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Be safe on busy Brainerd area lakes this Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend represents the traditional start of the recreational boating season, when waterways come alive with all sorts of users.

Boat in lake.
A boat takes off across the water Thursday, May 25, 2023, on Gull Lake.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Sunny skies and temperatures in the low to mid 80s are on tap this Memorial Day weekend — perfect weather for Brainerd area visitors and residents alike to get out on the lake and have some fun.

Memorial Day weekend represents the traditional start of the recreational boating season, when waterways come alive with all sorts of users. With that in mind, area law enforcement officials and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources know lakes will be busy and are stressing the importance of safety on the water .

Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida said he’s seeing a lot of activity on area lakes already and expects Memorial Day weekend to be very busy. With that in mind, he said boaters of all kinds — from anglers to water skiers to wake boaters — should give each other respect and proper space to operate.

“The majority of the complaints we see, people go out there and they’re like, ‘This is my weekend on the water, I’m going to do what I want,’” Guida said. “And everybody on the lake has that same feeling, they spent a bunch of money, time and energy to get out here and it’s finally my turn, and they just don’t respect each other like they should.

“If they just share that space, there’s plenty of water out there for everybody. You might need to look a little bit to find the space. If a wakeboarder is out there wakeboarding with a bunch of fishing boats, he’s in the wrong spot. And if the fishing boats are trying to go next to the island where all the swimmers park and have fun, he’s probably in the wrong spot. You have to kind of make little sacrifices to keep everybody happy.”


Crow Wing County Sheriff Eric Klang said he expects highways and lakes to be the busiest in the county since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 100,000 people expected to visit the Brainerd lakes area.

Klang said the best advice on roads and lakes is being aware of what you are doing and of what others are doing.

“This is going to be a big weekend,” Klang said. “This is not the weekend to be driving distracted in a car or boat.”

We don’t need any tragedies. We’d rather put that ounce of prevention there instead of the pound of the cure.
Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida

Everyone who recreates on the water has a role to play in keeping Minnesota’s lakes and rivers safe, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported.

“Our waterways are the crown jewel of Minnesota’s great outdoors, and the number of people who use them is truly remarkable,” said Lisa Dugan, recreation safety outreach coordinator for the DNR Enforcement Division, in a news release. “There’s nothing like memories made on the water, and a little preparation goes a long way toward ensuring they’re positive memories.”

Following are safety tips from the DNR for all boaters — regardless of their experience or skill level:

  • Wear a life jacket — don’t just bring it. Ninety percent of boating fatality victims in the state weren’t wearing a life jacket. While the law requires children under 10 to wear a life jacket while the boat is underway, wearing a life jacket is the best way boaters of all ages can help ensure they get home safely.
  • Leave the alcohol on shore. Not only is operating a boat under the influence illegal, it’s also the single greatest factor in fatal boating accidents.
  • Check safety equipment. Make sure life jackets fit and are in good condition, and on motor boats, check to ensure the navigation lights, sound-producing devices, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors are in good condition. Also, inspect the engine cut-off lanyard and make sure to wear it when the boat is underway.
  • Be cognizant of high water. Water levels in waterways throughout the state are high this year. High water can make access difficult, but also present safety risks by hiding hazards beneath the water’s surface.
  • Own your wake. Large wakes can have environmental consequences (causing shoreline erosion, for example) and present dangers to other people recreating on the water.
  • Brush up on the rules. Read the 2023 Minnesota Boating Guide at https://tinyurl.com/yc4ch4tv and take an online education course at https://tinyurl.com/mryzbp94 to help increase your knowledge. More information, including boater education requirements and information on safe boating, is on the boating safety webpage of the DNR website at mndnr.gov/safety/boatwater .

Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen echoed the DNR’s safety tips, and added the importance of driving boats at safe speeds and distances from the shore and other boats. He also said people should let others know where they will be boating and for how long, and carry a charged cellphone with them in case of an emergency.
“But pay attention at all times and make sure you're not texting and driving the boat as well. Stay alert and avoid distractions,” Larsen said. “We just want everyone to be safe. We just want everyone to remember that boating safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Klang said part of staying alert is making sure passengers, especially kids, are safe. Guida noted the majority of drownings from boats in his county the past 10 years have been passengers, not drivers.


“If you are the responsible driver and on the boat, be responsible for everybody on the boat,” he said.

Guida said people enjoying area lakes simply need to make good decisions and be cognizant of everything that’s going on around them. And if they see something wrong, such as someone acting in an unsafe manner, they should call their local sheriff’s office.

“We don’t need any tragedies,” Guida said. “We’d rather put that ounce of prevention there instead of the pound of the cure.

Headline News from the Brainerd Dispatch

MATT ERICKSON, Editor, may be reached at matt.erickson@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5857.

Matt Erickson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 2000 as a reporter, covering crime and courts and the city of Brainerd. In 2012 he was promoted to night editor and in 2014 was promoted to editor of the newspaper.
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