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Minnesota Boating Safety Takes Center Stage as New Season Begins


May 2012

Given the rapid rate at which ice has disappeared from lakes, rivers and streams across the state of Minnesota in recent weeks, a large number of boaters and fishermen have started their season a bit earlier than usual. By March 17 alone, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported that at least 400 fishing craft were seen on the Mississippi River in the area spanning Lock and Dam Number 3 and Lake Pepin.

The DNR has issued reminders for everyone to take extra caution during the early weeks of the boating season, because despite the fact that air temperatures have been unusually warm, water temperatures remain quite cold.

Tim Smalley, boating safety specialist with the DNR stated that a scenario that is all too common involves lone boaters without life jackets who encounter trouble, fall into the water and end up drowning because they cannot survive in the cold water typical of early spring.

Smalley went on to emphasize the critical importance of life jackets, asserting that someone who is unable to swim or falls unconscious will be able to float when wearing one, but will surely drown without one. It is suggested that boaters keep a life jacket on at all times from the moment they set foot on board until they are safely back on shore. Waiting to don a life vest until a boating accident occurs is akin to attempting to fasten a seat belt just prior to a collision on the road.

According to a 2007 U.S. Coast Guard study, the probability that a boating accident will prove deadly increases five-fold when water temperatures are lower than 60 degrees.

Smalley further emphasized that many people simply do not understand the surprising ways in which cold water temperatures can impact the human body. While most people understand that cold water often results in hypothermia, it is less commonly known that those who are unexpectedly immersed in cold water also experience an immediate shock that prompts hyperventilation. If the individual’s head is beneath the surface, this can result in excessive amounts of water inhalation and rapid drowning unless a life vest is present to provide buoyancy.

The Boat and Water Safety Section of the DNR has made the following recommendations to boaters set to embark on a new season of recreational outings:

  • Equip all watercraft with life jackets that are in good working order, fit passengers properly and have received approval from the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Boats exceeding 16 feet in length should be equipped with at least one type IV detachable seat cushion or ring-style buoy.
  • Ensure proper functioning of navigation lights.
  • Check fire extinguisher for full charge and proper function.
  • Apply new gear case lubrication to boat’s lower unit.
  • Verify proper steering tension.
  • Make sure registration numbering is easily visible and state registration is displayed correctly.
  • Check thru-hull fittings and hoses for cracks and detachment.
  • Make sure all electronic devices such as radios and GPS tools have new batteries.
  • Check condition and function of boat trailer components including lights, tires, winches, wheel-bearings and frames.
  • Check boat engine oil for signs of water infiltration.
  • Make updates to navigational charts.
  • Review and update insurance coverage, as required.
  • Check propeller for damage.
  • Verify installation of drain plug.
  • Complete an approved course in boating safety.

Boating accidents have the potential to cause serious back and head injuries, burns and sometimes even death. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while boating, you owe it to yourself to enlist the aid of the experienced Minnesota boating accident attorneys at Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben. Our skilled team of seasoned lawyers stands ready to fight for every dollar of compensation you deserve. Contact us at 612-377-7777 or 1-800-752-4265 (toll-free) for a free initial consultation.

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