July 4th 'boating holiday' means novices, drinking, so be prepared to stay safe on the water

With the July 4 holiday coming up, you're going to hear talk about the dangers of consuming alcohol on the water.

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 prepared 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," 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 Wednesday evening and won't come to a halt until reality starts setting in Sunday afternoon.

I'm always amazed that there aren't more accidents during these craziest times of year. But Tennessee just survived its third straight Memorial Day weekend without a boating fatality.

That's a credit to officials 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, sponsored by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators -- was held over the weekend to remind boaters about the dangers of this week. The timing of the effort is intentional.

"Our officers work tirelessly during these holiday weekends," said Betsy Woods, boating education coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "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 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.

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