The Missouri Highway Patrol is encouraging boaters and swimmers to make sure they include water safety precautions while taking part in water activities.
So far, more than 15 boating fatalities and more than 20 drownings have occurred this year throughout the state, not including the 17 lives lost in the Branson duck boat sinking, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol website.
"About 79 percent of boating crashes we work on only involve one watercraft," said Sgt. Scott White, public information officer for the Patrol's Troup F.
"We find that when it comes to boating safety, being out there on a boat, that inexperience, inattention and failure to keep a proper lookout are key contributing factors in boating crashes," he added.
Another issue the Highway Patrol sees with boating and swimming incidents is people not wearing a life jacket, White said.
"You know every officer has their own stories or incidents that they can remember, but there's sometime a common denominator and unfortunately a lot of time it has to do with the life jackets," White said. "Whether somebody trips or falls in the water or falls overboard from a boat, a lot of times they survive that first — what we call harmful — incident, meaning going in the water but then they don't have a life jacket on, and that's a big thing that we see."
"From Jan. 1, 1995, until now, there have been about 850-860 drownings statewide, and in only 1 percent of those were (the people) wearing a life jacket," White reported from patrol records.
This was also a factor in the Branson boating accident; it was confirmed passengers were not wearing life jackets when they were found, a source told CNN last Sunday.
Missouri state law requires children under the age of 7 to wear a life jacket while on board a recreational vessel. However, neither state nor federal law have age requirements for commercial vessels to require children to wear life jackets, only that life jackets are available.
"That's one thing about emergencies — it's unpredictable, you don't know when they're going to happen — so we encourage everybody to wear a life jacket if they're on a boat, but of course, if they choose not to, (make sure) that they're readily accessible," White said.
White and the Highway Patrol also encourage life jackets be worn by children while they are near bodies of water as well as having "within reach supervision."
"Many children who drown are under supervision of some kind, but you have to be within reach supervision, meaning direct eyes on, and you want to make sure a child is never left unattended near the water and then of course don't trust another child to supervise another child," White added.
But it is also important to remember safety precautions year round. Although water activities mainly take place during the summer, incidents do still occur with natural changes in nature such as water overturning in the fall and spring and thin ice during the winter.
The best ways to become more educated about water safety throughout all seasons is to take boater safety education courses, which is offered in person and online. You can also take part of one of the informal programs the Highway Patrol does with the Health Department of Water Safety Council in person or you can follow Troop F Highway Patrol on Twitter where they post water safety tips year round. Links to these resources can be found at mshp.dps.missouri.gov for boater safety education and twitter.com/mshptrooperf for safety tips.