Tennessee officials urge safety as boating season comes to an end over Labor Day weekend

State boating deaths holding at 24 for the year as holiday approaches

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Boaters enjoy Memorial Day on the waters of Chickamauga Lake on Monday, May 25, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

With summer's last hurrah over the Labor Day weekend, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials hope boaters keep safety foremost in their minds and alcohol consumption and boating-related deaths to a minimum.

Otherwise, it could be a record-setting year for boating fatalities in Tennessee, according to TWRA spokeswoman Mime Barnes.

Tennessee has already seen 24 boating-related fatalities this year, an increase from 17 at the same time last year, Barnes said Thursday in a news release on enforcement efforts. That number ties the fourth-highest year for fatalities since 2001.

By mid-August, boating fatalities in 2022 tied for fourth-most since 2001 behind 2004 and 2020, both of which are tied at 31, TWRA records show. There were 25 boating deaths in 2013, and the tally in 2022 ties 2011 at 24 with 19 weeks left to go in the year.

"We want our boaters to enjoy this final holiday weekend of summer in a safe and responsible matter," TWRA boating education coordinator Betsy Woods said in the release. "We cannot over-emphasize for people to wear their life jackets."

(READ MORE: Boater safety and sobriety targeted by 'Operation Dry Water' for Tennessee's Fourth of July weekend)

Boating-death totals surpassed last year's in August, the most recent being a Dalton, Georgia, man who died in a boating accident Aug. 15 on Parksville Lake in Polk County, according to TWRA.

Authorities discovered the unoccupied boat of 57-year-old Billy Calhoun, of Dalton, Georgia, going in circles that afternoon near the East Parksville boat ramp where the man had gone boating alone, TWRA officials said last month.

TWRA officers will be on the watch for dangerous boating behavior, such as boating under the influence and other reckless operation, according to TWRA Capt. Matt Majors.

The end of summer will bring a welcome slow-down in water-borne recreation, Majors said Thursday in a phone interview.

"And we've got a little rain this weekend coming, so that's always a positive thing," he said. "We want the public out there, but it's statistically proven that when there's rain and thundershowers, there are fewer boating accidents because people don't go to the lake."

The idea is for all those people on the lake to make it home at the end of the day, he said.

(READ MORE: TWRA investigates Memorial Day Rhea County woman's drowning on Watts Bar Lake)

"I actually worked enforcement this past Saturday on Chickamauga Lake with another officer, and while there were still a number of people out there, it's obvious summer is winding down," Majors said. "There are a number of people who have boat houses that are consistently filled with boats, and some of those were missing or gone."

There will still be plenty of people looking for fun on the water over the holiday, and there will be anglers and others who keep hitting the water into the fall, he said.

"People will push summer as far as they can, especially on the weekends," Majors said.

All children ages 12 and under must wear a life jacket, according to state boating laws, and there must be a life jacket on board the vessel for each person.

"And I'll continue until my last breath to say alcohol and drugs need to be left at home," Majors said.

Highs and lows

This list shows the state’s boating high marks in the 56 years since the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was established, 1965-2021:

— Most fatalities: 47 in 1973.

— Least fatalities: 2 in 1965.

— Most injured: 173 in 2004.

— Least injured: 1 in 1971.

— Most overall incidents: 222 in 2006.

— Least overall incidents: 13 in 1965.

— Most registered vessels: 314,620 in 1999.

— Least registered vessels: 70,899 in 1965.

Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency 2021 Tennessee Boating Incident Statistical Report

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