KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) is urging people to follow the rules of the waterways and to use safety tips during this Memorial Day weekend.
“The main thing is, make sure you have your safety equipment on board,” said TWRA boating officer, John Ripley. “Make sure the kids have the life jackets on. Any child,12 years or under has to have that life jacket on. They can not take it off unless you’re anchored or tied to the bank.”
More tips and rules that Officer Ripley shared are:
-Life jackets need to be available for every person on a water vessel
-Check all life jackets to make sure they still function before boating.
-Alcohol is allowed on boats, but there needs to be a sober designated driver
-Anyone in Tennessee born after January 1st, 1989 has to have taken a boater safety class to operate/drive a water vessel
Washington County Johnson City (WCJC) EMS Lieutenant Luke Gregg advises people to be aware of their surroundings out on the water.
“Be aware that if the boat’s in motion, that everybody’s seated and that they’re aware that the boat’s going into motion,” said Gregg. “Make sure you follow the rules of the lake, the rules of the boats in motion. Make sure your kids are seated. Make sure nobody’s outside the rails on the pontoons or sitting up on the back of the seats where they’re not supposed to be seated.”
Gregg says the WCJC EMS has emergency boats ready to deploy at all times in case of a water accident or emergency.
Last year on Memorial Day, a fatality occurred on South Holston Lake when a jet ski collided with a boat. Ripley says it happened right before many of the TWRA officers were about to go home.
“Make sure that you keep a good distance between yourself and other boaters,” said Ripley. “Give yourself space because there’s no speed limit on the water. It’s all about common sense and using good judgment on how fast you should be going and how far you should be staying away because you should keep at least 100 feet between you and another vessel, if at all possible.”
Gregg says that the lake is basically like a road. He cautions boaters to be aware of kayakers, paddle boarders, jet skiers and vice versa.
“You’re supposed to share the lake; you’re supposed to share the water,” said Gregg. “Going down the lake, you can stay on the right. Coming up, you can stay on the left. Make sure that you’re giving the boaters plenty enough room that if something happens, they’re able to maneuver away from you or to be able to slow the boat down before something bad happens.”
Nine deadly boating incidents have occurred in the state of Tennessee this year, but none of those were in East Tennessee, according to the TWRA. In 2022, there were 29 fatal boating incidents, an increase from 22 the year before. The TWRA says drunk driving is the leading cause of boating accidents in the Volunteer State.
“On the water, a BUI or boating under the influence carries the exact same penalties as a DUI which that you would get on the roadway,” said Ripley. “They’re actually interchangeable. So, if you get one and then another one, it’s actually a second offense. So now a BUI does carry a first offense, 48 hours in jail and a minimum fine of $350.”
Ripley said there will be an increase of TWRA officers patrolling the waterways this weekend.