With interest in boating on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, state safety officials are advising people to use caution while spending time on Minnesota lakes over the Labor Day weekend.
So far this year, 13 people have died in boating accidents in Minnesota — the deadliest summer in nearly a decade and outpacing last year’s record-low death count of 9.
And fall can be an especially dangerous time for boaters on Minnesota lakes, as the water temperature of lakes and rivers drops. Capsizing and falling overboard are the most common causes of boating fatalities.
"Even strong swimmers can become incapacitated quickly in cold water,” said Lisa Dugan, recreation safety outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
With many activities and events canceled this summer due to fears of the coronavirus, more Minnesotans are escaping to lakes and rivers than in past years.
According to the DNR, more than 10,000 adults and young people completed the boater education safety course online this year, compared to about 7,000 in an average year.
New registrations of motorboats are up by more than 1,000 from last year, and new personal watercraft registrations are up by nearly 500.
Dugan said DNR conservation officers have issued 473 citations for safety or registration violations, about the same as last year. But they’ve handed out about 200 more warnings than the previous summer, which she said is likely due to the number of rookie boaters on the lakes.
"You want to take the time to educate them, because there's a lot of things that they may not have seen or there's nuances of boating that they're not aware of yet,” she said.
To avoid an accident, Dugan recommends that boaters always wear life jackets, distribute weight evenly in a boat to reduce the likelihood of falling overboard, watch the weather and have a means of communication.
She said it’s also a good idea for boaters to let someone know where they are going and when they plan to return.
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