By Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
The biggest boating weekend of the year is among us, and officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are already busy investigating too many serious injury and fatal boating accidents.
At least eight of the fatal accidents that have occurred on Tennessee waters resulted in drownings and in most cases, if not all, a properly worn personal flotation device would have saved lives. Let’s take a lesson from the kids and see why, thankfully, we don’t lose many of them to drowning while boating.
The answer is simple: In Tennessee and in most other states, children ages 12 and under are required by law to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while on the open deck of a recreational boat except while anchored, moored, or aground.
Take a look at nationwide boating statistics from 2015. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that out of 428 drownings that occurred last year, 352 of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Thankfully, out of the 428 drownings, only 12 of them were ages 0-12. The remaining 416 drownings were ages 13 and older further, indicating that life jackets can and will save lives if worn properly.
Recently, the chairman of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, Harold Cannon, along his wife Angie, were enjoying a meal at Choto Marina on Ft. Loudon Lake and met Tom Werkema and his family leaving their boat and heading up the dock. Cannon was ecstatic to see everyone onboard the boat from grandfather to infant grandsons wearing a life jacket.
“I saw the entire family in life jackets and said, these people get what boating safety means,” Cannon said. “They are really setting the example for what TWRA is looking for on the water.”
Tom and his family relocated to east Tennessee from Southern California and are avid boaters. Tom’s daughter Trina Ward has five-month-old twins and is so concerned about their safety on the water that she says they have tried five different life jackets before finding models she felt like were safe enough for her babies.
“I found two that I really liked but after inspecting them, I realized they were only approved by the Canadian Coast Guard and not the United States Coast Guard,” Trina said. “The ones we are using now are a bit bulky, but they will float the children face up if they were to go in the water.”
If only TWRA could get others to follow suit, we’d investigate less drownings in our boating accidents.
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 a fire extinguisher on board 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 under way—drifting is considered under way.
- Any boat operator born after January 1, 1989, must have onboard the TWRA-issued wallet Boating Safety Education Certificate.
- Choose a designated boat operator and keep alcohol to a minimum.
- Make sure there is a current boat registration.
Here are boat operation basics:
- Keep a proper lookout at all times.
- Maintain a safe speed.
- Cut the engine off while boarding or entering the water.
- Be aware of the carbon monoxide hazards that exist and keep fresh air flowing.
- No wake means idle speed.
- Take a boating safety course—log onto www.tnwildlife.org for information.
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