The Commercial Appeal
Words to the wise as ‘boating holiday’ looms: Be safe, be responsible
With the July 4 holiday coming up, you’re going to hear a lot of talk these next few days about the dangers of consuming alcohol on the water.
Don’t let it fool you into believing it’s the only part of the summer when drinking takes place on local lakes and rivers.
July 4 is still five days away, and boaters are probably popping tops somewhere as you’re reading this.
But please understand July 4 is a different affair with a very different cast of characters.
It’s amateur hour — and if you’re a die-hard boater who spends the entire summer on the lake, you should be wellprepared for a different scene than the one you’re used to.
People will be out boating, swimming, skiing and drinking for quite possibly their first and only time of the summer. Many of them won’t know the basic
rules for survival on the water, and they certainly won’t be familiar with the danger zones and shallow spots the rest of us have committed to memory.
The lakes will be flooded with novices, perhaps more than any other time of year.
July 4 is one of three so-called “boating holidays” we have in the Mid-South — and in my mind, it’s the most dangerous of the three.
When Memorial Day rolls around in May, many people are still working out the kinks in boats and boating equipment that have been stored away for months. When Labor Day arrives in September, many folks have kids who are already back in school.
But the July 4 holiday weekend falls right in the middle of the summer when everybody’s free and more than ready for a break.
With the holiday falling on a Thursday this year, “amateur hour” could last as many as five days for some people. The partying will begin on Wednesday evening and won’t come to a halt until reality starts setting in on Sunday afternoon.
I’m always amazed that there aren’t more accidents during these craziest times of year. But the state of Tennessee just survived its third straight Memorial Day weekend without a boating fatality.
That’s a credit to officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and U.S. Coast Guard who work hard to educate people on the topic before they hit the lakes.
Operation Drywater — a three-day joint effort by multiple law enforcement agencies — was held Friday through Sunday to remind boaters about the dangers of the upcoming week. The timing of the effort is intentional.
“There’s a reason why it’s held every year the weekend before the July 4 holiday,” said Betsy Woods, boating education coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “We want people to see us out there enforcing these laws. We want people to be prepared — and be safe.”
The TWRA folks work hard and exhibit an incredible amount of courtesy when it comes to educating people on this topic. But they’ll take you to jail in a heartbeat if they find you behaving recklessly and you can’t pass their rigorous round of sobriety tests.
“Our officers work tirelessly during these holiday weekends,” Woods said. “The legal limit for blood-alcohol content on the water is .08, just like it is on the road. Our goal is to remove impaired boaters from the water and make sure that everyone goes home safely.”
They do an incredible job. But you have to do your part, too.
If you’re a die-hard boater or fisherman who can navigate local lakes with your eyes closed on a normal day, remember to keep both eyes open wide during these few days that will be anything but.
If you’re an amateur preparing to spend a few days on the lake for the first time this year, remember a hangover isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you on the water. Come home exhausted. Come home sunburned. But come home safely — and let the rest of us do the same. Operation Drywater in 2012 and 11 during really bad weather the year before that. Our officers take those offenses very seriously because alcohol is the primary cause for a lot of accidents.”