“All they are going to find is a body.”
My longtime fishing partner, the late Harold Dotson, summed it up pretty accurately that beautiful summer day many years ago. A police boat, followed by a boat from TWRA had gone by us on J. Percy Priest at a high rate of speed. They were not chasing anyone so we knew it was a different situation.
It was the Fourth of July weekend years ago and what we were doing on Priest, I have no idea. It has long been a practice of mine and of many anglers to stay off the water on holidays and for me, even weekends during the summer. Too many idiots trying to see how fast their boat can run or how big a rooster tail they can throw. Then, add in the snow mobile looking things they put on water skis and the skiers and add alcohol. You have the perfect recipe for disaster.
In the case of Harold’s prediction, it was a young man who decided he could jump off the bluff near one of the picnic areas. It did not matter that he could not swim all that well. More than several cold beers, according to his friends, made him bullet proof. Unfortunately, he was not immune to drowning.
I am 100% in favor of having a good time and in the past, on more than one occasion, I have mixed an adult beverage or six with my boating. However, in a boat, I have never been a speed demon. My current boat from Marine Sales may run 40-mph. I don’t know. I have never opened it up to see. I am not in that much of a hurry.
But over the years, I have just about seen it all when it comes to idiocy on the water. Now and then, the end result is tragedy and so often it is the result of someone not wearing a life jacket. Many of the launching ramps have signs that give the number of people who have drowned on that water. Then, it lists the number that drowned wearing life jackets. Usually, that second number is zero.
If you have an I.Q. higher than room temperature, surely you realize the value of wearing a personal flotation device-PFD. I have always had one in the boat because the law requires it. However, for many years now, I have been wearing it and wearing it zipped or fastened. Mine, when driving the boat, is attached via a cord to the kill switch on the engine. That way, if thrown out or just thrown away from the steering wheel, the boat dies. Kinda keeps you from getting cut all to pieces by a spinning prop.
Water safety has become more important to me in recent years. I don’t know if it is maturity or just because I have seen so many idiots running boats and jet skis. Some of the things I have seen done are a sheer lack of common sense or purposefully to make an angler mad. I once had guy on a jet ski, run between me and the bank just to get my goat. I am ashamed to admit, he got that and more. Back then, no jet ski could outrun my bass boat.
But the purpose of this column is to hopefully make boaters aware of a few simple safety precautions that can save lives. First of course, is the PFD. If the craft is moving or if you are in the water, have one on and fastened. It really can save your life. Add to that, a fire extinguisher in your boat. I can’t count the number of boat fires I have seen and don’t recall ever seeing a fire extinguisher available. It is also the law on most crafts. No matter what size or type of watercraft you are in, wear a PFD.
Second, don’t be stupid. Don’t do stupid things like jumping out of a moving boat or jumping into water of which you don’t know the depth or what is under the surface. Don’t run full speed by some angler just see if your wake will slosh over the side of his boat. You never know, he may have a shotgun laying handy in the bottom. Or what if he was standing up and fell out? I have just exactly that done a number of times. Some guy in a speed demon “waking” a fisherman.
Act like you have relatives. That is an old Native American saying that basically means, don’t do things most folks would be ashamed of. Don’t drive the boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Not only is it dangerous, it is against the law and you can bet the boys will be out this weekend checking. The penalty is the same as with a car.
Have some courtesy. There are going to be crowds at the ramps. Don’t back your boat down and block the whole ramp while you fiddle around taking the tie downs off. Have your boat ready to launch, back down, launch and get out of the way. With two people, one in the boat and one in the car or truck, there is no way it should take more than a couple minutes to launch. The same holds when taking out.
So enjoy the holidays, enjoy the water and all TN has to offer. I won’t be there. I don’t get away from home on holidays. But I don’t want to be writing a column about you next week unless you caught something really big.
These are among the deadliest days on the water.
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