Hundreds of people floated their boats on Watts Bar Lake to celebrate Independence Day. Kingston's annual Smokin' the Water festival kicked off early Wednesday with wake-boarding competitions and other skiing exhibitions.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers hit the lake to ensure those who crowded the water for the wake were not also part of a funeral.
"We're just out here at this point making sure the ski boats have enough room and anyone who is in the area is safe," said Dan Hicks, public information officer for TWRA Region 3. "With the fireworks coming on tonight, there may be a couple of hundred boats in the area."
Hicks said boating accidents and boating under the influence (BUI) violations are down this year in Region 3, in part because of an increased police presence on the water.
"When someone pulls in here and they see three or for law enforcement boats in the area, they're probably going to curtail their partying," said Hicks. "You can enjoy an alcoholic beverage on a boat, but the operator of the boat cannot be under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. The rocking motion of the water and the heat combine to intensify the effects of alcohol."
Hicks said TWRA has tried to remind people about the rules regarding required safety equipment on boats. He said many boaters misunderstand the laws.
"You see a lot of the same violations all the time where people just don't know the law," said Hicks. "A really common one is life jackets with children. If a kid is younger than 12 they must be wearing a life jacket while the boat is underway."
The law says people older than 12 must have a readily accessible life jacket with them in the boat, but do not have to wear it at all times.
"There has to be a life jacket for every person in the boat. You also are required to have a throw cushion floatation device in a boat that is more than 16 feet long. That is where a lot of people get tickets. They think if there is a life jacket you don't need a throw cushion. The other thing that happens is they think the throw cushion can count as a life jacket. You need both in the boat," said Hicks.
There are also requirements regarding boat registration, fire extinguishers, lighting, and other safety gear. A full list of requirements for boaters can be found at TWRA's website. The site also includes a PDF requirements chart for your boat.
Hicks said the ultimate goal of TWRA enforcement is to save lives.
"The number one way people die each year is falling overboard without a life jacket, without a way to keep their head above water," said Hicks. "You see a lot of guys out on the water who don't think a life jacket is very macho, but it absolutely saves lives."