Don’t rock the boat: Keep peace on the water with safe behavior

Boaters take turns launching and coming back to shore during a busy day at a Ramsey County managed landing on White Bear Lake.

As many Minnesotans take to the lakes this summer, practicing boat safety and etiquette can make your time on the lake less likely to cause unpleasant waves with other boaters on the water.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there are unspoken rules to follow for good boating etiquette. It starts at the boat launch or dock before your boat goes in the water.

“Last year was a busy year on the waterways across the state, and it’s anticipated to be a busy boating season again,” DNR Recreation Safety Outreach Coordinator Lisa Dugan said. Launch etiquette means “having 

patience at the ramps and making sure that you have everything ready before you launch your boat so you have the smooth transition,” she noted.

While out on the water, own your wake. A sure way to cause a problem with another boater is to cast a big, intrusive wave at another boat, swimmer, angler or shoreline owner. This could be dangerous to people who are unable to handle a large wake. Boaters should stay at least 200 feet from the shoreline and other boaters, according to the DNR.

“Every boat creates a wake. Make sure you check your wake if you’re going by smaller fishing boats or paddlers,” Dugan said. “We’ve had paddlers get severely injured because boaters fly past them and the wake overturns their boats.”  

Boaters should be familiar with water markers and navigation rules of the body of water to prevent a collision. They should also be aware if the lake they are on has a speed limit or slow no-wake zone restriction. It’s the boater’s responsibility to respect the rules and follow them. Boaters should always remember they are accountable for any damage they cause to other people’s property, according to the DNR.

Since music and sound is amplified over water, boaters should keep the volume at an appropriate level. This can be disturbing for some people and could also make it hard for the driver to hear a spotter when someone is water skiing, tubing or kneeboarding.

While you’re in the boat, keep the garbage out of the water. Have a garbage can on board or a plain  garbage bag. Disposing of trash properly keeps the water clean and off the shorelines.

Dugan said boaters need to remember that if they have children in the boat, they are learning boating behavior from you. When you lead by example, children tend to follow your lead.

Boating etiquette is also about safe behavior while out on the water. In 2020, there were 16 boating fatalities in Minnesota compared to 10 in 2019. The 2019 figure, according to Dugan, was a record low.

“Thirteen of the 16 fatalities in 2020 were not known to be wearing a life jacket, and 15 of the 16 fatalities in 2020 were men,” Dugan said.

There has been one boating fatality in the state thus far in 2021. According to the DNR, 30% of boating fatalities in Minnesota occur in cold water.

“The ice went out early on many lakes across Minnesota this year, but the water hasn’t warmed as quickly as you might expect,” Dugan said. “Water temperatures don’t adhere to a date on the calendar. While we’ve had open water for weeks now, the water remains dangerously cold and an expected fall into it could be deadly. Vigilance is key anytime you’re around the water, but especially when it’s cold.”

While temperatures continue to rise, water temperatures across the state generally are around 50 degrees, which is cold enough to cause a gasp reflex and incapacitate even the strongest swimmers in less than one minute.

Dugan noted that a Minnesota operators permit (boat license) is required for youth ages 12-17 to operate a motorized boat over 25 horsepower. They may operate a motorized boat of 25-75 horsepower without an operator’s permit as long as there is someone at least 21 years old on board with them.

For youth interested in obtaining an operator’s permit, the DNR offers an online boating safety course that takes approximately 8-10 hours to complete.

“The course walks you through the navigation requirements and state requirements. The online course has improved quite a bit by being more interactive. If you get a wrong answer, it reinforces what the correct answer is, and that question will come back in the test,” Dugan said. “There are more videos and it’s not text-heavy. You’re learning the skills you need to learn.”

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