Dinner cruise passengers stranded overnight after boat runs aground

More than 600 people unexpectedly spent the night aboard a Missouri showboat after the vessel lost propulsion and ran aground in high winds during a dinner cruise.

The 196-foot Branson Belle experienced a failure in its starboard wheel and grounded in Table Rock Lake at about 1800 on Dec. 11, 2010.

A failed circuit board in the starboard DC rectifier drive caused the propulsion failure, according to Lisa Rau, spokeswoman for Herschend Family Entertainment, which owns and operates Branson Belle.

Passengers disembark the showboat Branson Belle using a ramp and a makeshift road that was blazed to reach the grounded vessel on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake. A failed circuit board led to a propulsion failure in high winds. (Photo courtesy Herschend Family Entertainment)

As a result, Branson Belle got stuck at Poverty Point, southwest of the resort city of Branson, Mo. The vessel grounded in about 2 feet of water about 45 feet from the shore, according to a U.S. Coast Guard press release.

A total of 567 passengers and 76 crew spent the night of Dec. 11 on the showboat. Evacuation of passengers began at 0900 on Dec. 12 and was finished by 1130. There were no injuries, although four people with pre-existing medical conditions — along with five family members — were taken off the boat during the night by the Missouri State Water Patrol.

“The entire evacuation went much faster than expected,” said Capt. Steve Hudson, commander, Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River.

A dive survey revealed that the vessel’s hull was not damaged.

The showboat was approaching its berth at White River Landing on Table Rock Lake, near the end of its two hour, 20 minute dinner cruise, when winds picked up to between 28 and 30 knots, according to Rau. Branson Belle lost propulsion on its starboard wheel, located at the vessel’s stern. When both paddle wheels are operating, the boat’s speed is about 2.6 knots.

The vessel’s captain made several attempts to reach White River Landing, with assistance from the company’s 16-ton towing vessel, Branson Baby Belle, berthed at the landing. Branson Belle could not reach the landing and ran ashore on Poverty Point across the main channel of Table Rock Lake, south and west of the landing, according to Rau.

Although the captain considered trying to move the vessel into a cove 100 yards away so that passengers could disembark, the captain decided to keep the vessel where it was due to darkness and the high winds, according to Rau.

During the night, an excavation company from the nearby village of Whitewater brought in a bulldozer and cut a trail through the woods to the point where Branson Belle was grounded. State Park Marina donated a 30-foot ramp that was used to help passengers get off the showboat.

Fire Chief Bruce Bjorge of the Western Taney County Fire Protection District was the on-scene commander. In addition to the Coast Guard, other agencies that assisted with the rescue included the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The Coast Guard is investigating the grounding. Branson Belle is not scheduled to begin cruises again until March.

David A. Tyler

By Professional Mariner Staff