It is the responsibility of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to enforce and administer the provisions of the "Tennessee Boating Safety Act." Enforcement officers of the Agency are on the water to assist boaters as well as to enforce laws and to provide control when necessary. Every officer of the Agency has the authority to stop and board any vessel subject to the State Boating Act. They may issue citations or, when necessary, they may arrest, on sight, without warrant, any person they see violating any provisions of the Act.
Most Agency vessels may be recognized by the orange and green stripes near the bow and the words WILDLIFE RESOURCES on the sides; however, unmarked vessels are also used. Boaters who are signaled to stop must do so immediately and maneuver in such a way that the officer may come along side or come aboard.
TWRA officers monitor marine radio channel 17 and can also be contacted through the regional TWRA dispatcher at the toll-free number.
Boating Under the Influence
It is unlawful to operate any sail or powered vessel while under the influence of intoxicants or drugs. Here are some important facts to consider:
Implied consent: All persons operating a sail or powered vessel have given their implied consent to a sobriety test. Failure to consent to testing is a separate offense and may result in suspension of vessel operating privileges for six months.
Presumption of Guilt: A vessel operator whose tests show .10 of alcohol is presumed under the influence and his or her ability to operate a vessel is impaired.
Blood-alcohol test required: State law requires that blood-alcohol content be taken from all operators involved in an accident where death or serious injury occurs.
Penalties: Conviction for operating under the influence will result in fines of up to $2,500 on the first offense, $2,500 on the second offense and $5,000 for the third offense. A jail sentence of 11 months and 29 days may also be imposed for any conviction, probation is mandatory for any offense, and operating privileges may be suspended from one to ten years. Additional federal penalties may also be charged.
Persons under 12 years of age may not operate a powered boat unless they are accompanied by an adult who can take immediate control of the vessel. An exception is made if the boat is powered by an outboard motor of 8.5 horsepower or less. A further exception is made for unaccompanied operators between the ages of 10 and 12 if the boat is over 14 feet long, powered by an outboard motor of less than 15 horsepower, and the person has successfully completed a boating education course approved By the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Reckless operation of a vessel, water skies or similar device is one of the most serious offenses in Tennessee boating law. Violations are punishable by a fine of $2500 and six months in jail. Additionally, the Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of one year. Reckless operation is defined as any act, which endangers life, limb or property.
Examples of reckless operation are:
The owner of a vessel may be responsible for any injury or damage done by his or her vessel whether the owner is present or not. This shall not hold true if the vessel is used without the owner's consent.
Accidents must be reported
Incidents Involving Serious Injury or Death: Vessel operators involved in incidents where persons are seriously injured or killed may be charged with a felony resulting in a fine of $10,000 and 15 years imprisonment.
Personal watercraft are those vessels (boats) which are designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the craft rather than sitting or standing inside the vessel. It includes but is not limited to jet skis, wet bikes, wave runners, sea doos and similar craft. Personal watercraft is considered powered vessels and must adhere to the same rules as any other boat. They must be registered, carry flotation devices and be operated at a speed safe enough for the operator to avoid a collision or stop in time to avoid an accident.
Additionally, personal watercraft operators should be aware of the following:
Carrying Passengers for Hire
Before a person may carry passengers for hire on the navigable waters of the United States, an appropriate license must be obtained from the U. S. Coast Guard. This includes ferry service, fishing guide service or any operation where consideration (monetary or otherwise) is required from the passengers.
Only Type I PFDs are acceptable when carrying passengers for hire. Some equipment requirements vary with the classification of the vessel and the number of passengers carried. For questions about licensing and equipment requirements, contact the nearest U. S. Coast Guard Marine Safety office.
Special Marine Events - Permit
Boat races, marine parades and any other special aquatic events, which may restrict local navigation or require additional patrol by wildlife officers, may not be held without first obtaining a permit from the Executive Director of the TWRA. The free permit may be requested by applying to the TWRA at least 30 days prior to the date of the event.
Life Jackets Required Below Dams
An U. S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device must be worn by each person on board vessels being operated within specifically marked areas below any dam.
Engines of all motorized vessels must have an effective muffling system. The noise level of any motorized vessel may not exceed 86 decibels at 50 feet or more. Manufacturers may not sell vessels, which do not meet the noise level requirements.
Any vessel used to tow a person on water skis, surfboard or similar device must follow these regulations:
No Wake (Idle Speed) Areas
Unless otherwise marked, all vessels operating within 300 feet of a commercial boat dock must do so at a slow wake speed regardless of whether or not buoys mark the area.
"No wake" is defined as a vessel traveling at or below idle speed, or at such speed that the boat or its wake (waves) is not sufficient to cause possible injury or damage to other persons, boats, or property.
TWRA Access Areas
Boats must not operate within 50 feet of a diver's- down flag and a slow, no-wake idle speed restriction is automatically imposed within 200 feet of the flag.
A diver is any person who is in the water and equipped with a facemask, snorkel or underwater breathing apparatus.
All divers shall prominently display a diver's-down flag in the area in which they are diving and must surface within 50 feet of the flag. After dusk the flag must be illuminated so it can be seen from a minimum of 300 feet.
Any boat used as a necessary part of the diving operation must display, from its mast a diver's-down flag at least 18 inches x 24 inches in size and an international code flag Alpha so that they are visible from 360 degrees. After dark such boats shall illuminate their flags so they are visible from a minimum of 300 feet.
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