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4 Alabamans dead after reportedly attempting 'boat jumping' challenge seen on TikTok: 'They literally broke their neck'
Screenshot of TODAY YouTube video

4 Alabamans dead after reportedly attempting 'boat jumping' challenge seen on TikTok: 'They literally broke their neck'

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and an updated statement from Capt. Jim Dennis. These new statements cast doubt on the supposed link between the four deaths and the TikTok videos.

At least four Alabamans have lost their lives this year after attempting a challenge which has been widely shared on the social media platform, TikTok.

The challenge, dubbed "boat jumping," involves jumping off the rear end of a boat traveling at high speed. Videos of boat jumping first began appearing on TikTok in 2020, but they seem to have increased significantly this year. Though the stunt may sound appealing during the hot summer months, water safety experts say it's anything but cool.

"Hitting the water from a moving boat is like hitting concrete from jumping multiple stories stories up," claimed Gail Kulp, the executive director of the Sea Tow Foundation. "You can wind up with broken bones, a broken neck. Or you could end up running into the propeller of your own boat, or another boat could run over you, and that would cause lots of damage, if not death."

For Capt. Jim Dennis of the Childersburg Rescue Squad in Alabama, those risks are all too real. In the last six months, his organization has responded to the cases of four individuals, all men, who supposedly died as a result of boat jumping. One of those men was a father out for a day of fun with his wife and children on the Coosa River, about 40 miles east of Birmingham, back in February. His wife attempted to capture her husband performing the stunt, but "unfortunately, she recorded his death," Dennis said.

Perhaps more unfortunate still is that three others in the state seemed to have ignored the lesson in the man's death and plunged unnecessarily to their own early demise. "The four that we responded to when they jumped out of the boat, they literally broke their neck and, you know, basically an instant death," Dennis said.

Dangerous boat jumping challenge leaves at least 4 deadyoutu.be

While some of these deaths have been considered drownings, Kulp said that a lifejacket would likely not be enough to prevent catastrophic injury or death in some cases. The only safe way to participate in boat jumping is not to participate at all.

But sadly, the allure of social-media fame has led people to make very foolish choices, Dennis suggested. "I think people, if they're being filmed on camera, I think they're more likely to do something stupid because they want to show off in front of their friends for social media," he said.

In a statement sent to NBC News and cited by "Today," TikTok denied that boat jumping is a "TikTok challenge" and warned its users against participating in any kind of dangerous activity. "It’s not accurate to characterize or report this as a TikTok challenge," the statement said, adding that the company "can’t comment on something that isn’t a trend on our platform."

"We do not allow showing or promoting dangerous activities and challenges. … If you see a dangerous activity or challenge, pause for a moment to stop and think before you decide and act," TikTok's community guidelines also state.

TikTok has added an advisory note to some videos allegedly associated with boat jumping, warning viewers that "participating in this activity could result in you or others getting hurt."

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has also issued a statement which suggests that there is no proof that the deaths were the result of a supposed TikTok challenge. "The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) Marine Patrol Division does not have any record(s) of boating or marine-related fatalities in Alabama that can be directly linked to TikTok or a trend on TikTok," said the statement, which claimed that a news report dated July 3 included "incorrect" information. "One individual was fatality injured after jumping from a moving vessel in 2020 and a similar marine-related fatality occurred in 2021, however, both fatalities cannot be linked to TikTok."

Though Dennis likewise advised boaters to avoid any such stunt, saying, "It’s not worth your life," he also claimed that news reports attempting to tie the deaths to TikTok have been "blown way out of proportion." "To say that’s the reason they died, I can’t say that," Dennis said of the four Alabamans in question. "That would be a matter of opinion."

"There is a TikTok challenge," Dennis noted, "but I do know jumping off of a moving boat is nothing new."

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