Brittany Falkner and her family from Ooltewah get ready on Friday, excited about a long holiday weekend on the water. She doesn't allow her two small children on the boat until they're properly suited up.

"Just make sure your kids are always in their life vests, even if they know how to swim." says Faulkner. "Even while we're parked they are always, always, always wearing life vests."

Faulkner and her husband, Eric, check other safety features such as the fire extinguisher, and they have a paddle board in case the boat breaks down. They won't go thirsty or hungry, either.

"We have a cooler full of water, Gatorade, lots of food," adds Faulkner.

By law in Tennessee, anyone under the age of 13 has to wear a life jacket while on a moving boat. You also must have as many life jackets on board as you do people. A violation could cost you up to $450.

Those 13 years of age and older are encouraged to wear life jackets in case of a freak accident, like the one that happened to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) officer Brandon Lee a few years ago. His boat hit debris during a routine patrol.

"Due to the way the boat hit the piece of fire wood, it capsized our boat. Our boat went completely upside down into the water," recalls Lee.

Not knowing which way was up, he's thankful he was wearing his life jacket.

"If we hadn't had them on, it would have been a different story," adds Lee.

TWRA officer Barry Baird says boaters should always check the weather forecast before going for a ride. Last summer on Chickamauga Lake, high winds and a rough chop led to at least one death.

"When the operator came around the bend, he went straight ahead into those waves and winds and caused the boat to capsize," explains Baird. "Unfortunately, this operator lost his life."

Baird urges everyone to be aware of their surroundings, know what the buoys mean, and if you decide to drink alcohol have a designated driver on board, just like you would if traveling by car. A "boating under the influence" citation could result in almost a year in jail.

TWRA officials want you to have fun on the water, so taking a few steps and being smart can keep you of trouble. Also, being prepared can save you money, jail time, and possibly your life.

"Always have your safety equipment prepared, have it in good working condition, and know how to use it," adds Baird.

For more information on boating safety, laws, and incident reports, visit this web site.