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Our Opinion: Take steps to stay safe on the open water

With more people using our lakes comes more potential for accidents and tragedy. For that reason, we support legislation that would put more boating knowledge into more people’s hands. More education has never been a bad thing.

Brainerd Dispatch editorial
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Minnesota’s fishing opener is upon us, an unofficial start of the boating season for thousands of Minnesotans that will extend into fall if the weather cooperates.

Read more Our Opinion
Memorial Day is a day in which we honor those who fought and died for our country. We encourage everyone to take time out of their weekend, even if for only a moment, to pay tribute and honor these men and women who so rightfully deserve it.

Between now and then, we’d like to offer up our annual reminder to have fun boating but to do so safely.

That advice is always important, but especially so this time of year, when water temperatures are still cold. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported about 30% of fatal boating accidents happen during the cold-water period. In many instances, the DNR said, the victims weren’t wearing a life jacket.

“For many of us, our most cherished memories revolve around time spent on the water,” said Lt. Adam Block, boating law administrator for the DNR Enforcement Division. “But the water can be cruel and unforgiving, and failing to take the proper precautions before heading onto it can have disastrous consequences.”

So for the anglers already on the lake to the recreational boaters getting their watercraft ready, we’d like to share a few tips from the DNR:

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  • Ensure their boat is registered and equipped with proper safety equipment, and that all pieces are functioning properly.
  • Wear a life jacket (a foam life jacket is more effective than an inflatable life jacket during the cold-water season).
  • 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.
  • Don’t drink and drive a boat. 

There’s a proposal being considered in the Minnesota House and Senate to make boating a little bit more safe, too.
Currently, young people ages 12 to 17 must pass an online boater safety exam through the DNR. Companion bills taken up by the Senate and House this session would increase the age requirement to anyone born on or after July 1, 1987.

That’s a move we can support, especially as more people are buying boats and heading out on lakes — many of whom may have never had proper or even remedial training on how to operate or navigate a boat. It actually wouldn’t hurt anyone of any age to take a refresher course on operating a boat, much like we have for those who drive vehicles.

Our lakes are getting busier, there’s no question. The pandemic only hastened the number of people who turned to our lakes and rivers as a way to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors. And who can blame them? Our numerous lakes are treasurers for everyone to enjoy.

But with more use comes more potential for accidents and tragedy. For that reason, we support legislation that would put more boating knowledge into more people’s hands. More education has never been a bad thing.

For the anglers venturing out on the opener, good luck. For boaters who will be hitting the lake this spring, summer and fall, have fun. For everyone, stay safe.

The Brainerd Dispatch Editorial Board members are Dispatch and Echo Journal Publisher Pete Mohs, former Dispatch Publisher Terry McCollough, Dispatch Editor Matt Erickson, Dispatch Managing Editor Renee Richardson and Echo Journal Editor Nancy Vogt.
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