SURVIVE THE STORM: Why boaters need a safety course

Published: Mar. 28, 2019 at 4:06 PM CDT
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The duck boat tragedy in the summer of 2018 heightened awareness across the country about being vigilant on the water when bad weather arises.

Boating in the Ozarks is a favorite pastime for locals and tourists that flock to our area lakes in the warm months. Millions of people visit our area lakes every summer.

The Missouri Water Patrol says the best way to prepare you for bad weather on the water is to take the Missouri boating license and safety course, but it is not a requirement for everyone. Meteorologist Abby Dyer took the course and got tips from the experts about how to save your life if you get caught in a storm on the water.

Anyone born after January 1st, 1984 is required to take the Missouri boating license and safety course if they are going to operate a vessel on Missouri waters.

Trooper Andy Ward with Missouri Water Patrol recommends everyone take the course.

"I recommend all people take that course because sometimes, it might not be a law as in how you meet another boater, but it is good educational information," said Ward.

The course covers how to watch the sky for changes and what to do if you get stuck in a storm on a boat.

"You can recognize bad weather by looking up in the sky and seeing it change from a bluebird day to dark clouds rolling in that you probably should take notice of those changes in the weather conditions and try to seek shelter," said Ward. "The driver is overall responsible but also the passengers need to be aware of the risk coming in and paying attention."

Mitch Schupp is the General Manager at State Park Marina. He rents around 8,000 boats every summer. They are always making sure their renters are aware of potential weather hazards before they go out, even though they are not required to do so by the state.

"We're also looking at the weather and checking the weather and we don't want families to have a bad experience," says Schupp. "So if the weather is going to be bad, you know, we are not going to send the boats out. If there are some popups, whatever, we get their cell phone numbers and stuff like that. We will contact them and try to get them to come back in."

" If a stray storm pops up, Ward says, "I would always recommend seeking shelter than to ride out a storm."

And if you are ever in doubt, just beach the boat (which means to dock it on the land).

There are rare occasions when it is better to ride it out... Ward says, "I came across some people that bad, bad weather was coming in and for some reason they weren't able to get off the lake and they were tucked up against a bluff. So the wind was pretty much blowing over them, but they were in some heavy, heavy rainfall. And in that situation it was literally better for them to sit tight."

So if you are stuck on the water in a storm and cannot make it to shore, here are some important things to remember:

Number one, put the life vest on as soon as you see the storm coming.

The second tip is to make sure the front of your boat is going into the wave, hopefully at a 45 degree angle that is going to keep your boat afloat.

Another thing is to make sure all of your passengers that are wearing their life vests are sitting down in the center of the boat, that way you won't take on additional water and they have their floatation devices available."

"We encourage everybody to be responsible watch the weather, we are all watching the weather as well," said Schupp. "Every captain, every manager here is watching the weather all day long. We are obsessive over it. And part of that too is we want everybody to have a good time and a good experience and be safe."

After doing this story, we started working with several different marina associations in the Ozarks. Our initiative is to work with these businesses and come up with a safety sheet to put in all rental boats with details on how to get weather information.