Whether it's a medical problem or an injury accident, emergencies are tough situations under any circumstances. But being out on the water of the lake, it can be especially challenging to know what to do. As in most emergencies that take place away from home, a cell phone is the best tactical weapon you have, says Sgt. Paul Reinsch with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. But there are a few things to know when you make that call for help.
What number to call
Since the Highway Patrol merged with the Water Patrol, boaters may call *55 or 911 to get help. According to Reinsch, either number is effective. You may also call 1-800-525-5555. When calling 911 from your cell phone, the call will hit the nearest cell tower and be transferred to a local dispatch office in Morgan, Camden or Miller counties - depending more on the tower's location than yours. Dispatchers will then notify emergency services, including the Marine Division of the Highway Patrol, as needed. It is much the same with calling *55. The call goes to the nearest cell tower. Depending on where the tower is located, the call goes to a Highway Patrol headquarters in Springfield, Rolla or Jefferson City. Wherever it lands, the call is then transferred to the appropriate area for emergency responders to be dispatched, says Reinsch.
On the call
Whatever number you use, stay on the line with the dispatcher even as you may be transferred to another dispatcher. Try to stay calm and stay in contact with dispatch to continually update emergency crews on the situation as they rush to arrive on scene. The more details and accurate information responders have, the faster and more effective their help. One of the most important pieces of information you'll need to give a dispatcher is your location. Unlike landline calls, the Highway Patrol as well as the local 911 systems cannot track the exact location of a cell phone. While they can triangulate a general area, says Reinsch, try to give the dispatcher as much information on your location as you can to get help there as quickly as possible. On the lake that can be difficult with few markings and areas where there's not a lot of distinguishing characteristics. So as you're headed out on the lake, try to be conscious of how you would tell someone where you're at. Know what mile marker you're closest to and notice any large businesses or anything unusual that might serve as a landmark as you pass them. Anything that might give responders a clue. If you're close to residences or a business, the property's 911 address is also supposed to be posted on the dock.