Alabama boating deaths near highest in 20 years

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FLORENCE, Ala. – Alabama waterways have seen a disturbing increase in the number of boating deaths this year. Marine Police say it’s tracking to be the highest in over 20-years, and there may be several factors behind the fatalities.

It’s a relaxing way to spend a summer’s day. Boating on the Tennessee River has become a favorite past-time for many north Alabama residents and visitors, but there is also a danger on these waters.

“A common denominator among some of these accidents we are seeing is operator inattention,” explained Sgt. Chad Pate with Alabama Marine Police. “In other words, the operator is not paying attention to what is going on around him.”

According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, 2019 has seen 25 boating-related deaths in at least 68 crashes. Six of the deaths are just this month.

One case which remains under investigation, a nighttime crash in June on Shoal Creek which killed a mother and daughter from Georgia.

“Operating at night is a thing if you are not very experienced at, can be a very dangerous environment,” said Pate. “Even for an experienced person that can be a dangerous environment if you’re not properly paying attention.”

Sergeant Pate says he is disturbed by the rise in incidents. Whether it’s on a crowded lake, night-time navigation, or drinking on the water, those at the helm are ultimately responsible.

“The smart thing to do is have a designated driver. Make sure the operator of your boat is not going to be drinking any alcohol that day,” Pate stated.

Marine Police say they want everyone to have fun on the water, but do so in a safe manner. It could mean the difference in making it back to harbor or not.

1998 is the last year Alabama saw this many deaths on waterways; 32 were killed across the state.

According to ALEA, 2018 had 75 reported boat crashes resulting in 17-deaths.