Volunteers stress safety on the water

A boat passes a no wake zone sign near the Yacht Club in Tellico Village.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way of life for many people since early spring, boating has remained a constant in the lives of many residents in Tellico Village.

But the pandemic has limited special services on the lakes.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 12-2 has remained involved on the water but has cut back on the number of boat inspections and safety awareness classes.

“Everything that we’re doing now, we have to have approval from above so we’re rather limited in the public,” Tom Jumer, Flotilla 12-2 commander, said. “We are doing phone calls, we do stay in touch. Part of our obligation is to do some commercial inspection or at least keep people up to date on the captains for fishing charters, that type of thing ... giving them information if things change or how to they can go about keeping their licenses current and those types of things.”

Tellico Boaters Assistance Response Team suspended all normal operations and classes in the spring but restarted some towing services May 21.

Phil Weis, T-BART director of public relations, said all volunteers are following specific health and safety guidelines to keep them and boaters safe during an emergency.

“I think it was the week before Memorial Day, and we started out with some COVID safety procedures,” Weis said. “It was some of the obvious things for our members like masks, gloves, distancing. We usually pass some paperwork back and forth between the T-BART rescue boat and the boat being towed. We don’t do that anymore, but we just ask them verbally so we fill it in and so on. Aside from that, the boating activity has been quite active ever since we started.”

T-BART provides free tows and non-medical/non-emergency assistance to stranded boaters on Tellico Lake. Weis said Tellico Lake has seen an increase in boating activity this summer, which means more response calls.

The organization’s lake orientation classes have been canceled this year.

“It wouldn’t be wrecks or accidents, but what they would be is disabled boaters that are out of gas, have a dead battery or mechanical failure,” Weis said. “Those would be the major ones, and with an increase in boating activity because of COVID there’s a lot of activity right now. We’ve had a pretty busy year. Our primary mission of helping stranded boaters on Tellico Lake is alive and well with some COVID modifications, which are still in place.”

In addition, T-BART was forced twice to cancel its annual Bratfest event, which serves as the organization’s largest fundraiser each year.

“That originally happens in May and we postponed it to a tentative day in August. We obviously did not do that then because of upwards of 1,000 people in the Tellico Village Yacht Club, so there was really no way we could see pulling that off,” Weis said. “We do have a group of seven of our major sponsors who have stuck with us.”

With more time, both organizations have been able to plan more classes and training sessions for 2021.

Flotilla 12-2 plans to hold more boating safety classes next year, including About Boating Safety, Paddle Sports of America, Pontoon Fun and Family Safety, Cold Water Boating and Now In Command.

Now In Command has become a popular class that instructs women boaters how to safely take control of a boat in the event a male driver is incapacitated.

“We’re going ahead and revamping some of our training about boating safety, redoing PowerPoints for things that have changed and adding to the COVID education,” Jumer said. “Some of the phone calls we’ve had are about the wakes in my boat — is it a ripple, is it a little wave? We’re trying to make it a little more subject to boating on the river. A lot that we have from the Coast Guard to the Coast Guard Auxiliary is anything from the ocean to the Great Lakes to lakes to rivers. What we’re finding is people that move down from the North are used to lakes, and boating on the river is a whole different set of rules than what they had in the past.”

“The biggest impediment we’ve seen our way through is we’ve been able to conduct our new member training,” Weis added. “We have done that with some additional guidelines with distancing. We’ve done some virtual training work, but we’ve also had a big surge in new member requests, so I figured we had to get something going on the training front.”