Man dies when canoe overturns, marking Tennessee's fifth boating death for 2022

Victim identified as Ten Mile, Tenn., man

Staff file photo by Ben Benton / A blue heron perches on a boat dock on Watts Bar Lake at Foshee Pass Recreation Area in Meigs County, Tenn., in April 2017. A Ten Mile, Tenn., man lost his life on Watt Bar Lake Sunday when the canoe he was in overturned.

A Ten Mile, Tennessee, man is dead and two others were taken to an area hospital for treatment of hypothermia after a canoe overturned Sunday in 54-degree water as gusty winds created white caps on Watts Bar Lake.

Gershwin Jackson Jr., 42, a resident of Meigs County, was identified as the man who died, according to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesperson Mime Barnes.

Jackson is the fifth person to die in a boating incident in Tennessee in 2022, Barnes said Monday in an email. The names of the other two men who reportedly were treated for hypothermia in the incident were not available.

TWRA officers responded to the call just before 3:30 p.m. Sunday, near Sand Island, according to a statement issued Sunday by Barnes.

(READ MORE: Tennessee has disproportionate share of U.S. paddling deaths)

The three men, all wearing life jackets, left in the canoe from a nearby campground, Barnes said. Winds were 15-20 mph, waves were white-capping and the water temperature was 54 degrees.

The men were attempting to swim to shore after their canoe overturned in water depths between 40 and 50 feet, Barnes said. Once they were pulled from the water, two of the men were treated for hypothermia at the scene but Jackson was pronounced dead and taken to the Rhea County Medical Examiner's Office, she said.

The most recent such death in Tennessee prior to Sunday's canoe incident was March 2, when 59-year-old Burlison, Tennessee, resident Steven D. Campbell died when a 14-foot aluminum boat capsized on the Hatchie River in Tipton County, according to TWRA.

Before you go

— Take a boating safety course.— Conduct vessel safety check.— Complete a departure checklist before you head out.— Check the weather.— File a float plan.What you need— Life jackets.— Throwable flotation aids.— Visual distress signals.— Sound-producing devices.— Engine cut-off devices.On the boat— Be aware.— Boat sober.— Provide life jackets.— Provide navigation aids.Source: Operation Dry Water, 2020

Wildlife officers and members of the Gilt Edge (Tennessee) Fire Department found Campbell unresponsive and he was pronounced dead by the Tipton County Medical Examiner. Campbell was not wearing a life jacket, officials said.

Another man drowned in Hamilton County Feb. 8 while attempting to launch a boat at a boat ramp on Eldridge Road, near Eldridge Slough on the east side of the Tennessee River, according to officials.

Wildlife officials said the man, along with another man, was trying to launch the fishing boat when it slid off the trailer at the boat ramp, WRCB-TV Channel 3 reported in February. The 42-year-old man from Bradley County went into the water to retrieve the boat and struggled before going under.

TWRA was unable to immediately provide information on the other two boating deaths.

There were 21 boating fatalities in Tennessee in 2021, TWRA Capt. Matt Clarey said in an email. That figure includes a boating fatality in Hamilton County that resulted in criminal charges for not having life jackets aboard a canoe that overturned on Chickamauga Lake, the Times Free Press reported in 2021.

A 37-year high mark was reached in 2020, when 32 boating fatalities occurred on Tennessee waters, officials said. Outdoor recreation boomed in Tennessee in the first year of the pandemic and boating was no exception, officials said.

Preliminary numbers indicate drugs and alcohol were a contributing factor in about 30% of the 2020 fatal incidents, according to the TWRA.

Even though it's very early in the 2022 season, TWRA recommends everyone brush up on boating safety rules before getting on the water.

"As with any time of the year, we encourage boaters to wear a life jacket, check weather conditions before going out on the water, ensure you have all safety equipment and let someone know where you're going and when you'll return," TWRA boating officer David Holt said via email.

"I'd also add that boaters should review the boating handbook and know the laws," Barnes said.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.