From one waterway to another, boat owners are staying put at Lake of the Ozarks

Marie Krolikowski
Special to the Lake Sun
Omaha resident Raymond Perry II grew up boating on the Missouri River. Now the family can be found in their 30-foot Carver on Lake of the Ozarks.

Lakes, rivers, oceans…the options of where to launch the boat are many. Each has its own appeal and unique qualities. But what is it about the Lake of the Ozarks that keeps bringing boaters back? What makes the Lake different from the rest?

From sunset cruises, to wake boarding or skiing, entertaining friends, floating for hours or visiting a favorite dining spot, the opportunities for fun are endless. Boating season is here and it’s time to get ready for another season of exploring the more than 1,200 miles of shoreline that encompasses Lake of the Ozarks. 

Over the last several years, Lake of the Ozarks has seen an increase in boaters and boat ownership. In 2020, the Lake of the Ozarks Marine Dealers Association closed out it’s most successful year as experienced and first-time buyers looking to escape the shutdowns and mask mandates across the Midwest rediscovered the boating experience on Lake of the Ozarks. 

Omaha resident Raymond Perry II grew up boating on the Missouri River. 

“We are life-long visitors to the Lake and purchased a place two years ago for the family,” Perry said. “We are avid boaters and have experienced the changes at the Lake, and we left the problems of Missouri River flooding behind.”  

Mike Walters grew up in Minnesota and spent the majority of his childhood on the Mississippi River. 

“My family had a cruiser, a house- boat, a cruiser, and then moved to a cabin on Gunflint Lake in northern Minnesota,” Walters said. The family then came back to the Mississippi, and Mike himself owned a 26-foot Sea Ray Sundancer and a 30-foot Carver. After much consideration, he shipped the Carver to the Lake of the Ozarks last year.

“The Mississippi was beautiful and had beaches you could pull up to,” Walters explained. “There were few restaurants along the waterway. You can take trips up and down the river, through the locks, and up the St. Croix River. Most of the appeal there was our family and friends.”

Walters had always heard that Lake of the Ozarks was overcrowded and busy. Five years ago, a friend of his purchased a cabin on what local residents refer to as “quiet side of the Lake.”  He started spending time there and was sold.

“I was driving eight hours every other weekend to go to Minnesota from Kansas City for boating, and that was getting old,” Walters added. “I was spending time at my friends cabin and I saw the beauty of the Lake. It wasn’t overly busy and I started to make friends. We did night cruises, went to restaurants, visited other friends on the Lake and cruised to see the fireworks.” 

Upon the recommendation from his friend, Walters made the decision two years ago to purchase a place of his own. A shorter drive, the fact that his family in Minnesota wasn’t boating as much, and his love for the Lake sealed the deal for him.

“LOTO is a combination of life on the lake and life on the river,” Mike said. “I miss the beaches and seeing commercial barges. But with lake life, you have your own dock, swimming, tubing, visiting friends and a bed to crash on.”

Walters went on to say that the people at the Lake are friendly, and his cabin community is like a resort where everyone has a good time. Patronizing different restaurants and night boating are things he couldn’t do on the river. 

Walters sold his cruiser and purchased a bow rider. His advice to others thinking of making the move is from his personal experience. First, one needs to determine their needs. When it comes to a boat, do you fish, sail, have kids who want to tube? Do you want a dock or will you rent a slip at a marina? Walters suggests you know your skill level and get help where needed. Above all, make friends and generate those family memories that will last for a lifetime. That’s the draw of Lake of the Ozarks. 

In 2011, Ray and Sharon Boyd sold their Iowa lake home of 40-plus years and purchased at Lake of the Ozarks. Boating with friends and family is how they spend a majority of their time.

In 2011, Ray and Sharon Boyd sold their Iowa lake home of 40 plus years and purchased at Lake of the Ozarks. They left East Lake in Okoboji and never looked back.

The Boyd’s used to boat the Missouri River in Nebraska. They have experienced the northern part of the river which is a very beautiful area to boat and camp, as well as the southern part of the river. In Iowa, they boated all six lakes in the Okoboji area. Sharon said they loved boating there, but now there are too many boats, and most are too large for those lakes.

Highlighting the differences between there and the Lake of the Ozarks, it’s easy to see why LOTO has become their preference. 

“The real estate taxes are cheaper than Okoboji and there’s more miles of water to explore,” Sharon said. “There’s more to do at the Lake, and there’s a laid-back atmosphere and friendly people. It’s a longer drive, but it’s well worth it.”

Lake of the Ozarks is much larger than any of the lakes the Boyds previously owned on or boated. With more than 1,200 miles of shoreline and 25,000 permitted docks, Lake of the Ozarks offers opportunities hard to find on many other lakes. The pros include plenty of places to cruise, a longer boating season, and the ability to leave your dock in the water year-round.

No place is without its faults, and Sharon talked about those. The negatives include the big boat traffic on holidays and weekends, and not enough places with sand beaches or things for the kids to do. But, overall, it’s no surprise Lake of the Ozarks’s reputation as a boating destination for recreational boaters continues to grow. 

The Boyd’s first boat was a 14- footer with an outboard. Five boats later, they now own a 25-foot tritoon with a 200 horsepower outboard. The advantage, Sharon said, is that they can now boat year-round.

“Do your homework before buying a boat,” Sharon advised. “Your purchase will depend on what part of the Lake you want to boat, what kind of boating you want to do, if you want to boat year-round and how much maintenance and upkeep you’re willing to do.” Sharon added that other considerations include whether or not watersports are important to you.

“Boating at LOTO with family and friends equals fun and a lifetime of memories,” she said.