KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In 2020, Tennessee saw 32 boating fatalities, marking the deadliest year on the water in almost 40 years. It's a drastic difference from 2019, which saw a record low of eight fatalities.
So far this year, seven boating fatalities have been reported. A Morristown man was struck by a boat propeller after falling overboard at Douglas Lake on Thursday night. TWRA said he later died from his injuries.
National Safe Boating Week begins Saturday ahead of the holiday weekend. There have been 24 accidents and nine serious injuries in total this year, according to TWRA.
“They wanna go out, fish, ski, pull a tube behind them," said Richard Swan with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. “They’re on the lake to have fun.”
However, he said he also knows how easy it is to get distracted while on the water. After 2020’s record high numbers, he wants people to pay attention to the rules.
The top rule is about the importance of life jackets. If you’re over 12 years old, you don’t have to wear one but there must be one for every person onboard, plus a throwable device for emergencies.
Next, Swan said boaters should know their surroundings, especially if they're jumping in. He said people should know how deep down the water goes before jumping in, and that there won't be anything in their way that could cause injuries.
Tennessee has a lot of cliffs along the river and other bodies of water. Debris can build up and create dangerous circumstances in the water.
If you plan on drinking while on a boat, Swan said to remember the effects are heightened because of the sun. He also wanted to remind people and that a driver can never be impaired and behind the wheel.
“A smaller amount of alcohol is going to make you impaired more severely," he said.
Not only are more boaters in the water, kayakers and paddle boarders are out too. The Knoxville Adventure Collective said boaters should be aware of them on the water. They also said sportspeople should look out for others around them if they're participating in water sports.
“We want everyone on the water to have a good time and enjoy the waterways, but we also want people to realize dangers can occur," said Swan.
There’s been an increase in boat traffic already ahead of big weekends, and he said to expect to see law enforcement more active on the water.