This holiday weekend is expected to be the polar opposite on Minnesota's lakes from the other holiday that bookends summer.
Unlike the Memorial Day weekend, when boaters were met with wake restrictions and soggy, cool weather, boaters are expected to hit area lakes and rivers in full force this Labor Day weekend — typically the last big boating weekend of the year. As a result, authorities are urging swimmers and boaters to be especially cautious.
While accidents and water-related deaths remain down this year, likely because of lower boating traffic, authorities will be patrolling waterways more this long weekend.
"Before kids are going back to school and young adults are going back to college, people want to have fun," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Saturday. "And we want them to have fun, but in a safe and respectful manner."
On Sunday and Monday, extra deputies will patrol Lake Minnetonka and the 106 other county lakes and rivers.
As of Saturday, there have been four accidental drownings in the county and eight near-drownings. And while those drownings include some high-profile incidents, including a Minneapolis South High School football player who died in Lake Nokomis, the county reports fewer incidents so far this year compared to past years. At this time last year, the county had seven accidental drownings — part of 13 total last year — and 12 near-drownings.
So far this year across the state, nine people have died in boating accidents, compared to nine at this point last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). There has been a downward trend in boating fatalities over the past few years, with 43 total deaths in 2013 from boating fatalities and non-boating drownings — 13 of which were boating-related — down from 55 watercraft and water deaths in 2012 and 66 in 2012, according to the DNR.
Still, there have been some close calls. Four weeks ago, one weekend had four near-drownings, Stanek said, with young swimmers rescued by emergency crews and resuscitated.
"It could have been a very tragic weekend," he said.
Boating while intoxicated arrests are also falling, with 59 so far this year statewide, compared to 81 at this time in 2013 and 146 in 2012. Hennepin County has seen 34 BWIs.
The reason for the decline in boating deaths and incidents, Stanek said, may be because of the cold, wet weather and wake restrictions that took effect much of the summer, deterring boating.
"People are being more aware, heeding the messages," he said. "It will be a big weekend; we just want people to be safe."