Memorial Day brings with it Minnesota's first big boating weekend of the year, and 2012 will be no different. While forecasts call for less than ideal weather for water recreation, Hennepin County Rich Stanek made clear Friday morning that water patrol units would be out in force during the holiday.
"There will be a small window for good boating weather," Sheriff Stanek said standing on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Spring Park. "It will mean crowded lakes, accesses and launches, so boaters need to be courteous."
Additionally, the state's bass fishing season opens this weekend, which Sheriff Stanek said will add to traffic and access demand.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office responds to and investigates all water-related incidents and emergencies throughout the county, and it's not uncommon for more than one water emergency to be happening at a time.
Lake Minnetonka saw one drowning last year, although far more calls were received for swimmers in distress and near drowning accidents.
A primary focus of the sheriff's water patrol this weekend will be looking for intoxicated boaters. Last year the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office made 78 boating while intoxicated (BWI) arrests, the most in recent memory.
"BWI is the same as DWI," Sheriff Stanek said. "If you test more than .08 you'll be arrested and transported to Hennpin County Jail. You also lose your driving privledges on land as well as water."
High water levels triggered no wake restrictions in many areas of Lake Minnetonka over last year's Memorial Day weekend. Despite several inches of rain in the last 72 hours, however, those restrictions are not presently in effect. Fish Lake in Plymouth, however, has implemented no wake restrictions—meaning no tubing, jet skiing and any other activity that will cause wake.
Inclement weather will also translate into more residents turning to indoor pools and hot tubs to cool off and relax. While Minnesota may be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, a disproportionate number of drownings and near drownings occur in pools and hot tubs and involve children. Of the 18 total drownings in 2011, five victims were children—double the number typical for Hennepin County in recent years.
"Parents and guardians really need to be aware," Sheriff Stanek said. "Spending $25 on a life jacket is the best money you'll ever spend."
Life Jackets Save Lives
- Most boating fatalities could have been prevented if life jackets had been worn.
- Everyone on board must have a life jacket readily accessible.
- State law requires children under age ten to wear a life jacket while the boat is underway.
- For those who are not strong swimmers and for children, consider using life jackets in swimming pools. Active supervision is still needed even when life jackets are in use.
- An intoxicated boater is 10 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
- Designate a sober boat operator prior to your day of boating.
- In Hennepin County in recent years, more drownings and near drownings have taken place in swimming pools and hot tubs than lakes and rivers.
- Use “active supervision” when children are swimming or near water. This means to designate one adult to focus on watching the children in the water. The designated adult should not be distracted with a cell phone, magazine, or other activity.
- Many drownings take place while parents are nearby their children who are swimming – “being nearby” isn’t active supervision.
- Do not rely on inflatable water-wings or other toys to prevent drowning.
- A recent study found that a child drowns in a portable pool once every five days in during the summer. Put safety measures in place for portable pools and use active supervision.
- Drowning is silent and it happens quickly. Parents will NOT hear splashing or cries for help.
- Be courteous and slow down!
- Lake Minnetonka has wake restrictions within 150 feet of shore and in channels – you are asked to manage your wake.
- If you are picking up swimmers, tubers, or skiers from the water, turn off your motor as people are boarding your boat in order to avoid injuries from the propeller.