This article first appeared in the July 2003 issue of Heartland Boating magazine. It is reprinted with permission from the editor of Heartland Boating and Ron & Eva Stob, who are the authors of the book, "Honey. Let's Get a Boat...": A Cruising Adventure of America's Great Loop, and founders/directors of America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association.
"Pat and Mary Rigsby retired to Tennessee and the shores of the Little Tennessee River, AKA Tellico Lake, near Knoxville within sight of the rolling terrain of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. They settled into the pleasant life along the water's edge at Tellico Village and bought a boat. But Pat Rigsby had no experience with boats (neither did Mary) and Pat wondered aloud, "What would I do if I get out on the lake and the motor quits? Don Burgett, listening in, suggested wryly. "Well, Pat, you could pray, but it might help if you started paddling." "That's not acceptable," growled Pat. "You're the vice-president of the Tellico Village Homeowner's Association (Pat was the President) and I'm appointing you to get a Boaters Assistance Team started." "Thank you very much, replied Don.
Following Pat Rigsby's directive, Don talked with Chuck Zimmerman, Commander of the Tellico (Lake) Cruising Club, and said, "Chuck, our Boaters Assistance Team (BAT). has a mission and we don't have any boats; but the cruising club does. Chuck liked the idea. Now BAT had somebody to serve. In cooperation with the Tellico Village Homeowner's Association, a land-based VHF marine radio was brought into the Yacht Club and the receptionist, trained by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, monitored calls during normal working hours. This was spring of 1998.
Around Memorial Day of that year, Mary and Pat were on their boat in Bat Creek four miles upriver from the Village, and Pat was swimming off their boat when he sensed. a crisis. He called to Mary to throw him a line. "No, throw me a life preserver," he said. Tm going under in a panic Mary dashed off a VHF May Day call to anyone listening. The receptionist at the Yacht Club heard the call and phoned Don Burgett at home. Don hurried to his boat and raced to the scene. By the time he arrived various county rescue and dive teams were already there. A cell phone call had also been placed to 911 for a possible drowning. Don offered his deck boat to the Loudon County Dive/Rescue Team but it was late at night before Pal Rigsby's body was found.
It is ironic that the man who first articulated the need for a Boaters Assistance Team became its first call. Pat's death galvanized the community to forge the second phase of a Boaters Assistance Team and served as the impetus for Burgett to review the fledgling association and address the larger issues of insurance, communications, and training. There were obstacles to forming an all-volunteer group of boaters, most of whom were over 60. What were their liabilities? How could they get insurance? What about their own preparedness? How could they reach boaters in distress, and what do they do when they get there?
What shut down BAT and ushered in a new organization was the issue of liability insurance. Paul Knapp, a Tellico Village resident, talked with the insurance companies that insure dive teams and fireman and convinced them that this Boaters Assistance Team was not any different. They incorporated and filed for non-profit, tax-exempt status with the IRS and in early 2000 BAT became T-BART, Tellico Boaters Assistance Response Team, with Paul Knapp as its first President. With a charter, a mission, incorporation and liability insurance, T-BART became a viable organization. A volunteer group of folks aiming to do good, be of service to boaters need, make Tellico Lake a safe and pleasant place to boat and provide partial relief to governmental agencies.
But communication among the T-BART members needed more than the land-based VHF radio attended to by the receptionist at the Yacht Club. This was not a reliable method of communication. Enter Randy Smith, new Director of Loudon County's Emergency 911. Late in 2000, Burgett made a presentation to 911 about the mission and needs of T-BART. Smith saw an opportunity to expand 911 services to the community on the water, but 911 did not monitor VHF frequencies. Smith immediately changed that and set a new paradigm for 911 operations in communities bounded by recreational lakes. With Loudon County 911 Dispatch listening to VHF channel 16, T-BART stood ready to provide non-medical, non-emergency services on the lake every day of the year between 10 a.m. and sundown at no cost to the public.
But there was still the issue of quick and easy communications between T-BART and 911. The addition of pagers brought about unprecedented efficiency. Here's how it worked. The T-BART captain on-duty calls 911 in the morning to report in. The 911 office responds by sending a pager check (test page) back to the captains. The stage is set and T-BART captains are standing by. A boater needing assistance on Tellico Lake would contact the 911 office by calling their office phone. The 911 office would then send a page to the T-BART duty captain and the captain would contact the 911 office for details such as the Location of the boat needing assistance. The captain would then call a crewmember and the two of them board the captain's boat. The team of captain and crewmember head out onto the lake and locate the boat needing assistance. They then provide help (such as towing the boat to a safe harbor) or assist a governmental agency that might have arrived first. Upon completion of the mission, the captain and his crew return to their home dock and call the 911 office again indicating that the issue is resolved and that they are standing by for another call.
Because of the rolling terrain and spotty VHF and cell phone reception, T-BART divided the lake into up-river and down-river areas. Each of the geographical areas had captains and crews and a duty bag which contains a pager, a clipboard, pencils, a Romeo flag, towing information, lake maps, GPS coordinates, ID badges, a standardized towline and bridle, member data list and log sheets. A liability form to be signed by the boater receiving assistance is also included. These kits were passed from captain to captain as they assumed the duty, which is usually a two-day stint once a month.
The situation on Tellico Lake is unique inasmuch as three different counties border the lake. Throw in Fort Loudon Lock and Dam near Lenoir City and the U.S. Coast Guard - Kentucky Group both of whom monitor VHF (Channel 16) calls and may trigger some responses, and you have a network of agencies that know each other's business. T-BART is part of the mix with 911 calls being routed throughout the network. In the first three years they were in existence T-BART's involvement has rose from 16 calls 120301-10 2003 Thin in
In the first three years they were in existence T-BART's involvement has rose from 16 calls in 2000 to 48 in 2002. This is explained, in part, by the growing number of boaters on Tellico Lake. Other reasons include the involvement of T-BART with local agencies, such as the County Sheriffs' offices, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), local police and communication with Loudon County 911. When various counties surround the waterway, as is the case on Tellico Lake, the agencies coordinate so that calls coming into 911 are communicated with the others.
One early mission illustrates how this works. Don Burgett was on the water cruising at 7 PM on Bat Creek when he heard a VHF Channel 16 call for assistance from a cruiser who had run hard aground near Fort Loudon Dam. Jerry Weaver, Lockmaster at the dam, also heard the VHF channel 16 (May Day) call and contacted Loudon County 911, who in turn called the T-BART captain via the pager. Jeff Durrie, the T-BART Captain on duty, responded, then called his crewmember Doug Neale. They met at Jeff's boat and called Loudon County Dispatch 911 to notify them that they were on the water and responding to the call. When Jeff Durie arrived on the scene and determined that the cruiser was aground with crew and children aboard, he called Don Burgett via a cell phone and asked him to assist. When Don arrived, they anchored the grounded boat and transferred the passengers to a T-BART boat which brought them to shore. The operator of the grounded boat was unfamiliar with the waters, had no charts and no boating education and failed to recognize the "Danger" buoys even though it was during daylight hours. The grounded boat was retrieved the next day by a nearby marina. The coordination between T-BART and 911 indicates the network of ready response agencies, with T-BART in this case playing the role of first responder.
With governmental agencies being stretched, T-BART became a better choice for help than calling the Sheriff's Office or TWRA if a boater runs out of gas or their engine won't start. Considering the extensive navigable portion of Tellico Lake including the lower Little Tennessee River, Tellico River and all the coves, there are over 100 miles of waterway and 370 miles of shoreline for any governmental agency to monitor and service, T-BART does not have professional staff for emergency and medical crises, however. When those situations arise, the call goes to the County Sheriff's offices, TWRA or Loudon County Dive/Rescue. T-BART may assist these agencies by providing on-the-water transportation.
T-BART has grown up and has its own training program. that takes volunteers and make them effective on-water assistance providers. Their training program includes classroom and on-water sessions for captains and crew members; three hours in the classroom in the morning and on-water practice tows in the afternoon. This is considered basic training for new members. There is also a refresher class to keep team members sharp, including review of towing and communication on the VHF radio to assures that each member is kept current. Members may serve for months or years before they are actually called out, and the refresher training maintains their preparedness. Assist Drills simulating actual missions are also used to keep members sharp. A boat will go onto the lake and pretend it's stranded and a captain and crew go out like retrievers. A call simulating Loudon County 911 goes to the T-BART captain and the captain and crew member find the stranded boat and tow it in Mentors are assigned to captain trainees who receive answers to their questions and get the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in the classroom. Operations Teams evaluate T-BART conduct on the water and makes suggestions. Education for the general public through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the United States Power Squadrons is regularly conducted on the lake. A literate informed boating community is the goal T-BART provides Lake Orientation sessions twice a year to educate boaters about Tellico Lake.
T-BART has charted the lake and has a list of over 200 waypoints, mileages for each and GPS coordinates. Presently there are over 100 members involved in T-BART-captains. crew and many in training. They've become a veritable navy of good Samaritans. Every day of the year someone is on call at T-BART. That means that somebody from T-BART is listening right now. They may be the first on the scene or the last, but you can be sure that someone is listening and ready to help."
Tellico Boaters Assistance Response Team (T-BART)
An all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing free assistance to boaters on Tellico Lake, Tennessee. Established 2000. Webmaster - Cecil Clontz (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Site updated - Dec2023