Employee & Community Health

Safe boating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

7/9/2018 by Dr. Walter Cook


With our enormous number of lakes, it's no wonder Minnesotans are avid lake people. A day at the lake brings fun and relaxation, but also danger. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) develops rules and helps educate citizens about safe boating. Their website is an excellent resource for all who love spending sunny days on our beautiful lakes. Here are some of their recommendations and requirements: 

Life jackets

  • For your safety, the state strongly recommends everyone on board a watercraft wears a life jacket at all times. 
  • State law requires children under 10 years old to wear a life jacket that fits correctly while a boat is underway. Underway means "not securely fastened to a permanent mooring or tied to a dock". This guide will help you ensure your child's life jacket fits properly. 
  • A wearable life jacket that's easy to get to is required for each person on board a boat, which includes canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddleboats and waterfowl boats. But people die each year because they weren't wearing their life jacket. Buckle or zip up that life jacket! Learn more about life jackets
  • One Type IV throwable device (an approved boat cushion with straps) is required on boats 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) and must be immediately available. 
  • Each personal watercraft operator and passenger must wear a life jacket. 


  • The state offers a number of boat and water education courses
  • It's illegal for anyone under age 13 to operate a motorized boat or personal watercraft. There are no restrictions for anyone 18 or older. 
  • To operate a motorized boat unsupervised, youth 12 to 17 need to take an online boating safety course. This also applies to teens 14 to 17 who want to drive a personal watercraft unsupervised. When you complete the Boat Minnesota course, you'll receive a Minnesota watercraft operator's permit. The course is excellent training for youth, as well as adults.
  • For more information on boating in Minnesota, check out the state's 2018 boating guide


  • Let someone know where you are going, the route you are taking and when you expect to return. 
  • Plan for another point to take your kayak, canoe or paddleboard out of the water in case of an emergency. 
  • Monitor the weather. Check the forecast before leaving, and prepare for rain, even if you don't think it will. Bring a weather radio as an early warning system for inclement weather. 
  • Wear bright colors or a high-visibility life jacket. 
  • Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. 
  • Carry a cell phone or radio for emergency communication, but keep in mind you may not have service in a river valley or remote area. Keep your device in a waterproof, floatable container. 
  • Carry plenty of food and water. Drink fluids frequently to avoid dehydration, which can impair your judgment and damage your health. If you get a headache or haven't urinated in a few hours, drink a quart of water. 

Whether you're cruising on a pontoon, trolling for lunkers or paddling a kayak, don't forget a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and bug spray. Now that you're prepared, have a safe and enjoyable time on the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota!

Dr. Walter Cook is a physician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). He grew up in Minnesota and spends as many days as he can boating on the state's beautiful lakes.