Tour Boat Safety and Local Perspective on Branson, Missouri Tragedy

Safety discussion with Buffalo Harbor Cruises and personal experience with Star 102.5's Mike McQueen

Mike Baggerman
July 21, 2018 - 7:39 am

People pray outside Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator involved in a boating accident on Table Rock Lake, Friday, July 20, 2018 in Branson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Thursday's duck boat incident in Branson, Missouri casts the spotlight on boating safety and regulations. As of Saturday morning, 17 people were reported dead after the duck boat capsized in Table Rock Lake following high winds and waves.

"We're always well-aware of any storm or what's coming our way via NOAA or the coast guard's notification to the mariners," Ryan Hayhurst, Owner of Miss Buffalo II and President of Buffalo Harbor Cruises, said. "Safety is our number one concern. We don't go out in rough weather if we can avoid it."

The Miss Buffalo II is a larger passenger vessel which can hold 185 passengers and weighs approximately 100 tons, meaning it can handle tumultuous weather more efficiently than a duck boat, which is significantly smaller and had 29 passengers on board when it capsized. Despite its ability to handle rougher waters, the Miss Buffalo II remains inside the break wall of Lake Erie during rougher weather.

"The Coast Guard will put out a small craft warning that's based on high winds," Hayhurst added. "The way the lake is and how shallow it is, it whips up pretty quick. Anything from two to three feet is uncomfortable to most." 

The use of lifejackets, or lack of, was brought into question. One woman who was on the duck boat in Missouri said that they were told to not put it on.

"(Lifejackets) are required by coast guard law," Hayhurst added. "We have more than enough for the passengers. We don't require them to wear them. If something were to quickly emerge and we would need to get out of the way quick, we're never far from harbor. We can get safely to harbor within minutes."

Hayhurst questioned the safety measures and why the duck boat in Missouri went on that tour knowing what the weather conditions were. 

"Maybe that's not the case," Hayhurst said. "Maybe it was just one of those freak, perfect storms that just came out of nowhere...That's the scary part about being out on the lake, especially a smaller vessel. If you're stuck out there, you're stuck out there. You have to do your best to get back."

Perspective

Star 102.5 DJ Mike McQueen has family in Branson, Missouri. In his visits there over the years, McQueen rode on the duck boat that capsized. 

"When I saw the news break (Thursday) night, I just couldn't believe what I was looking at," McQueen told WBEN. "Table Rock Lake is normally this placid, nestled, beautiful sanctuary in the Ozarc Mountains...It is such a wonderful experience. That's what makes it so stunning to see what's happened there."

McQueen remembers life jackets being on board, though it was not required to wear them.

He said the duck boat in his exhibit were reminiscent of military-grade vehicles used in North Korea and said that was discussed on the board.

"It seemed fine," he said. "I felt completely safe on it. It was a sunny day, a beautiful day."

McQueen wanted to know who made the decision to go onto the water knowing the conditions were not good. He said his daughter and son-in-law's had a friend in Branson, Missouri. That friend's neighbor was the pilot of the boat, who died.

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