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By Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer

A recent rash of kayak accidents in Tennessee – including four fatalities this year – has prompted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to hold safety training classes for the popular watercraft.

One of the seminars was recently held on Old Hickory Lake, conducted by Wilson County wildlife officer Tanner Romsdale.

“The number of recreational paddle-craft users has increased substantially in the past few years, and as an Agency we are certainly glad to see more people enjoying one of our greatest resources in the state, our waterways,” Romsdale said.

“With that in mind, we have also recognized the need to educate the public on how to use kayaks, canoes and paddle-boards in a manner to ensure everyone goes home safe after a great day paddling.”

Submitted photo
As kayaking has grown in popularity, so have safety concerns.

Romsdale organized a Kayak Basic Operations Safety Class to introduce kayakers to safety rules and equipment, basic paddle strokes, precautions on the water and how to re-enter a kayak after capsizing.

One of the persons who drowned earlier this year managed to hold onto his capsized kayak for awhile, according to investigators, but was unable to get back into it and did not survive.

In recent years kayaks have become one of the most popular forms of watersport activities, used by recreational paddlers and fishermen. Kayaks are inexpensive, as compared to bigger boats, and are easy to transport and launch since no trailer is required. Paddling provides exercise, and the motor-less craft are quiet and tranquil.

But with the surge in popularly has come a rise in accidents. Many newcomers to paddle-sports are unaware of safety regulations and other requirements, including having a life jacket aboard at all times – just as is required for all other types of boats.

Some of the original regulations regarding kayaks were obscure. For example, after sunset a light is required to be on board a kayak, but the only requirement was that it be visible for 360 degrees. Would the dim light from a cell phone meet the regulation? Even some officials seemed uncertain. Detailed kayak regulations can be found in the Tennessee Boating Guide, available at most outdoor outlets.

Also compounding the problem is that many kayakers have started to venture further out from shore. Some, for example, paddle across large bodies of water such as Percy Priest Lake. Since a kayak sits low on the water it can be hard to see from a distance, especially among waves. That creates a hazardous situation as water skiers and speedboaters race across the water. Having a visible flag mounted on a staff above the kayak is a must.

In order to obey the safety regulations, a kayaker first must KNOW the regulations, and that’s the TWRA’s current educational mission.

Here’s how Romsdale puts it:

“As an officer working our waterways, I know too often we have to address safety violations, such as no life jacket on board or not displaying proper lighting after sunset,” he says.

“Unfortunately, we have had to investigate boating fatalities that involved paddle-craft users. At the end of the day we want the public to enjoy the resource, but more importantly, enjoy it safely.”