Trust your weather instincts

Published on April 29th, 2020

As a sport that relies on the weather, boaters have an awareness that provides anticipation and preparedness for problems. Looking across the water and beyond, we see things others might miss. It is a valued skill, particularly when risk is involved.

The risk was high on July 19, 2018 when a tourist boat encountered severe thunderstorms and sank, killing one crew member and 16 passengers. Here is a synopsis from the National Transportation Safety Board’s report:

About 19:08 Central Daylight Time, the Stretch Duck 7, a 33-foot-long, modified World War II-era DUKW amphibious passenger vessel, sank during a storm with heavy winds that developed rapidly on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Of the 31 persons aboard, 17 fatalities resulted.

Several hours prior to the accident, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area, followed by a severe thunderstorm warning a minute before the vessel departed the shoreside boarding facility—a roadside building about 6 miles away from the lake where the tours commenced and concluded.

Due to the approaching weather, the manager-on-duty advised the captain and driver as passengers were boarding the vessel to complete the lake portion of the tour before the land tour (which normally occurred first). In addition, three other company vessels also began waterborne tours following the severe thunderstorm warning.

About 5 minutes after the Stretch Duck 7 entered the water, the leading edge of a storm front, later determined to be a “derecho,” passed through the area generating strong winds and waves reportedly 3- to 5-feet high, with the highest wind gust recorded at 73 mph. The Stretch Duck 54, which entered the lake about 2 minutes before the Stretch Duck 7 and was conducting a tour on the lake, was able to exit the water after experiencing the severe weather.

During its effort to reach land, the Stretch Duck 7 took on water and sank approximately 250 feet away from the exit ramp. Several first responders, along with the crewmembers and passengers aboard a paddlewheeler moored nearby, rescued and triaged 14 passengers, 7 of whom were transported to a local hospital.

Loss of the vessel was estimated at $184,000. Investigators retrieved and reviewed audio and video data from the vessel’s digital video recorder system, which provided first-hand observation of the circumstances leading up to the accident.

For the full report, click here.

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