On Saturday morning a couple of my friends in the boating community forwarded me a link to a story that was posted on Lake News Online, a local media outlet serving Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks and beyond. It was an informative story that caught me a little off guard. It also was somewhat unsettling as I ping-ponged between grief, unhappiness and downright aggravation.
The damage to Richie Prince's catamaran following a crash on Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks last August is a sobering reminder of how bad things can get when they go wrong on the water. Photo courtesy MSHP
After reading about the accident investigation and reconstruction report in regard to a fatal boat crash last August on Lake of the Ozarks that took the lives of owner Richard Prince of Metaire, La., and passenger Bradley Dunphy of Lafayette, La., I thought that the only thing we as a performance boating community can do is honor the lives of the 49-year-old Prince and 40-year-old Murphy by learning from their misfortune. I didn't witness the accident but I was in town for the event and I did write about it that evening. In fact, it was one of the toughest stories I've ever had to write, and I hope I don't have to write any more stories like it any time soon.
With that being said, here’s what I won’t do—tell you not to run your boat fast (when conditions are appropriate) because you could get into an accident. Anyone who owns a 100-plus-mph catamaran doesn’t need to be told there is a risk, some larger than others obviously.
And because I know Prince was an experienced operator with plenty of seat time above 100 mph, I’m not going to say how fast Prince was running his boat when it flipped at the end of the day on the Friday before the popular Lake of the Ozarks Shootout was reckless or unsafe. (His trip that evening was documented by the recovered Garmin GPS data from his 44-foot MTI catamaran—you can read the details in the Lake News Online story.)
Unfortunately I felt like much of the article focused on speeds and conditions, and, in my opinion, missed the opportunity to stress the most likely reason the accident occurred—blood alcohol level. According to the certified toxicology report by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Laboratory Division, both occupants of the catamaran were well over the legal limit for operating the boat with one registering a blood alcohol level of 0.121 and the other 0.156, nearly double the legal limit.
Enough is enough—as speedonthewater.com guest contributor Shaun Torrente wrote in a commentary back in December—it’s time to get serious about staying sober while operating your boat. Thanks to attending several events every year around the country, I know a majority of performance boaters adhere to this rule. At the same time, I know others don’t, and that scares me.
It doesn’t take much—as Prince and Dunphy’s deaths prove—for your life and everyone’s lives around you to be flipped upside down. Between their accident and the tragic one on Georgia’s Lake Lanier in July, there’s no denying things can turn deadly in an instant, which is why operators should not be impaired in any way, shape or form.
As MSHP Sgt. Scott White said in the story: “No matter how much boating experience a person has, we strongly encourage everyone to operate their boat with a clear head, at a safe speed, and adjust their speed for the conditions.”
“Last August, two men took a boat out on the lake and didn’t come back,” White said. “Unfortunately stories like these slip from the public consciousness with every new boating season. But not for the families. They live their loss every day. It’s a narrative told too many times since the lake reached spillway elevation on May 20, 1931. I think I speak for the entire lake region when I say, ‘we want every single person on Lake of the Ozarks to enjoy their time on the water, but make it home safely to their families.’ ”
Make it home safely—that sounds like a great motto for this year’s boating season, and every one here after.