Sheriff's Corner: Staying safe on the water

As we have finally had some normal hot summer weather, we have noticed an increase in our recreational boating and lake activities. We have been asked to talk about some basic boating safety regulations, as well as to offer a reminder about respe...

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch

As we have finally had some normal hot summer weather, we have noticed an increase in our recreational boating and lake activities. We have been asked to talk about some basic boating safety regulations, as well as to offer 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 you are expecting during the summer months. We strongly encourage you to follow all safety regulations and laws, as well as to use common sense and respectful procedures while boating or during other forms of recreation on the water.

Your recreation fun depends on you, your equipment and other people who, like you, enjoy spending leisure time on, in, or near the water. 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, to keep it in good condition and on board, and know how to properly use these devices. You must 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 or directly opposite of their own. 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. By utilizing common sense, safety and being educated on laws and regulations, all users of our natural resources can 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.

The DNR and many local sheriff's offices offer boating and water safety classes. The objective of any boating safety program is to inform the watercraft user of proper safety procedures. The number of accidents resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage can be reduced drastically, but only if you will help!

While boating, keep in mind some procedures for safe operation. These will allow you to have a legal and enjoyable experience not only for yourself, but everyone else on or near the water.


• On open waters, operate your watercraft in a counterclockwise direction, if possible.

• Operate your watercraft at a "slow-no wake" speed when you are close to swimming areas, docks, rafts, moored watercraft and fishing boats or when signs or buoys direct you to do so. Slow-no wake means that you should be operating at the slowest possible speed to maintain steerage, but not greater than 5 miles per hour.

• Do not enter prohibited areas, which are lawfully marked by buoys or signs.

• Keep to the right in narrow channels and operate at slow-no wake speed.

• At night, running lights are required. The green light is on the starboard (right) side and a red light is on the port (left) side of the craft. If the red and white lights are the only ones visible, then that boat is the stand-on boat and you must give way to them.

• Be a courteous boater. Each boater needs to take responsibility for his or her own actions and use common sense while boating. There is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the water, as long as each of us treats other boaters, shoreline residents and other water recreation enthusiasts with respect and we allow them to enjoy their experience, as well.

• You should not operate your boat at greater than a safe speed appropriate to the circumstances and visibility on the water.

• Find out about any local hazards in the lake or river you intend to boat.


• Though you may feel you have the right-of-way, always use common sense! Each boater has a legal responsibility to take adequate measures to avoid a collision.

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; by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box No. 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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