Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reporting Boating Accidents on the Lake

As the 2015 Summer season is upon us, I thought it would be a good time to start our annual “Safety First!” post with a notice regarding accident reporting, and when it is needed.  As has been discussed before, the relative safety of boating on the Lake of the Ozarks is comparable to just about anywhere else in the U.S., but what is not typical are the incidences of minor personal injury.  Anecdotally, and in the media, the Lake has a reputation for being unsafe, as visitors and resident boaters often have a story or two to tell in regards to someone getting hurt.  The disconnect between the national data and the reputation of the lake lies in the number of unreported incidents.

The Missouri Water Patrol dutifully documents all fatalities and accidents they are involved with but incidents regarding minor injuries, or sometimes major ones often incorrectly go unreported. Most boaters, understanding the risks of riding in a boat under siege by large waves, take injuries in stride without reporting anything to Water Patrol.  It is quite understandable that if someone falls to the deck, or scrapes a prop, or some other mishap not requiring a visit to the emergency room, the first thought isn't to call the authorities to file a report.  While it's easy to think that minor injuries are not worth the trouble to report, federal requirements exist making it mandatory to report accidents to state authorities in the case where:
  • A person dies; or
  • A person disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury; or
  • A person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid (emphasis mine); or
  • Damage to vessels or other property totals $2000 or more; or
  • There is a complete loss of any vessel.
The Code of Federal Regulations (33 CFR 173; Subpart C) define the minimum reporting requirements but states are allowed more stringent requirements.  For Missouri:
  • An injury occurs causing any person to lose consciousness, require medical treatment, or be disabled for more than 24 hours; or
  • Damage to the vessel and other property exceeds $500.
The emphasis on the personal injury in the federal guideline means only the most superficial injuries can go unreported.  I’m sure many boaters can attest to accident experiences that often require treatment “beyond” first aid (I know I bear my share of scars, and watched others get theirs), but do not report them.  The reasons for not reporting accidents range from simply not knowing it is required, to avoiding the authorities for fear of liability, either way it is clearly a difficult requirement to enforce if the accident occurs without Water Patrol involvement.

The failure of relevant injury reporting is not only against the law, it limits statistical data available to only involving deaths and major injuries, which are thankfully as rare as anywhere else, but also means there can be no proper assessment for general safety on the Lake of the Ozarks.  Minor injuries are often not so minor in the long term, and what goes unreported is actually statistically important. In fact, this deficit in accountability may actually be favoring the statistical assessment that the Lake of the Ozarks is safer than it may actually be in comparison to other lakes where minor incidents are as infrequent as major ones. If we wish to try and address safety issues at the Lake and improve the overall boating experience for all, we must properly account for all accidents, in order to accurately assess safety over time, the effectiveness of regulations, and making informed decisions as to how to improve the situation.

If you hurt someone on your boat to the degree stated, please report it properly to the Missouri Water Patrol @
Emergency Phone
1-800-525-5555 or *55 (Cellular)