TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – The 4th of July holiday weekend is quickly approaching, and that means people will be grilling out, boating or watching fireworks across the region. But for those boating on Northeast Tennessee lakes, you’ll need to be extra careful this upcoming weekend.
While the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency enforces the law on the lakes year-round, from July 3 to July 5 there will be an increased presence in TWRA officers on South Holston Lake, Watauga Lake, Boone Lake, and Fort Patrick Henry Lake as a part of “Operation Dry Water.”
The goal of Operation Dry Water is to educate the public about the dangers of boating under the influence. Last year during this operation, there were 11 BUI arrests made across Tennessee, and this year, it becomes more serious.
Come July 1, new legislation will go into effect in Tennessee that aligns the penalties of a BUI with a DUI, meaning harsher penalties if convicted.
TWRA Boating Officer John Ripley said the best way to avoid tickets or charges is to follow the law.
“Have somebody that’s not drinking that can operate the boat safely if you do have children on board. Make sure they’re wearing life jackets while they’re out there. Make sure you have enough life jackets on board, and use courtesy and common sense while you’re out there because the lake is going to be a lot busier with a lot of people out that aren’t normally out on the water,” said Ripley.
A BUI can be costly, but other tickets out on the water can also add up and cost a decent chunk of change.
Derek Loudy, a Bluff City resident who was out on Boone Lake Memorial Day weekend, said he was pulled over because his 11-year-old wasn’t wearing a life jacket. According to the TWRA, this is something they stop boaters for quite often, and something they will be looking for this holiday weekend as well.
“The most common offense I stop is going to be a child without a life jacket, seeing small children on the boat without a life jacket on. In Tennessee, if the child is 12 years or younger, they have to keep the life jacket on while the boat is underway. So unless the boat is anchored, moored or aground, the child has to keep it on,” said Ripley.
While the offense is common to officers, the fines and fees associated with the charge are not common knowledge, according to Loudy.
On paper, the ticket was $10, but once he went to pay it at the courthouse, Loudy found out the total was much more than he was expecting.
“When the lady told me $319 in addition to the $10 fine in itself, she said $319 and I said ‘like three hundred and nineteen?’ She said ‘yes sir’ and I was immediately like ‘wow,'” said Loudy.
When he was told on the water there would be additional fees, he figured it could be anywhere from $50 to $60, but not over $300. He said his honest mistake turned into a financial headache, and now he’s warning others.
According to TWRA, the additional fines per county differ, and in most cases, they don’t know what the final ticket cost ends up being.
“The court cost is actually assessed by each individual county. We actually have a sheet of paper that says in this county we write the full fine and court costs on the citation and in other counties, we only write the fine then the court will actually assign the court costs when the individual goes to the clerk’s office,” said Ripley.
After his run-in with TWRA, Loudy said he’ll never make the mistake again and encourages others to familiarize themselves with all the rules of being on the water.
“Before you hit the water, I would go to the TWRA website and read that entire handbook that has all the laws and regulations for boaters listed and I would follow it to a tee,” said Loudy.