Memorial Day weekend is the official start to tourist season at Lake of the Ozarks which means the water will be crowded with tens of thousands of boaters heading out for a weekend of fun and excitement on the water.
More people and boats on the water means the chances of accidents and injuries increase. A weekend on the water can turn to tragedy all too quickly if boaters don't pay attention or are impaired. The Missouri Highway Patrol, Water Patrol division will have 14 officers on the water this summer to handle accidents, complaints and boating while intoxicated enforcement. In recent years, the water patrol division has kept a crew of about 16 officers on the water.
According to information provided by the highway patrol, road officers are being trained to work on the water if needed. The water patrol merged with the Missouri Highway Patrol in 2011 when Governor Nixon signed legislation.
The water patrol division was not able to provide information on the number of boating while intoxicated arrests in 2012, enforcement efforts or sobriety checkpoints planned for the boating season.
In 2012, 85 accidents were reported on Lake of the Ozarks. Two fatalities resulted from those accidents along with 46 injuries. Four drownings were reported. Accidents were up from 2011 but didn't come close to hitting the 114 accidents reported in 2010. Fatalities, drownings and accidents statistics have held steady for the last 3 years.
The National Safe Boating Association recommends boaters take a few minutes to prepare before heading out on the water. A vessel check for safety and a quick inventory of the needed equipment save time, hassle and lives.
What to have on board
When preparing to go out on a the lake, there are a few things you need to check that are legally required to be on board. The Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Patrol Division advises operators to make sure these items are handy.
Personal flotation devices
Under federal law, a wearable PFD is required for each person on board regardless of vessel length. Children under the age of 7 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD at all times unless the child is confined in a totally enclosed area such as a houseboat or day-cruiser.
National statistics show 79% of those killed in boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket. Last year in Missouri that number was closer to 90% of boating fatality victims not wearing a life jacket.
The required navigation lights differ depending on the type and size of your vessel. You must display the required navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.
Page 2 of 2 - Fire extinguisher
All vessels (there are a few restrictions) are required to have a Type B, U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher on board in an accessible area. Check the charge level of your fire extinguishers regularly. Replace them immediately if they are not fully charged.
Vessels more than 16 feet but less than 40 feet in length are required to carry a whistle or horn to make an efficient sound to signal intentions or positions. Vessels that are 40 feet or more in length are required to carry a whistle or horn and a bell on board.
State law requires that scuba divers or snorkelers display the diver-down flag to mark the diving area. Divers must stay within a 50-yard radius of the flag. Vessel operators must not operate within 50 yards of a displayed diver-down flag. Two types of flags indicate diving activity.
A flag indicating a "skier down/person in the water" is required equipment for a motorboat (other than a PWC) towing a person behind on water skis, inner tubes, sleds, or similar devices. This flag is to be displayed when the person is in the water before or after being towed on water skis or similar devices or when a swimmer leaves the confines of the vessel. Displaying the flag is required from 11:00 a.m. to sunset and is in effect only on the Mississippi River, Missouri River, and the lakes of this state.
A buoy is an anchored float that serves as a navigational marker on the water. Buoys are used to warn of shallow waters, navigational hazards and no wake. Run at idle speed when approaching and in a no wake zone.