The peak boating and swimming season is barely underway, and already the grim statistics are mounting on area waters.
Two teenager swimmers and an adult have drowned in separate incidents, and a boater was killed in a collision with another craft.
At this rate, this could become the deadliest summer on record.
In a single weekend two 17-year-olds drowned. One of the fatalities occurred near Tracy City when a youngster was fishing with his father and their boat flipped. A second teen drowned in Franklin County while swimming, and an adult drowned after jumping from a pontoon boat near Gatlinburg.
During that same period, a boater died in a crash on Percy Priest and another was seriously injured when two boats collided. The accident occurred at night, near the Hobson Pike Bridge.
Those numbers don’t include a child that drowned in Cummings Falls when a group of swimmers was caught in flash-flood waters.
One reason for the increase in water-related accidents is simple: there is a huge increase in the number of people on the water, especially in and around rapidly growing Middle Tennessee.
A prime example is Dale Hollow Lake. A few years ago the lake had relatively little boat traffic. Nowadays during the summer the lake is packed with houseboats, pontoon boats and other party boats, in addition to fishing boats.
As urban lakes like Percy Priest and Old Hickory become increasingly congested, more boaters are heading to relatively remote Cordell Hull, Dale Hollow and Center Hill.
The more boaters, the more chances of an accident, especially when alcohol is involved.
Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a growing concern for Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers who patrol the waters.
Speed is also a factor, especially for fast-moving boats during low visibility conditions or when the water is churned into huge wakes.
Carelessness is another contributor. My longtime fishing buddy Bob Sherborne almost drowned a few years ago on Old Hickory Lake because of a split-second mistake.
After dropping me off at the ramp to back down the boat trailer, Sherborne puttered out in the cove to adjust the outboard motor. When he leaned over, the motor revved, the boat spun and Sherborne was thrown overboard.
The unmanned boat speed away, leaving Sherborne struggling in the deep, cold water. He was hundreds of yards from shore, wearing heavy clothing, and not wearing a life jacket.
Just before he went under, a boat that happened to be nearby rushed to his rescue. It was the only boat in sight that cold, blustery morning. It saved Sherborne’s life.
Another fishing buddy, Bill Bethel, rescued a boater who fell overboard below Cheatham Dam. Bethel rushed over and threw the man a life preserver just before the surging current pulled him under.
He, like Sheborne, wasn’t wearing a life jacket, as required by law below the dam.
That’s two incidents in which fatalities would have occurred due to the lack of a life jacket (Sherborne always wears one now). Both also are examples of how quickly disaster can strike.
On the water an accident can happen in a heartbeat. Boaters and swimmers need to keep that constantly in mind. Sometimes there’s no second chance.