Take a look at the video below. It’s a scary scene recently shot by a news chopper on Claremore Lake in Oklahoma. Both anglers in that bass boat were jerked out when they hit a submerged stump. One was pulled to safety, the other was not so lucky. Though we’ll never be able to say this particular scenario was entirely avoidable, it’s a warning for all of us to make safety precautions more habitual. We all make mistakes, but carelessness comes out too often with super-exhilarating experiences, like driving a bass boat at high speeds.

I read that the guys in this boat weren’t wearing life jackets, and it’s fair to assume that the driver wasn’t connected to the kill switch. In most tournaments there is a rule that states your life jacket must be zipped or snapped with the kill switch attached while the main engine is running. Fail to do so, you get DQed. For years, tournament directors that repeated this over and over sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher to me. But after a while, it just became automatic, and I’m glad it did. Whether I’m fishing a tourney or going out for two hours for fun, my life jacket always goes on, my laniard is always attached to my jacket, and that’s snapped onto the kill switch. If you always keep the kill switch attached to your life jacket, you can’t even start the boat without the life vest out and on. It’s a smart practice.

Even with safety gear in check, hitting a submerged obstacle like these guys did is one of the most common causes of bass boat accidents, and reservoirs with standing timber and fluctuating water levels can be the most dangerous. What you think is a timber-free navigational route can quickly and unknowingly become hazardous with a 5 foot water drop. That’s why it’s important to have as good a handle as possible on your home waters during all water levels.