Boating safety advice after teenage rescue on Stones River in Murfreesboro

Two 18-year-olds were rescued this month by the Murfreesboro Fire Department Swiftwater Rescue Team after their kayaks overturned due to rapidly moving water in the Stones River.

Wesley Slager, a Special Ops Captain on Scale 4, was on the boat that rescued the two teens.

“They were caught up in fast currents and stranded in the middle of the river, clinging to trees,” Slager said.

A significant amount of rain from the previous night caused the river to heave, which in turn created more dangerous and faster currents. “We got them into the boat, took them to a safe place, and then handed them over to EMS,” Slager said. “They were fine and uninjured. Just a little shaken up.”

The Murfreesboro Fire Department (MFRD) Swiftwater Rescue Team rescued two teenage boys clinging to trees after their kayak overturned in fast moving water on the Stones River.  The 18-year-olds, a man and a woman, launched their kayak at the Searcy Street Greenway trailhead.

Both teenagers were wearing life jackets, which helped them in this incident.

“Always wear a life jacket,” Slager said.

Andrea White, Southeast Regional President of the American Canoe Association, agrees.

“Always wear a life jacket. It’s the thing you haven’t noticed that catches you,” she said.

As summer approaches, water safety experts warn of the dangers that can put boaters and swimmers at risk.

White, who is passionate about boating, also recommended carrying a whistle, bringing a friend, previewing the planned river course and taking lessons.

“Unfortunately, for the past two years…Tennessee has ranked first in the nation for paddling-related fatalities,” White said. “That’s why it’s important to take classes.”

According to White, water-related accidents and fatalities in Tennessee are almost universally linked to lack of experience and the lack of a personal flotation device. Alcohol use in boating is also one of the leading causes of accidents and deaths on the water.

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Inexperienced boaters have a hard time understanding the dangers of the water, she said, like the undercurrents in a river that can easily overtake a swimmer, even in seemingly slow-moving water.

In the incident mentioned above, one kayaker fell and the second overturned while trying to help the first.

“As long as your head and shoulders stay 90 degrees above the boat, you’re not going to overshoot it,” White said. These are the types of lessons you can learn, she added.

Many helpful resources can be found on including news, events, programs and more that will help those interested in water-related activities stay safe.

“[Tennessee] has such incredible waterways, it is important that we are responsible for them so that we can continue to enjoy them,” said White.

Top General Boating Safety Tips

  • Check the weather beforehand
  • Go with someone who knows the area
  • Wear a life jacket
  • Bring a whistle
  • Keep the phone in a waterproof bag attached to your person or your vest
  • Do not overload the boat or paddle craft
  • Frequently check the boat or paddle craft for damage, wear or tear
  • Take water safety courses
  • Use common sense on the water

– Andrea White