Busy boating year set records, caused problems on Tennessee waterways

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Posted at 6:20 AM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 07:36:25-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee waterways were more crowded than ever in 2020, as many people looked for ways to safely get out of the house during the pandemic.

"We were seeing a record number of people well before we usually see those coming out in the summer," TWRA Captain Matt Majors said. "This was the first year in a number of years we had a significant, what we would call a measurable, increase in boat registrations."

That increase also brought more incidents. In 2019, Tennessee had a record low of deaths on the water with just eight. Last year, that number quadrupled. In 2020, there were 32 boating deaths in Tennessee.

"That just reinforces the need for our wildlife officers, and that officer presence on the water," Majors said.

Issues from last year's boating boom didn't stop at the shorelines. Lawmakers said the added boat traffic made a years-long problem with late night noise on the water even worse.

"We're not talking about a couple folks fishing," Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-Old Hickory) said. "If you have a boat and the music is so loud you can hear it inside a house, it needs to be addressed."

Jernigan said that's why he's introduced a bipartisan bill to create quiet zones on waterways after dark, hoping to keep "party coves" calm, even during the summer.

"It's not going to be a perfect fix to it, but its a good start," Jernigan said.

Even as TWRA leaders expect another busy year on the water.

"Maybe those really high numbers will go down, but I think people have been reignited with the outdoors," Majors said.