Sheriff's Corner: Know the rules before heading out on your boat

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch

As many of our readers are aware, we have seen an increase in boating and waterway traffic this summer in our area. Several reports have indicated that our areas have been busier with people enjoying recreational activities than most have seen in many years. With this increased activity, our calls for service increase and our response to complaints also increases. We would like to remind everyone of some safe boating laws and address a few concerns that have been brought to our attention recently.

We have been asked to talk about some basic boating safety regulations, as well as a reminder about respect for others on the water and near the water. This month, I would like to cover a few basics of general boating and water safety that you can share with your family, friends or guests that visit during the summer months. We strongly encourage you to follow all safety regulations and laws, as well as use common sense and respectful procedures while boating or engaging in other forms of recreation on the water. Much of the information shared can be found in the MN DNR Boating and Water Safety Manual, which is located online at .

As a boater or watercraft operator, you are legally obligated to know the federal, state and local regulations that apply to your watercraft and the waters where you go boating. You must also have the safety equipment required by law, keep it in good condition and on board, and know how to properly use these devices. You must also have a complete knowledge of your boat, its handling and the boating rules of the road. Another responsibility of the boat operator is the boat’s passengers. You are responsible for your actions and those of your passengers from the time you leave the dock to the time you return. You are also required to maintain a proper lookout at all times. Lack of proper lookout is the reason for most accidents. Water users have a common responsibility, which is frequently overlooked. This is an obligation to recognize that other people who enjoy our lakes and rivers have interests which may be similar to or directly opposite of your own. For example, not all people enjoy water skiing or personal watercraft. Keeping this in mind, everyone has the right to use public waters, as long as they do not interfere with other people’s rights to enjoy their favorite activity. A common example that we often see and respond to is complaints of creating a large wake too close to someone who is fishing or on their shoreline or docking system. Our near record winter snow melt and a wet spring have caused some high water conditions on area lakes. This high water along with increased boat traffic has created some wake issues and we ask that you respect sensitive areas, as well as people’s private property, when taking your wake and distance from shore into consideration.

Using common sense, safety and being educated on laws and regulations will allow all users of our natural resources to enjoy a respectful experience.

You are also responsible for operating your boat at a safe and legal speed, obeying no-wake zones and waterway markers, avoiding propeller injuries, obeying motorboat noise laws and being a safe and courteous boater. This not only goes for you, your passengers and other users that enjoy the water, but it also includes wildlife concerns. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office is reminding boaters to watch for loons as part of their season-long safety procedures. Loon chicks are not able to fly until they are more than 2 months old; they’re also unable to dive for safety as mature loons and other birds can. Mature loons are heavy birds, enabling them to dive as deep as 250 feet to search for food. They can stay underwater for up to five minutes. Loons in Minnesota range throughout the busiest boating areas of the state, inhabiting lakes across almost all of northern, central and eastern Minnesota. Watercraft is a significant cause of loon mortality. Loons frequently nest and rear their young in areas where boats move at higher speeds. Please respect areas of nesting and habitat in no wake zones and sensitive shorelines.


Another topic that has been reported and needs a reminder is boating and watercraft activity around divers. Diving is a popular sport and divers can be found in areas shared with recreational boaters. As diving's popularity increases, it becomes more important for both boaters and divers to take special precautions.

As a boat operator, you should:

  • Be able to recognize a diver-down flag (a red flag with a white diagonal stripe) floating in the area of the divers.

  • Stay the legal distance away from a diver-down flag. Do not drive your boat between a diver-down flag and a nearby shore.

  • Watch out for divers surfacing when you see a diver-down flag. Bubbles may indicate that a diver is below.

For their own safety, divers should:

  • Always display the diver-down flag and stay close to the flag.

  • Use a stable boat that is suited for diving and anchor the boat securely.

  • Avoid overloading the boat with people, equipment or supplies.

  • Never dive or snorkel alone.

If you observe unsafe or illegal activity, please report the information in a timely manner to the Sheriff’s Office and we will put you in touch with a recreational deputy or assign one to the problem area for increased patrols and enforcement activities. We hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable boating and water recreation season!
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 Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, PO Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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