Memorial Day weekend signals the start of the summer boating season, but boaters should keep in mind water temperatures remain spring-like. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges boaters to wear life jackets no matter the water temperature or season, but it’s especially important this time of year, when wearing a life jacket is the one action that significantly increases the chances of surviving a fall into cold water.
Though temperatures continue to rise, water temperatures across the state generally are around the 50-degree mark, which is cold enough to cause a gasp reflex and incapacitate even the strongest swimmers in less than one minute.
“Cold water affects everyone the same – it reduces your swimming abilities,” said Lisa Dugan, boating safety representative with the DNR. “Even the most experienced swimmers will have trouble within seconds of an unexpected fall into cold water. Wearing a life jacket gives you a fighting chance to get your head above water, stay calm instead of panicking, and call for help before hypothermia sets in.”
In Minnesota, more than one-third of boating fatalities occur on cold water, and accident records show the victims are disproportionately male. Of the 14 people involved in boating fatalities in the state last year, all were male. And during the past decade, there’s been a trend that men between the ages of 20 and 60 are the most likely to drown while boating and are the least likely to be wearing a life jacket.
“It’s pretty clear that wearing a life jacket could easily prevent a significant percentage of boating deaths,” Dugan said.
Before the first launch of the season, anglers are also reminded to review boating regulations, inspect their watercraft and gear, enlist a mechanic to check exhaust systems for potential carbon monoxide leaks, and verify motorboats are equipped with the following:
- U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jackets for each person onboard - children under 10 must wear a properly fitting life jacket while underway.
- A throwable flotation device on boats 16 feet or longer.
- A horn or a whistle.
- Type B, U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher.
- Navigation lights in working order.
- Valid boat registration, with numbers visible.
Watercraft can be registered in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles, at the DNR License Center in St. Paul, or online at mndnr.gov/licenses.
Further details, including boater education requirements and information on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning while boating, can be found at mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.