The peak of summer boating season is here, meaning during this holiday weekend — which for many Minnesotans will last five days — accidents and perhaps deaths will occur on state lakes and rivers.
Want these mishaps not to include you, your friends and family?
Simple: Don’t drink and boat, wear a life jacket and pay attention while on the water.
Here’s another way to avoid that sinking feeling: Take a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boating safety course — something many Minnesotans, according to a recent survey conducted by Progressive Insurance, are reluctant to do.
Only Wisconsin boaters are less likely than Minnesotans to take such a course, according to the survey.
Perhaps that’s why 82 percent of surveyed Minnesota boaters report having 10 or more years of experience on the water. But only 12 percent said they were confident in their understanding of boating terms.
Boating safety is critical in Minnesota because the state is tops nationwide in boats registered per capita — one watercraft for every 6.76 residents.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, 71 percent of Minnesotans use their boats for fishing, the highest rate of any state, according to the Progressive survey.
Still, DNR conservation officers (COs) continue to report that many Minnesotan boaters, anglers and otherwise, are unaware of, or intentionally indifferent to, watercraft operation rules.
Last week, for example, CO Jayson Hansen of Big Fork cited boaters for transporting aquatic vegetation, insufficient life jackets, no horn or whistle, failure to display watercraft registration, failure to drain water-related equipment, no fishing license, and no license in possession.
CO Anthony Bermel of Babbitt also was busy in recent days, citing boaters for “walleye over limits, extra lines, fishing without licenses, illegal slot northern pike, expired watercraft registration, no navigation lights after sunset, illegal motorized equipment in the (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness), cans/glass in the BWCA, insufficient PFDs (life jackets), litter, and AIS violations.’’
Yet perhaps nothing endangers Minnesota boaters more than drinking while afloat. According to the DNR, alcohol was involved in about 44 percent of state boating fatalities during the past five years.
The problem might be growing worse, rather than improving, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Despite long-running public awareness campaigns intended to discourage drinking and boating (which is legal in Minnesota so long as the operator’s blood alcohol level is below .08), the number of alcohol-related boating accidents, injuries and deaths increased in the state, in some cases significantly, between 2010 and 2016, rather than decreased.
This even though Minnesota has some of the toughest boat-while-drinking laws in the nation.
Upshot: While on the water this weekend and throughout the rest of the summer, stay safe. Don’t drink. Wear a life jacket. Know the rules. Pay attention.