Enjoying the land of 10,000 lakes safely
8/17/2023 by Michael Stark, A.P.R.N., C.N.P.
Living in the land of 10,000 lakes gives us opportunities to enjoy water recreation activities, including boating, canoeing, sailing and swimming. A recent land survey found that Minnesota has more shoreline from lakes, rivers and streams than California, Florida and Hawaii combined.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sets and enforces rules and regulations about safe boating. Its website is full of important information and education regarding laws and regulations, as well as educational opportunities to become more familiar with recreational water safety. This is also a great place to find Minnesota's 2023 boating guide.
Boating and operating a personal watercraft
Any boat with a motor and enclosed compartment must be equipped with a functioning marine carbon dioxide detection system or display three carbon monoxide poisoning warning stickers.
- Life jackets, an up-to-date fire extinguisher, a sound device (whistle or horn) and a paddle that is readily available are required on every boat.
- Whether you are new to boating or have experience, taking a boating and water education course is valuable, and easy to enroll in and complete. A free paddle sports safety course also is available. Children 12 to 17 are required to have a youth Minnesota water operator's permit. Online and classroom opportunities are available.
- Alcohol is involved in approximately 30% of all fatal boating accidents in Minnesota. Drunk boating is drunk driving. Designate a sober driver, or do not operate a boat or personal watercraft if you have been drinking.
- Children under 12 years can operate a boat if it is less than 25 horsepower. In a boat with 25 to 75 horsepower, they must be accompanied by someone older than 21 who has easy access to the controls. If children are under 12 years old, they are not allowed to drive a boat with greater than 75 horsepower, even with an adult on board.
Life jackets and floatation devices
- When purchasing a life jacket, be sure it states, "U.S. Coast Guard-approved." Always make sure the life jacket fits appropriately and is a bright color or has high visibility. A readily accessible wearable life jacket is required for every person onboard a watercraft while the watercraft is underway. Underway means not securely fastened to a permanent mooring or tied to a dock.
- Children under 10 are required to wear a life jacket if the watercraft is underway. It is a great safety habit to always have children wear life jackets when near water.
- If your infant is under 6 months old or 16 pounds, wait until he or she is a little bit older before boating. With this age and weight, it is hard to find an appropriate, approved, well-fitting life jacket.
- 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 person operating a personal watercraft or a passenger on a personal watercraft must have a life jacket.
- Know how to swim. Having your children complete swimming lessons and knowing how to swim is important and can be lifesaving.
- When going out on the water, always let someone know where you are going, the route you are taking, when you expect to reach your destination, and when you plan to return.
- Be prepared and study the route and a map of where you are going prior to leaving.
- Be weather-aware. Delay your trip or head immediately to shore if the weather becomes bad.
- Carry a well-charged cellphone or radio, as your cellphone may not have service, and keep the device in a waterproof, floatable container.
- Always make sure you have plenty of food, water, bug spray and sunscreen. Make sure the bug spray and sunscreen are not expired.
- Have a first-aid kit available and know how to use it.
Be smart, be safe and be well-prepared when out on the water. Have fun making lasting memories enjoying recreational water activities.
Michael Stark, A.P.R.N., C.N.P., is a nurse practitioner in Family Medicine at Mayo Family Clinic Northwest in Rochester, Minnesota. He has been a primary care provider at Mayo for over 20 years.