As Memorial Weekend approaches I've taken the time to update the page "How Safe Is the Lake of the Ozarks" to reflect the recently released U.S. Coast Guard report for 2014, and while nationally there was a small increase in fatalities across the U.S., and an actual drop in fatal accidents statewide in Missouri, an analysis of data from the Missouri State Water Patrol shows a startling increase in fatalities at the Lake of the Ozarks last year.
The fatality rate* for the Lake of the Ozarks has soared from 5.6 in 2013 to a nauseating 18.0 for 2014. Nationally, for 2014, the number of registered vessels in the U.S. dropped by nearly 210,000 boats (a trend that has been happening for many years), while the total number of deaths stayed virtually the same. The effect of fewer vessels was to increase the national fatality rate to an average of 5.2, up from 4.7 in 2013.
Statewide, Missouri fatal accidents dropped from 16 in 2013, to 13 in 2014, but sadly Lake of the Ozarks contributed 9 of those 13, including a highly publicized incident involving Water Patrol when an incarcerated passenger fell overboard and drowned. [On a personal note, as a Coast Guard veteran who spent three of my four years on ships involved in maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, and aids to navigation, this incident angers me mightily.]
Nine deaths on the Lake of the Ozarks in 2014, not counting injury and property damage statistics. Has the lake become more dangerous? Possibly, but it is more likely to be an anomaly than a trend as some years will inevitably be worse than others, and numbers don't always tell the whole story. For instance, statewide 2013 saw the fewest accidents in five years with 111, but had the second highest fatalities with 16. The year with the fewest fatal accidents, 10 in 2012, had only one fewer total accidents than last year's 142.
Nothing has inherently changed to make things more (or less for that matter) dangerous on the waters of Missouri than in past years, but it is a very sad statistic to see and does nothing to improve our lake's reputation. Hopefully this year will be better, but it is up to everyone to stay safe and make it happen.
Please enjoy, and play safe!
* Fatality Rate is a ratio of the number of deaths per 100,000 registered vessels used by the U.S. Coast Guard to assess boating risk.