Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Immediately upon hearing about the Branson, Missouri, duck boat catastrophe, in addition to feeling a profound sadness for the families, my risk management thinking went into high gear.

Tyler Davidson, content director with Meetings Today, and I agreed that something must be written to help us all grasp the responsibilities in what we review—for our individual leisure plans, and for the activities often enthusiastically suggested to us by a hotel concierge or convention services staff.

Not to mention additional recommendations from DMOs, DMCs, colleagues or salespeople.

I initially wrote of immense sorrow for the families who lost loved ones and most of all for the Coleman family. I cannot get Tia Coleman’s anguished words and facial expressions out of my head. How does one cope with losing nine family members on what was to be a delightful day of a family vacation?

Since the initial article published, there has been much written on the lawsuits filed—even more here—and about what the operating franchise has said it would pay to the victims and their families.

For my initial and continued research, I am grateful to colleagues including but not limited to industry lawyer and educator, Tyra Hilliard, Ph.D., CMP, Esq.; Madelyn Marusa, DMCP, vice president global sales and industry relations, Allied PRA Destination Management Inc.; and via Madelyn, Gordon Loebl, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, now retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and working as senior vice president, maritime and engineering, Hornblower Cruises & Events.

Mr. Loebl guided me through the processes used to certify crafts, and suggested I read the National Transportation Safety (NTSB) marine accident report on the sinking of the Miss Majestic in 1999. I strongly recommend you wade through the report or at least skip to the “Recommendations” pages (p. 52).

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

I’m also grateful to a duck boat franchise that provided answers to questions I had about safety and operations. Respecting its privacy, I am not including the contact’s name or the location of operations.

“I certainly understand the hesitation [about riding duck boats after the accident]. What happened in Branson was so unfortunate and has sent shockwaves throughout all of the duck companies nationwide.

“[In response to your query about the photos on the website] the reason you don’t see anyone wearing life jackets … is not because we don’t have them. At any time during the tour you are welcome to put one on. If you want to put one on, you can. The pictures on the website are from a photo shoot last year. And no one [among the passengers at that time] wanted to put their [life jacket] on.

“I cannot speak for what the Branson ducks did, but here’s what we do and what we have done for the past 15+ plus years [that I’ve been associated with this company, although it has been in business longer].

“Every morning, the captains come in at 7:00 a.m. The first thing they do is pull up the weather.

“In my opinion before Branson and after Branson, our master captains (all of them have a masters’ captain license) are better meteorologists than those you see on TV.

“Weather is what our captains deal with every day. There is ALWAYS a captain set aside to watch the weather. That’s all they do that day. No tours, just weather watching.

“They have two computers, one TV and four phones. They are obsessed with the weather.

“The other captains scheduled on that day then do two pre-trip inspections. One that is DOT required and one that is Coast Guard required. Any discrepancy, the duck doesn’t go out. Any issue, the duck doesn’t go out.

“We don’t go out when the wind is high. We don’t go out when the tide is high. We don’t go out when the tide is low. We don’t go out when there is lightning and thunder.

“And no captain works for more than 12 hours per DOT rules.”

Use the above responses, in addition to the checklist questions that accompany this blog post as a separate article, to ask about the duck boat or other like operations for a personal or group activity.

Given this information and what was said in interviews with the survivor, Tia Coleman (that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets), and from emails and posts on social media from friends and colleagues who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations … I am not confident that it is suggested that one wear life vests aboard all duck boats.

Pay attention to the follow-up articles and read what the investigator from the NTSB said about the storm that was predicted. Note the mention of another duck boat that went out about the same time and returned before the storm worsened.

And here’s a former NTSB Chair calling for a duck boat ban.

Read the list that Tyra Hilliard, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I compiled of questions to ask before taking part in any sort of boating or other water-based transportation activity. Think how these or like questions apply to any form of transportation or venues you book.

Consider that what happened in Branson could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you. If not recommended by you, maybe by your supplier partners with DMOs or hotels or DMCs.

In the initial Meetings Today article, we shared five key areas to consider when assessing transportation risk (with questions). Those are now expanded in the accompanying checklist presented in the Friday With Joan newsletter. Please add your safety precautions for any of these areas in the comments. We all are safer because of the experiences of others and by sharing information.

Be safe. If you are out on the water, wear a life vest or jacket. If you are on land and riding a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet. If you are planning to be in or hire land vehicles—car (private or contracted) or bus—ask if they have a seat belt, then tell your participants to do what you do: wear seatbelts. When you are on a plane or a train, no matter how many trips you've taken, put down your reading materials and listen to the information about safety. In a hotel or other meeting facility? Count the steps from your guest room to the nearest evacuation area; look for evacuation and shelter-in-place areas.

Pay attention to all that will keep you and your participants safe.

As you inspect the car services and other companies with whom you contract, channel me! Each time I ask and want to contract safety issues, I’m told “no one has ever asked that before.” It is high time others did ask! In talking with industry attorneys, it was said that yes, those who hold designations such as CMP are likely to be held to a higher standard in the due diligence they perform in their recommendations.

CMP or not, make it safe for everyone.

I offer my continued condolences to those so horribly impacted by this tragedy—the families, their friends, the employees of the franchise and all others. How can we help but feel for them?

As I reflect on all the life-ending events suffered in our world and in our industry in particular, I ask as I have for years: How can we not put safety first in all we do as professionals on any side of this industry?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the August 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 08.03.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

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Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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