Sheriff’s Corner: Boating season is right around the corner

Now is a good time to revisit boating safety measures before hitting the water.

Cass County Sheriff Bryan Welk
Cass County Sheriff Bryan Welk

As we finally and hopefully start to transition from winter to spring and into summer we have been asked to give an update on our Boat and Water Safety programs and partnerships with lake associations and volunteer groups. As you are probably aware, Cass County covers a large recreational area. With 514 lakes covering over 258,000 acres of water, the public does not have to go far to find fun on the water.

The Cass County Sheriff, under MN Rules Chapter 86B.105 , is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for search, rescue, patrol and inspection of watercraft on the lakes, streams and rivers in Cass County. The role of the Boat and Water Safety Division is to enhance safety on the waterways of Cass County, respond to water emergencies, abide by Minnesota Statute 86B1.5, promote boat and water safety and enforcement, buoy designated waterways for navigation and hazards, and train and equip personnel for water search and rescue.

For many years, volunteers have provided a valuable resource in the Boat and Water Safety Program. Utilizing patrol boats, the trained volunteers patrol Woman Lake, Pleasant Lake and the Outing lakes area. Other groups and agencies, such as Gull Area Lakes Association, take the main responsibility for maintaining many of the buoys on lakes within the county. Each spring, Boat and Water Safety courses are taught in schools throughout the county with the assistance of the lake association and volunteer programs. The use of volunteers reduces the operating cost of the sheriff’s office, allows deputies to remain accessible to the community and respond to emergencies, and greatly contributes to providing the high quality of public service the citizens of Cass County expect and deserve.

After a COVID-delayed pause, we will be working with our volunteer groups this spring to cover information updates including current and new law changes for boating. Also covered were topics including personal watercraft; personal flotation device use and permits required, including for rafts, swim areas and other items. Volunteers provide a critical service in patrol and being the eyes and ears of the sheriff’s office on area lakes, helping spread safety messages, and monitoring boating and other water activities. Volunteers can issue verbal and safety warnings but do not issue written warnings or citations. If there are issues that need more enforcement action or follow-up, volunteers communicate with recreational deputies so citations or further enforcement can be conducted.

Basic safety measures:


  • Boaters should slow down and make an extra effort to act in a courteous manner on busy lakes and rivers. Be cautious of your wake and what effects it has on other boaters, recreators, and property. 
  • Designate a sober boat operator prior to your day of boating.
  • It is highly recommended that all passengers wear life jackets during boating.
  • Be aware of the danger of a boat propeller. People in the water, who are re-entering the boat, have been injured by props.
  • Watch your kids. Parents must use active supervision when children are in – or near – the water. Parents must focus on kids and avoid distractions such as using cell phones or talking with other adults. Parent supervision is needed. 
  • Wear a life jacket. Weak swimmers or non-swimmers should wear life jackets in the water. 
  • Teach your kids to swim. Adults must know how to swim, too.
  • Learn CPR and learn more about water safety.

In addition, The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has published a Top 10 rules to respectful boating.
Remember, these are guidelines and should not serve as a replacement for learning the rules, regulations, and laws for your local body of water. Whether you’re a novice or a veteran boater, learn more by taking a boating safety course.

  1. Respect the ramp. Good boating etiquette starts before you enter the water at the dock. Prepare your boat and equipment before getting into position to launch. Anything else is disrespectful to fellow boaters.
  2. Own your wake. The fastest way to make the wrong kinds of waves is to literally throw a big, obtrusive wave at another boat, swimmer, angler or shoreline owner. This is much more than being a nuisance or disrupting others’ experience on the water. It’s dangerous to those unable to tolerate a large wake. Stay at least 200 feet from the shoreline and other boaters.
  3. Keep the tunes in check. Sound is amplified over the water, so keep the music at a decent level. Not only is it a disturbance to others but the operator may not hear the spotter.
  4. Pack in. Pack out. Seems like common sense, right? Yet shorelines are still lined with trash being thrown overboard. Take care of the body of water you love and dispose of any trash you have. Do not throw it overboard!
  5. Slow your roll. Does the body of water you’re on have a speed limit or slow-no-wake restriction? It’s your responsibility to know it and respect it. You are responsible for any damage you cause to other people’s property.
  6. Rules of the road. Become familiar with waterway markers and navigation rules, which dictate how you operate your vessel in order to prevent a collision.
  7. Be prepared. If you are the captain, you need to be prepared with the safety rules for your craft and make your guests aware as well. Know state and local laws for the body of water you’re on. Set a good example by always wearing a life jacket and having enough life jackets for each person onboard. Beyond that, make sure to have the appropriate fit.
  8. Fuel and go. At the fuel dock, get fuel, pay your bill, and move out of the way. If you need to buy additional supplies, relocate your boat. Don’t forget to run your blower before starting.
  9. Anchoring and mooring. Enter an anchorage or mooring area at a slow speed. Don’t create a wake that will disrupt other anchored boats. The first boat sets the tone. Mimic how they tie off, how much line you use and how much distance you allow between you and other boats. The busier the boat, the more space you should give yourself.
  10. Be polite — give a wave. When passing another boat, give a little wave hello. Boating is all about having fun and being part of the boating community. Embrace it, enjoy it, and share it for generations to come.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

What To Read Next
Get Local