Make safe boating top priority on Memorial Day weekend: Water remains dangerously cold, life jackets a necessity

Memorial Day weekend signals the start of the summer boating season, but boaters should keep in mind water temperatures remain spring-like. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges boaters to wear life jackets no matter the water tempe...

Memorial Day weekend signals the start of the summer boating season, but boaters should keep in mind water temperatures remain spring-like.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges boaters to wear life jackets no matter the water temperature or season, but it's especially important this time of year, when wearing a life jacket is the one action that significantly increases the chances of surviving a fall into cold water, the DNR stated in a news release.

Though temperatures continue to rise, water temperatures across the state generally are around the 50-degree mark, which is cold enough to cause a gasp reflex and incapacitate even the strongest swimmers in less than one minute.

"Cold water affects everyone the same-it reduces your swimming abilities," stated Lisa Dugan, boating safety representative with the DNR, in a news release. "Even the most experienced swimmers will have trouble within seconds of an unexpected fall into cold water. Wearing a life jacket gives you a fighting chance to get your head above water, stay calm instead of panicking, and call for help before hypothermia sets in."

In Minnesota, more than one-third of boating fatalities occur on cold water, and incident records show the victims are disproportionately male. Of the 14 people involved in boating fatalities in the state last year, all were male. And during the past decade, there's been a trend that men between the ages of 20 and 60 are the most likely to drown while boating and are the least likely to be wearing a life jacket.


"It's pretty clear that wearing a life jacket could easily prevent a significant percentage of boating deaths," Dugan stated.

Before the first launch of the season, anglers are also reminded to review boating regulations, inspect their watercraft and gear, enlist a mechanic to check exhaust systems for potential carbon monoxide leaks, and verify motorboats are equipped with the following:

• U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jackets for each person onboard. Children under 10 must wear a properly fitting life jacket while underway.

• A throwable flotation device on boats 16 feet or longer.

• A horn or a whistle.

• Type B, U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher.

• Navigation lights in working order.

• Valid boat registration, with numbers visible.


Watercraft can be registered in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles, at the DNR License Center in St. Paul, or online at . Further details, including boater education requirements and information on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning while boating, can be found at .

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, also wants to remind everyone to be vigilant this summer while on the water and asks people to be mindful of five things because it could save their life or the life of someone they care about:

• Expect the unexpected. Incidents can happen within seconds, so always be prepared for the unexpected. At any given time a person could be ejected from a boat or accidentally fall into the water. This can lead to panic, hyperventilation and sometimes vertigo causing a person to drown.

• Wear a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket helps ensure a person to survive an unexpected fall into the water. It can also save their life if they become exhausted due to fatigue, waves or current while swimming.

• Know one's own swimming abilities. Be aware swimming in natural waters such as a lake, river or pond is different from swimming in a pool.

• Alcohol and water are a deadly combination. If a person plans on consuming alcohol, play it safe and avoid the water, and understand "boater's hypnosis": "It is a condition brought on by the effects of sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion experienced during a day on the water. Boater's hypnosis can slow a person's reaction time almost as much as if a person were legally intoxicated. Adding alcohol to this condition intensifies the effects."

The engineers also want to remind boaters about the lake and river levels across the Upper Midwest. The high waters continue to plague several locations across the region to include the Mississippi River. Caution is urged if boating on the river due to sediment shifting into areas that are normally much deeper, a news release stated. Boaters should be aware that channel conditions and depths can change rapidly and without warning.

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