Safety is at the forefront this week as more people make their way to the water before Memorial Day weekend.
May 16-22 marks this year’s National Safe Boating Week. Promoting safe boating week is a way to kick off safe habits to be carried on throughout the year.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency pushed life jackets this year as the most important aspect of boating safety, Lee Wilmot, TWRA official, said in a press release.
“Tennessee offers boating enthusiasts an abundance of opportunities to enjoy the resources across the state,” Wilmot said. “Memorial Day weekend is viewed as the unofficial kickoff to the summer boating season. The goal of National Safe Boating Week is to educate the public about the importance of safe boating practices and wearing life jackets.”
TWRA even hosted a “Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day” on Twitter where boaters could share a photo of themselves in a life jacket at work accompanied by specific hashtags. Winners were chosen at random and sent prizes.
Thomas Jumer, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 082-12-02 commander, pointed to the importance of wearing life jackets as a safety measure.
“I think the No. 1 thing that is overlooked is the life jacket and the ability for whoever is onboard a boat to be able to put it on in time in case there is an accident,” Jumer said. “We just lost two people on Douglas Lake, two fishermen, they didn’t wear life jackets and now are deceased. So that is the No. 1 thing that we stress in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Your life jacket is your lifeline whenever you go out on the water.”
Jumer also stressed boat maintenance.
“A lot of people put their boat away or let it sit in the slip over the winter and take it out in springtime and think everything will work,” he said. “Many times, you’ll have water in the gas and other things. Fortunately, we have (Tellico Boaters Assistance Response Team) here, but in many other areas outside of the Little Tennessee River, there isn’t. So monetarily wise, normally a tow for a professional is somewhere around $200 up to $1,000.”
Instruction is equally as important for safety, he said. Coming from Michigan, he had plenty of boating experience on lakes, but moving to the South and boating on rivers provided new experiences — “a whole different set a rules” that he did not prepare for beforehand.
Boaters should plan vessel inspections, Jumer said.
“Coast Guard Auxiliary does them free of charge,” Jumer said. “Unfortunately, right now we are on a stand down, so we’re not allowed to do them, but as soon as they let us go out, we will be going out to every marina in this area and offer free vessel inspections. We go in and make sure everything’s working on the boat and give them some additional information if there are some things that may have changed from one year to the next, make sure they understand the Tennessee laws. Then from that point on, let them ask any questions that they may have.
“Some things that we go through may be if you have an elderly person on the boat, make sure you have the right type of life jacket for them,” he added. “You want one that will keep their head above water if they fall in the water. The auxiliarist that does the vessel inspection puts their name down on the form and also the phone number, and we’re their mentor. If they have any questions, they can come to us and we’ll be happy to help them out.”
Jumer recommends boaters invest in a marine radio, which costs about $100 and gives boaters access to 24-hour Coast Guard weather broadcasts as well as reports from other boaters on the water.
T-BART to resume
In preparation for Memorial Day weekend and the expected heavy boating traffic, T-BART on Thursday resumes stranded boat tows to safe harbor points on Tellico Lake, Phil Weis, T-BART director of public relations, said in an email correspondence.
T-BART had previously suspended towing services due to COVID-19 concerns. T-BART volunteers will utilize safety measures such as social distancing, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and boat sanitation.
“T-BART members have been anxious to resume our primary mission of providing no-cost boat tows to stranded boaters on Tellico Lake,” Weis said in an email correspondence. “However, with most of T-BART members being within vulnerable categories to COVID-19, member safety was and is the primary consideration in these decisions. This resumption of T-BART activities includes stranded boat tows and courtesy tows, but does not include training classes, lake orientation sessions and other various meetings and services at this time. These additional meetings and services will be evaluated monthly and will be restarted as soon as conditions warrant.”