Despite less-than-stellar weather, the long Memorial Day weekend was busy on many Minnesota waters.
But relatively safe.
Officials reported only one boating-related fatality: a St. Paul man drowned while canoeing in Todd County. So far this season, four people have lost their lives on the water.
“One is too many,” said Debbie Munson Badini, Department of Natural Resources boat and water safety education coordinator.
Boating is much safer today than it was decades ago. In the 1970s, Minnesota averaged about 42 boating deaths a year. By the 2000s, an average of 18 boaters died each year.
So far this decade, an average of 14 boating-related deaths have occurred yearly. Education, more stringent life jacket requirements and boating safety courses all likely have contributed to the decline.
But while that’s a big improvement from 30 years ago, it’s still too many lives lost, officials say. And they say boaters can greatly reduce their chances of ending up as statistics by wearing life jackets.
Of the 14 boating deaths last year, only one victim was wearing a life jacket. Nationally, more than 80 percent of the 418 boating-related drowning victims last year weren’t wearing life jackets.
“Wearing a life jacket is the easiest and most effective step you can take to stay safe on the water,” said Munson Badini.
But too many males, age 20 to 60, ignore the life jacket recommendations, she said. They make up the vast majority of Minnesota boating deaths. Last year, all 14 victims were male. In 2013, 11 of 13 victims were male and in 2012, 11 of 15 victims were male.
“What we are struggling with is how do we get to that last percentage who will not wear life jackets — to help them understand that it is the No. 1 thing they can do to be safe on the water?” Munson Badini said.
One way: The DNR plans to run more ads and public service announcements on Twins broadcasts to try to reach those male boaters.
Officials recommend boaters always wear life jackets. Munson Badini suggested that boaters who don’t wear them because they find life jackets uncomfortable should try an inflatable life jacket.
“Most of our conservation officers are wearing inflatable life jackets, and I’m encouraging adults to check those out,” she said. “They are so comfortable, you hardly know you have them on.”
They are more expensive than traditional life jackets, “but if you pay $50 or $60 more for a life jacket that you will actually wear, it will be the best money you spend,” she said.
About 70 percent of Minnesota’s boating fatalities and accidents occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day.