Now that summer is officially here, it’s time to enjoy what may be Minnesota’s greatest asset – its thousands of lakes.
But, the summertime joys of swimming, boating and fishing can – sad to say – bring tragedy all too often: boating accidents that cause injuries and deaths, drownings, awful injuries from diving into too-shallow water. When people are having fun, especially on a beautiful day, they can tend to be a bit carefree and forget the basics of water safety. And that’s when accidents happen all too easily.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, last year in the state there were 14 boating fatalities and 29 non-boating drownings. That was a big improvement from 2005, when 45 people drowned and 23 died in boat-related accidents. Safety education seems to have helped, but even one death is too many.
Here are some boating tips people should remember before heading out for that grand day on the lake:
- Learn to swim. Take a course via the American Red Cross.
- Wear lifejackets at all times when on the lake. They should be properly fitted and worn by every member of the family or every member of the boating party. No exceptions. They should be kept on at all times.
- Pay attention to the weather. If it looks dark with an impending storm, stay off of the lake. Also consult weather reports before even leaving for the lake.
- Before launching onto a lake, let someone onshore know your plan and the time you expect to be back at the shore.
- Use courtesy and common sense at all times on the lake. Operate boats only at a safe speed, especially if the lake is crowded. Steer clear of vessels that are small or that cannot stop easily. Obey the buoy limits on a lake. Never indulge in reckless or show-off behavior and report those who do.
- If at all possible, be sure someone else on board knows how to operate the boat in case the main operator becomes incapacitated for one reason or another.
- Never operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It can be just as dangerous as impaired driving on roads.
- Parents should keep a close, constant eye on little ones swimming, making sure they are in a safe-swim-shallow area.
- Never ever dive off a dock. Hitting the bottom of the lake with one’s head has caused many cases of brain damage and even of severe paralysis.
- Do not attempt to swim too far from shore, from a boat or across a lake. When swimming or bobbing about in the cool water, it’s a good idea to wear a life jacket or a pair of “water wings.”
Those are the best basic overall water safety tips. However, the most important tip to remember is this: Use common sense guided by the fact that recreational lake fun and careless or reckless behavior do not mix.
In the meantime, we wish everyone everywhere a happy on-the-lake season.