Author: Abby Siemer
In July of 2018, a tragic event took place. A DUCK boat or as they called it The Stretch Duck 7 was a passenger vessel meant to take participants around Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. On July 19th, 31 passengers boarded and set off despite a severe weather warning issued just 20 minutes before their departure. The captain knew about the storm approaching and decided to continue with the voyage anyway. As thunderstorms and 70 mph winds began to strike the boat, it capsized and sank, and 17 lives were lost. As a boat captain or boat owner/operator, weather plays a huge role in planning out the day, and it’s nothing to mess with. At Kirby’s School of Wake safety is everything which is why the coaches take so many precautions when it comes to weather.
Coach Kirby explained the importance of checking the weather app every morning to get an idea of what to expect, but he’s not just looking at if it will rain. Things like wind direction, UV index, and the radar are all things he studies in the morning to make sure there will be no ominous weather approaching. On days there are, lessons get postponed to not risk putting anyone in the water when it’s dangerous. However, bad weather can’t always be avoided. Kirby says if he’s on a lesson and bad weather hits it’s important to get everyone back on the boat and find coverage under a dock or sheltered area until it passes. For times like that, Kirby always keeps an Anetik wind/rain jacket in the boat to keep the water off him, so he can focus on the safety of the passengers.
While the weather app that the iPhone comes with is informative, the coaches find it helpful to use others like MyRadar which creates an animated radar of your area including storm layers, different types of maps, and advanced wind animations. Another one is The Weather Channel App which gives in depth details about the weather in your area and even includes how much of each type of pollen and other pollutants are in the air. The Weather Channel App claims to be the world’s most accurate forecaster with live radar updates, storm alerts, and more. It makes it easy to track storms in the area which can help the coaches know if they need to cancel a lesson or if the bad weather can be avoided.
The coaches also use My Lightning Tracker. It is not safe to be in the water if there’s lightning nearby. Because water conducts electricity, lightning is more likely to strike water than land, so if there’s lightning in the area the coaches need to know. The My lightning Tracker app allows you to see lightning strikes in your area, and it alerts you how many miles away the strike occurred. The app also informs you of hot spots where lightning is most likely to strike. The National Collegiate Athletic Association recommends waiting at least 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder and until the lightning is at least 6 miles away to resume athletic activity. When in the water especially it can be helpful to use the 30-30 rule- start counting to 30 when you see a strike of lightning, and if you hear thunder before you reach 30 seconds, it means the lightning is close enough to strike the water around you, and it’s too risky to continue swimming. When lightning strikes water it spreads out horizontally along the surface and reaches 10-100m depending on the power of the bolt and if it’s fresh or saltwater. The bolt emits a booming sound when it hits the water around 260 decibels that can be heard a mile away. This means that even if someone in the water is out of range to get hit by the electric current, they are still at risk of hearing loss.
These resources help the coaches to stay 10 steps ahead of the weather at all times which ensures that themselves, the customers, and the equipment are all safe. While riding in storms can be dangerous it’s important to know the severity. If it’s just raining, as long as the driver can see, and the rider isn’t in danger (there’s no lightning), you don’t have to stop for shelter, but knowing if/how the weather will change is vital. At Kirby’s School of Wake, the #1 priority is providing customers with a fun, safe excursion to spread the love of the sport and these precautions make that possible.