Boaters Beware


It is hot and humid outside, in other words, it is a Tennessee summer. Many Tennesseans are trying to beat the heat with a trip to their local lake or river.  But before you head out, there are some things you should know.   The 2023 Tennessee Boating Incident Statistical Report has been released and boating accidents have increased.   Read on to learn which bodies of water had the most incidences and fatalities, what day and times are the most dangerous and about Boating Under the Influence laws and penalties. 

First, let’s review what is a “reportable incident”.  If an incident involves death, a missing person or an injury that requires or should have required first aid, then it is a reportable incident and you should notify TWRA.  Even if no one is injured, the accident is still reportable if it involves more than $2,000 of property damage.

For 2023, there were 163 reportable boating incidences, an increase from the 134 incidences in 2023.   Perhaps not surprisingly, Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. is the most dangerous time to be on the water.  The age group most likely to be involved in an accident was the 21-25 year olds. The most common reason for Tennessee boating accidents was “lack of proper lookout”, and the leading type of accident was collision with another vessel.  Chickamauga Reservoir reported the most incidences and Percy Priest lake reported the most fatalities.

In a separate category, there were 6 fatal accidents involving personal water craft (commonly referred to as Sea-Doos, Wave Runners, Jet Skis, etc.).  This was a shocking increase from 2022 which only saw one fatality on personal watercraft.  The age group most likely to be involved in a personal watercraft accident was 16-20.  The primary cause of an accident on a Jet Ski, WaveRunner or SeaDoo was careless/reckless operation.

For boating accidents, alcohol or drug use was the primary cause in 5% of the reported incidences.  Since July 1, 2023, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is treated exactly the same as a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offense.  If you are operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher, then you are breaking the law and can face the same penalties as a DUI.  Under the new law, officers are permitted to obtain search warrants for blood or breath tests.  If you are found guilty of BUI, be prepared to spend a minimum of 48 hours in jail and up to 29 days.  BUI convictions and DUI convictions will be combined for purposes of sentencing.  For example, if you were convicted of a DUI and then you later are convicted of a BUI, the BUI will be treated as a second offense with stiffer penalties.  Finally, if you are convicted of BUI and there was a child on your boat, the court may impose stiffer penalties for a separate offense such as child endangerment.

Enjoy the water this summer, but please stay safe.  If you are enjoying adult beverages, make sure you have a sober driver.  Check your boater’s insurance and make sure it is adequate to protect yourself and someone else in the event you are involved in a boating accident.  And, keep a proper lookout, especially on Saturdays.


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