Every year, more than 2 million anglers take to Minnesota's lakes, rivers and streams. For quite a few, it will be their first time as a watercraft owner, and for many others, their first trip onto the water for the year.
To reduce the chances of an accident and increase the potential for an enjoyable outing, there are a few items for anglers to consider before the opening weekend, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
REMEMBER THE LIFE JACKETS
Since May 1 of last year, the law requires a wearable life jacket for each boat occupant, regardless of boat size or type. The device must be readily accessible or worn. If your boat is 16 feet or more in length (except for canes and kayaks) you must also have at least one boat cushion or ring buoy per boat.
"Life jackets do save lives," according to Kim Elverum, DNR boat and water safety coordinator. "Last year we had a number of documented cases where anglers, boaters and canoeists were saved by having a life jacket on when they entered the water."
The Coast Guard estimates that 80 percent of all boating deaths each year could have been prevented if the victim had worn a life jacket. Elverum also noted that for the first time this year, anglers will have the option of purchasing Coast Guard approved fully-inflatable life jackets. The devices on the market this spring are generally compact and take the form of suspenders, a vest, or a belt pack.
COLD CAN KILL
With water temperatures often in the low 40s on opening weekend, hypothermia is a life-threatening problem for anyone who goes overboard. Water takes heat away from the body 25 times faster than air at the same temperature.
Another problem is the fact that a person whose face is plunged into cold water can suffer an involuntary gasp reflex and inhale cold water, drowning in seconds. Wearing a foam vest-style life jacket or float coat is one of the best actions anglers can take to prevent drownings due to cold water. The foam devices help retain body heat and keep the wearer afloat.
BOOZE IS BAD NEWS
Alcohol consumption is another potential hazard on the water. "Contrary to popular belief, a drink or two of an alcoholic beverage does not warm you up," Elverum noted. Over the last 10 years approximately half of Minnesota's boating fatalities involved alcohol.
Another reason to avoid alcohol is that Minnesota law prohibits people from operating a motorboat while intoxicated. Last year, more than 200 boat operators were arrested in Minnesota for boating while intoxicated. Considering penalties of up to $700 in fines, possible jail time, loss of operating privileges and, in some cases, forfeiture of the boat, intoxication could make an opening day's outing fairly expensive, if not downright deadly. Elverum noted some other items that are important to check before heading to the lake or river:
Remember to check the boat registration and ensure that it is current. Bring the registration card along and make sure the boat has the correct numbers and validation decals. For fast service, boat owners can visit any deputy motor vehicle registrar to register or renew licenses and receive decals immediately.
All boats are required to display the correct navigation lights from sunset to sunrise. Motorboats (even small ones) must have the red-and-green bow light and the white all-around stern light when underway. When anchored, an all-around white light must be displayed at all times. Non-motorized craft need only display a white light in time to avoid a collision.
Boats with enclosed engine or fuel compartments are required to carry the correct number of fire extinguishers. For boats less than 26 feet, one Coast Guard approved extinguisher is required.
Minnesota law prohibits boaters from equipping their craft with either outboard motors or weight (persons and gear) that exceeds the capacity plate limits.
For more information about boating safety and boating laws, request a copy of the 1997 Minnesota Boating Guide by calling the DNR's Information Center at 1-800-766-6000 (greater Minnesota) or (612) 296-6157 (Twin Cities metro area), or e-mail "firstname.lastname@example.org"