Water patrol tests new safety strategies at Lake of the Ozarks

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LAKE OF THE OZARKS - The Missouri State Highway Patrol tested new extended Water Patrol shifts this Memorial Day weekend.

Water Patrol Captain Matt Walz said troopers with previous water patrol experience have been added to lake staff this year as well. Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to boating season, meaning these new staffing strategies were tested full-force for the holiday.

"Our people work all the time anyway, but our shifts are extended to cover the extra people that we get," MSHP Corporal Stacey Mosher said.

The new approach comes after one legislator pushed to separate the water patrol from the highway patrol earlier this year.

The water patrol joined forces with the highway patrol in 2011, in an effort to save the state $3 million per year. Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) proposed a demerger bill in January, suggesting a split from the MSHP would give the water patrol the money and resources necessary to be effective.

Her proposal came after the water patrol was criticized for its ability to keep the lake safe. She dropped the proposal because more troopers have been trained to police the lake this summer.

"It's traditionally a very safe lake. People tend to come down here and have a lot of fun, we just try to keep those injuries to a minimum," Mosher said.

Walz said he's excited about the new training and what's to come for water patrol this season. 

Boaters also play a huge role in keeping waterways safe.

"I think that something that people have a tendency to overlook on the water, is they tend to focus on having fun more than being safe," Mosher said.

Mike Cross, Marina Manager at Four Seasons Marina, said boaters should check a few things before hitting the water this summer.

“Walk around their boat before they get in it and make sure if anything's missing, contact water patrol," he said. "Be weary of their surroundings. Sometimes people come down and they forget where they're at on the lake."     

Last year on Memorial Day weekend, there were eight boating crashes and 15 people were arrested for boating while intoxicated on Missouri waterways. The final boating incident numbers for the 2016 weekend have not been released yet, but will be available on the MSHP's website.