There is no excuse to go out on Upper Cumberland waterways this weekend without a life jacket on.
That is according to TWRA Wildlife Officer Dustin Buttram. Buttram said a fatal mistake people often make is taking life jackets without wearing them, keeping them stored and out of reach.
“They’re inside the boat, under straps holding them in or in compartments that are not easy to get to,” Buttram said. “So we’ve actually worked a few incidents where we’ve had drowning victims out on a kayak and the life jacket is actually in the boat. They just couldn’t get to it.”
Buttram said boaters have many options for comfortable life jackets if they feel wearing them can be uncomfortable.
“It is a lot like a seat belt and there’s avenues around some of the excuses,” Buttram said. “A lot of their excuses are they’re hot or they’re confining. So the ones like we wear as officers on the waterways, they’re inflatable. They’re not confining, there’s not a lot of buckles and straps and it’s a one size fits all life jacket. It has one buckle on it, it’s not a neoprene material. It’s pretty small and these actually inflate automatically if you fall in the water or it has a manual pull tab.”
Buttram said that knowing the chest size and weight of yourself or someone you’re outfitting with a life jacket is key. He said this is especially important to monitor for kids.
“This is especially important for kids as they’re growing up quickly,” Buttram said. “You’ll have to check and make sure that the life jacket still suits their body type. Some life jackets may only be between 30 and 50 pounds.”
Buttram said another common mistake seen on the water is people inviting friends and family onto a boat without enough life jackets for everyone.
He said if anyone needs an answer on why life jackets are necessary, they can check signage at launch ramps for how many deaths happen with and without life jackets. Buttram used Dale Hollow Lake as an example, saying roughly 140 people have drowned and only one victim was wearing a life jacket.