Uber-like service for boats launches in Missouri

‘Anchor' hopes to make the water safer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A new company being hailed as an Uber-like service for boats has launched at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Zach Hatraf pitched the idea of Anchor to investors last fall. By Memorial Day 2017 his app was being downloaded on smartphones across Missouri.

"We have folks come down from St. Louis and Kansas City, and all over the Midwest really, who are able to rent a boat but really don't have any experience on what it's like to operate a boat,” said Hatraf, Anchor’s CEO and co-founder.

"I think I'll be on every single body of water in the country,” he said.

The concept is similar to any other ride-sharing service on land. Once an Anchor user requests a boat, the driver of that boat gets an alert on their phone and immediately heads towards the customer to pick them up. All Anchor drivers also need to pass a background check and need to meet all state boating laws.

Zach Hatraf (right) got the inspiration for Anchor after one of his friends died in a boating accident. He hopes using professional drivers will help keeps lakes safer.

Jerry Brewer is an Anchor driver who’s been boating at Lake of the Ozarks for 20 years. He says the new service is a great safety tool.

"It is a busy waterway and there are a lot of people who just don't have the experience on a big lake like this,” he said.

In fact, the inspiration behind Anchor is Jeremy Coplin, Hatraf’s best friend who died in a boating accident at Lake of the Ozarks several years ago.

According to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Missouri Highway Patrol, there have been at least 47 deaths on the lake since 2005, and over 700 accidents, making it one of the deadliest lakes in the country. Anchor is Hatraf’s second attempt at a charter company he hopes will make the water safer.

"Basically Lake of the Ozarks can be a dangerous lake. I mean it's busy,” said the St. Louis native. “And if you come down here with zero boating experience and you want to rent a boat you're going to want somebody that has experience driving you around."

But connecting people with boats so easily gives the U.S. Coast Guard concerns as well.

Because Lake of the Ozarks is a navigable waterway, it’s regulated by the USCG.

"The Lake of the Ozarks is typically on the high end of risk when it comes to safety on the water. They're usually near the top on boating accidents, injuries,” said Lt. Sean M. Haley, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard - Sector Upper Mississippi River.

Haley told 41 Action News that the USCG is holding Anchor under legal review. The company is still allowed to operate, however since the technology and business model is so novel, the Coast Guard is taking a close look at each charter service across the country to ensure each complies with existing regulations.

"We're seeing operations similar to this across the country. We've been looking at this determination for a couple months now but the delay is really to have a consistent application of the rule across the United States," said Haley.

The questions regarding Anchor’s legality surrounds the definition of a charter service versus a bareboat charter service.

Under Coast Guard regulations, any charter service must have a coast guard credentialed driver. However, Anchor is being presented as a bareboat charter, essentially a boat rental service, where the boat’s driver can be assigned to anyone with a boat license.

Hatraf is hoping the Coast Guard will see Anchor’s potential.

"We share a common goal, us and the Coast Guard, and that is to improve water safety,” said Hatraf.

Depending on the group size and the distance traveled, Anchor costs roughly $15 to $30 per person. The company hopes to expand to more states upon approval. Anchor also has a new app update this week, June 20, 2017.

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