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Six boating safety suggestions for the unique conditions of Lake Taneycomo

In a piece written on Sep. 6, 2012, entitled, Be “dam” safe – Wear a Personal Flotation Device on Lake Taneycomo, I wrote about my personal experience of what happened when I fell out of a boat into upper Lake Taneycomo and was totally immersed in its cold 48 degree water. I fell in about 2.5 miles downstream from Table Rock Lake Dam when they were generating less than 1300 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) through the Dam.

At the time, I wrote, “As the cold water hit me, to say the least, it was a shocking experience and I could just feel my heartbeat speeding up. When I came to the surface…I felt dizzy even though I had not hit my head on anything…but with my cloths wet, the coldness of the water and the current, I simply could not get the traction to stand up or swim any farther…my feet kept slipping and legs buckling…I had no strength in my arms and my lower body was so cold.” Well you get the idea, it was not a real good situation.

Yesterday, about two and a quarter miles upstream, and closer to the dam, where the water is colder and the current swifter than where I fell out of the boat, a boat with three fishermen in it was flipped over by a combination of a current, estimated to be in excess of 13,000 cfs and, according to an eyewitness, “tree limbs.” Although two of the fishermen were able to hold onto the boat and/or tree limbs, unfortunately, the other was swept downstream for about a quarter of a mile and although removed from the water fairly quickly, died.

Here are some safety suggestions that we at the Branson Tourism Center would encourage you to consider when boating on Lake Taneycomo:

1. Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) when in a boat on Lake Taneycomo.

2. Do not go above Fall Creek Boat Dock if you are not familiar with the Lake. This is especially so when the water is running because it gets swifter and colder the closer to the dam you get increasing exponentially the problems should you hit or drift into something or have another problem. Even when the water is off, it’s a good idea to stay below Fall Creek unless you are familiar with the lake.

3. Do not drag an anchor or other weight to slow the boat down in current. If it snags it can pull the bow down and flip the boat.

4. Keep the boat in the middle of the lake and away from islands, docks, shorelines or any other obstacle that it can drift into and cause it to flip or throw you or someone else out of the boat.

5. If snagged or caught against an obstacle with the current coming toward you do not place weight where it could cause a gunnel or bow facing the current to lower in any manner that will permit water to come into the boat.

6. Consistent with 5 above cut any anchor line that becomes snagged as far back from the bow as you can as quickly as you can and, rather than place a boat in one of the problem positions described in 4 above, cut any fishing line, tippet or anything else that becomes snagged and is causing you to even think of doing so.

When I wrote that original piece, I used it as an opportunity “to beg anyone boating in a small boat on Lake Taneycomo, especially her upper end, to wear a Personal Flotation Device whenever water is being run through Table Rock Dam” and said, “I know, it’s not going to happen to you or someone you care about. That’s what I thought, and for 37 years I was right, but yesterday, even though not as bad as it could have been, I experienced firsthand, the folly, trauma, discomfort, embarrassment, cost and danger of that thought. It is a mistake that I will not make again and pray, one you won’t either.”

In this piece we have expanded the safety suggestions to hopefully keep you in a position where you will never have to rely on the PFD because you will remain safe and dry in your boat having a great time on Lake Taneycomo. Sadly however, there will be those who will still read this and ignore or not pay attention to its suggestions because after all, “I don’t have to worry about it, it’s not going to happen to me or someone I care about.” Almost 39 years of fishing Lake Taneycomo and my own personal experience leads me to ask this question, “Do you really want to take that chance with your life or the lives of those you care about?

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