The tragic death of a Elysian man in a boating accident on Otter Tail Lake Aug. 22 should give the Labor Day crowd pause this weekend as they celebrate the last big holiday of summer.
With boats and motors increasing in size and power and personal watercraft darting around on county lakes, David Weiss of the Otter Tail County Water Patrol pointed out a few insights Friday.
“There is no speed limit on water until it turns to ice,” Weiss said.
The summer of 2020 has seen a large number of people getting outside and hitting the lakes.
“There have been a lot of people out this summer, more so than any other I can recall,” Weiss said.
COVID-19 concerns are considered to be one of the biggest catalysts for the increase in outdoor activity.
“Summer is kind of coming to a close right now and we would still like people to be vigilant, be courteous, be aware of what is going on and be safe, wear your life jacket.”
As Minnesotans continue to enjoy the outdoors and boating, the Department of Natural Resources encourages people to stay safe. Unfortunately, this year has been the deadliest boating season in nearly a decade, indicating there’s more work to do. DNR conservation officers expect the state’s waters to remain popular places this Labor Day weekend and throughout the fall.
“Staying safe on the water isn’t just about checking things off a list – it’s a mindset,” said Adam Block, state boating law administrator in the DNR enforcement division. “Once you have that mindset, you’ll keep yourself safer and be a positive role model for other people learning how much fun there is to be had on Minnesota’s waters.”
So far this year, 13 people have lost their lives in boating accidents in Minnesota, which is the highest number since 2011 at the same point of the year. The two most common causes of boating fatalities in the state are capsizing and falling overboard, incidents more likely to be deadly during the spring and fall cold-water periods.
DNR conservation officers remind all boaters to be cognizant of the dangers that arise as the water temperatures fall.
“We’re entering a transition period when the water temperature will start dropping, so now’s the time to prepare,” said Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR enforcement division. “All boaters should put safety above everything else, but new boaters, in particular, need to understand the risks associated with late-season boating and the steps they can take to minimize those risks.”
It’s difficult to say exactly how many new boaters were on the water this summer, but data suggest the number was significant. More than 10,000 people completed the online boater education safety course, compared with the annual average of about 7,000. The number of new motorboat registrations is up more than 1,100 from 2019, and the number of new personal watercraft registrations is up nearly 500. In addition, conservation officers have issued more warnings for boating safety violations, part of DNR efforts to educate boaters and help them be safer in the future.
Boaters should keep the following in mind as they hit the water:
• Wear a life jacket (foam is more effective than inflatables during the cold-water season). It’s the one thing most likely to help people survive a fall into cold water.
• Distribute weight evenly and abide by manufacturer’s weight limits to reduce the likelihood of falling overboard.
• Have a means of communication. Boaters also should let other people know where they’re going and when they plan to return.
• Watch the weather to avoid shifting winds or storms.
For more information on staying safe on or around cold water, see mndnr.gov/safety/boatwater/cold-water.html.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources contributed to this article.