common operator age group to be involved in a PWC accident was 16 through 20.

And that's not counting other accidental drownings. Don't be a statistic. If you are going into open water for any reason, you really should be wearing a personal flotation device. Even if you're an Olympic-class swimmer, there are too many things that can go wrong. The same applies if you're in an inherently unstable craft such as a canoe or a kayak.

As a kid, the best thing I learned from Red Cross water safety/life saving classes was the "reach, throw, row, go" protocol for potential drowning rescue situations.

First try to reach the victim from the safety of land or the boat, by hand, with a paddle or oar, a fishing rod, a stick, a rope, a towel, anything. If that's not possible, find something to throw to the victim such as a life vest, seat cushion, boat fender, plastic jug, cooler, or anything that floats. If that's not possible, try to reach the victim by boat, canoe, inner tube, or whatever other floating vessel might be about (but do not approach the victim under power). Entering the water to attempt a swimming rescue is always the last resort. All too frequently the result is two victims, even if the rescuer is trained and in good physical condition.

As the summer boating season approaches, boating safety cannot be stressed enough. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is primarily responsible for safety and enforcement on Tennessee waterways. They have safe boating courses and now require anyone born after Jan. 1, 1989 to pass a boating safety exam and carry a certification card. There is more information here, including a free online boating safety course.

Here are some other useful Tennessee boating and water safety links:

Safety tips

Required equipment checklist

Summary of boating regulations

Lighting requirements

Aids to navigation

Rules of right-of-way (PDF)

Comprehensive guide to Boating in Tennessee (PDF)

And to emphasize one of my pet peeves, you are responsible for your wake, so please keep an eye on it.

Even if you are a safe and responsible boater, there are plenty of irresponsible yahoos out on the lakes (some who may have had a few too many) who are a danger to themselves and others. So please be prepared, and be careful out there!

(*Memo to concern trolls who said last year that I was unpatriotic for posting this. Yes, I know that the meaning of Memorial Day is to honor those who gave their lives defending our country. This post is not about that.)

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