Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers patrolling area waters this summer will be on special alert for drunken boaters.
With such area lakes as Old Hickory and Percy Priest becoming increasingly crowded, impaired boat operators represent a growing concern.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol was the main factor in 17 percent of 651 deaths involving recreational boating last year. That is up one percent from the year before.
During the recent Memorial Day weekend TWRA officers issued 11 citations for alcohol-related boating infractions. That was half as many as were issued during the 2012 Memorial Day weekend, an indication that the TWRA’s crackdown is being taken seriously by boaters.
In Tennessee, boating under the influence falls under the same offense as driving under the influence. The person who is operating a boat is required to abide by the same regulations as a person operating a vehicle on the highway and subject to similar penalties for violations.
That includes the “implied consent” law that requires individuals to cooperate with the investigating officer and submit to sobriety tests.
A TWRA officer has law-enforcement powers, including the authority to conduct sobriety tests, issue citations and make arrests if necessary.
Impairment can include drugs or other substances in addition to alcohol.
Boaters are advised that consumption of alcohol while on a boat can sometimes get out of control quicker than on land. The sun and heat prompt some boaters to imbibe more freely than they would otherwise.
Officers also will be enforcing the state’s mandatory life jacket requirement. A Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device is required for each person aboard a boat and must be “easily accessible,” not stored away.
Statistics show that the number of people who drown while not wearing a life jacket are dramatically higher than those who go into the water wearing a floatation device.
Any passenger under 12 must wear a floatation device any time the boat is moving, including drifting or being paddled. If the craft is anchored, a flotation device is not required to be worn, although it is advisable for younger children who might topple overboard.
Any Tennessee resident born after Jan. 1, 1989, must complete a boater-education course approved by the TWRA in order to be certified to operate a boat. The person must carry a TWRA-issued Boating Safety Education Certificate while operating the boat.
There is an array of additional requirements, some of which are determined by the size of the boat.
A complete list of boating rules and regulations can be found on the TWRA website, tnwildlife.org or in the Tennessee Boating Handbook, available for free at most outdoor outlets.