Hamilton County Marine Patrol Deputy Sam Roistacher, right, and J. Matt Lea, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokesman, approach a boat for a safety check on Lake Chickamauga near Chester Frost Park.
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For Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, water safety is a very personal matter. In 1947, his father drowned in an accident when Hammond was just 4 years old.

During a news conference on water safety Thursday at Chester Frost Park, Hammond recalled the tragedy.

He said his 25-year-old father was duck hunting from a canoe on Lake Kissimmee in Florida when his boat overturned. He had been wearing lace-up hunting boots that he couldn't get off and he wasn't wearing a life jacket — mistakes that cost him his life.

Hammond said he was too young to remember the incident, but the tragedy resulted in all the children in the family being made to learn to swim, and it made Hammond safety conscious when it comes to the water.

"I've always been sensitive about people being careful around water," Hammond said.

Waterways of every size will be covered with craft ranging from houseboats and bass boats to kayaks and stand-up paddleboards as this weekend's unofficial kickoff to summer gets underway, and local officials want to make sure everyone is safe.

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Hamilton County Marine Patrol Deputy Sam Roistacher completes his open water check of Joshua McDonald, of Cleveland, Thursday on Lake Chickamauga near Chester Frost Park.


High: 86, Low: 68
Rain chances: 20 percent

High: 85, Low: 68
Rain chances: 80 percent

High: 83, Low: 66
Rain chances: 40 percent

High: 82, Low: 68
Rain chances: 80 percent

Source: WRCB Channel 3

In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard ranked Tennessee 10th in the nation for boating accidents, with 116 incidents, records show.

During the 2017 Memorial Day weekend, there were 17 boating-under-the-influence arrests and one injury accident reported by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Alabama saw two boating fatalities during the same weekend, according to the Marine Patrol Division of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. The deaths involved a man and his 3-year-old son who were in a kayak in Cleburne County when it overturned. Neither was wearing a life jacket, officials said.

So far in 2018 in Tennessee, there have been five boating-related fatalities.

Several years ago, when Hammond was chief deputy, he responded to a call at Chester Frost Park. Two couples had been drinking on a boat when one of the men decided to swim to shore.

"He got in trouble and his buddy dove in to help him, and neither one of them had on a life jacket," Hammond said. Both men died.

Law enforcement officials hope to keep tragedies like that from happening again.

At the Thursday news conference, Sgt. Matthew Purvis and Deputy Sam Roistacher said officers will work during the holiday weekend checking boats for proper registration and equipment.

That means they will be looking for safety equipment, including a life jacket for every person on board, a fire extinguisher and a throwable life ring or seat cushion made to double as a life preserver, Purvis and Roistacher said.

Children 12 and younger are required to wear an appropriately sized, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket whether moving, anchored or moored, and all occupants aboard are required to wear one when the boat is underway.

So what's it like to be stopped for a boating safety and registration check?

Roistacher and sheriff's office spokesman J. Matt Lea stopped Cleveland, Tennessee-boater Joshua McDonald near a Chester Frost Park boat ramp Thursday.

Roistacher turned on the Marine Patrol boat's blue lights, slowed as he approached, and got within speaking distance of McDonald to begin the check.

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Hamilton County Marine Patrol Sgt. Matthew Purvis holds a life ring as he describes safety items required for boaters. Hope Wilkey is seen looking through the life ring as Sheriff Jim Hammond, right, stands by during the presentation Thursday at Chester Frost Park.


Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia all have free fishing days when residents of any age can fish without a license and at no cost in all public waters. In Tennessee and Alabama, visitors can also fish public waters free, without a license, on free fishing day.

Tennessee and Alabama will have a free fishing day on Saturday, June 9. Free fishing day in Tennessee is always followed by Free Fishing Week when children, ages 15 and younger can fish for free all week in Tennessee’s public waters.

Alabama officials note that some fishing piers and lakes might still require fees and permits.

Georgia will have three free fishing days; June 2, 9 and Sept. 22, but the offer is restricted to Georgia residents only.

Sources: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources


When Roistacher asked, McDonald produced a fire extinguisher, horn, life jacket, up-to-date registration and throwable seat cushions, passing muster with the officers.

Roistacher said officers try not to make the check a bad experience for boaters who are obeying the rules.

McDonald said he'd had his sporty cabin cruiser for about two years. He said the boat was equipped with a gas-powered electrical generator but, with safety in mind, it is also equipped with a carbon monoxide detector to alert him to any dangerous fumes.

Regina Young, representing Erlanger hospital's trauma services at the news conference, said that besides drowning, carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the most deadly accidents involving boats.

"[It] is a concern, especially if there's a closed cabin," Young said.

In the event officers catch someone piloting a boat while under the influence, what happens next?

Purvis said officers try to find someone aboard or who can be contacted without much trouble to pilot the boat back to a ramp to avoid having to call a tow boat.

"Almost always there's a person on the boat who is not drunk," Purvis said.

Another boating danger that has increased in recent years is the popularity of kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and canoes on all bodies of water, officials said. Three of Tennessee's boating-related deaths this year involved paddlecraft, TWRA officials said.

Agency officials said last year that infrequent or new paddlecraft users typically don't see themselves as captaining a vessel or think they need to understand boating safety and state laws.

Paddlecraft operators are exempt from a law that requires motorboat operators born after Jan. 1, 1989, to complete a boating safety course. But officials say knowing the law is vital for safety, because powered vessels can overtake a slow-moving paddler and dangerous high water or winds can pose a threat in an instant. They also say a life jacket is an essential part of safety equipment for paddlers.

In the end, careful planning is the best way to have a great time on the water, officials said.

Taking a few minutes to check some of the boat components may be the key to having a safe outing. Performing a simple maintenance check before getting on the water can prevent problems. Check hoses to make sure they are in good shape, make sure the lights work and carry extra fuses and bulbs, officials said.

"Enjoy your day, but while you're out there use the safety rules. Make sure that those that are with you wear those life jackets," Hammond said.

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


The National Fire Protection Association offers boaters the following tips to avoid electrical shock:

Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water causing water electrification

Each year, and after a major storm, have the boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required area codes and those of the American Boat & Yacht Council. Check with the marina owner who can also tell you if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area, including the National Electrical Code.

Have ground fault circuit interrupters installed on the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords that are “UL-Marine Listed” when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly

Source: National Fire Protection Association


The total number of registered vessels in 2017 was 248,475. That was a decrease of 6,005 from 2016.

The total number of reportable incidents in 2017 was 105. That was a decrease from 2016, which had 132.

The incident rate for 2017 was 42.3 per 100,000 registered vessels. This was a decrease from 2016. which was 51.9 per 100,000.

The bodies of water that reported the most incidents were Kentucky Lake and Norris Lake with 12 incidents each.

The county that reported the most incidents was Franklin County with eight.

The monetary amount of damage resulting from boating incidents in 2017 was $584,016. This was a decrease from 2016, which reported $1,252,545.

The most common type of boat involved in an incident was an open motorboat.

The leading type of incident was collision with vessel with 48 occurrences.

The most common operation during an incident was recreational cruising.

The leading primary cause of incidents was improper lookout.

Alcohol and/or drug use was a primary cause in 9.1 percent of incidents in 2017. This was an increase from 2016, which was 5.8 percent of incidents.

Rented or borrowed vessels were involved in 12.4 percent of incidents in 2017. This was a decrease from 2016, which was 20.5 percent of incidents.

The most likely time to be involved in an incident was between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m.

The most likely day of the week to be involved in an incident was Sunday.

The leading age group of operators to be involved in an incident was 46-50 years old.

Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency 2017 Tennessee Boating Statistical Report