Dangerous start to boating season in Alabama

Northeast Alabama
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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. – 2019 has been a dangerous spring on the water in Alabama. A warm start to May and June is encouraging several more people to fire up the boat.

State troopers watching the water tell WHNT News 19 injuries, crashes and even deaths are up in 2019 compared to this time last year. The latest happened this week when a man in Limestone County went missing at Wheeler Lake.

Joseph Miller isn’t one to waste a calm evening on the water.

“I was trying to go two or three times a week,” Miller said.

With about three hours to sunset, he and his uncle have plenty of time to cast a line.

“I like to have a spotlight or a flashlight. A depth finder is important so you can see the stumps,” Miller said.

“This lake becomes a totally different animal at night. When you get on the lake at night, no illumination, you think you know the lake, you don’t,” trooper Chuck Ellis with ALEA’s Marine Patrol Division said.

One week before summer officially begins in Guntersville, traffic to the lake is increasing. And places like Lake Shore Tackle are poised for the rush.

Mary Brewer, whose son Shannon took over the roadside shop, says more cars and trucks zipping down Highway 431 make a seemingly simple task like backing in a boat a little treacherous.

“Because it starts at 65 mph right as you get off the river bridge,” Brewer said.

Even once parked and in the water, Ellis says you’re not exactly in the clear.

“You hear about boats running into each other. Are they not looking?” Brewer said.

Ellis says from last October through mid-June, marine troopers have counted close to 60 accidents and 13 fatalities on the water in Alabama. So what more can be done to make sure boaters make it home safe? He says a big one, wear life jackets.

“When the boat’s going under, it’s too late to be looking for that life jacket,” Ellis said.

Fortunately, Miller says in around 30 trips to the lake this spring, he has yet to be on the receiving end of any close calls with fellow boaters.

“Most people are pretty courteous,” Miller said. “They’ll slow down if they’re coming in too close. I don’t mind people fishing around us.”

Trooper Ellis says by law, boaters must have one life jacket per person on board. Just like driving a car, if your blood alcohol level is above .08, that’s over the limit. If they catch you intoxicated, it’s no boating for three months and they can slap you with a $2,100 fine.

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