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Early season boaters urged to wear life jackets on cold water

May 26, 2017 01:49PM ● Published by Editor

During the spring “cold water season” of Memorial Day weekend, boaters are reminded that wearing a life jacket is a safety necessity. 

While boaters are encouraged to always wear a life jacket no matter the water temperature or season, public safety officials stress that wearing a life jacket – not just having it on the boat – is the one action that significantly increases the chances of surviving a fall into cold water.

“The shock of falling into cold water triggers your gasp reflex, which more than likely means inhaling water,” said Lisa Dugan, boating safety representative with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Wearing a life jacket gives you a fighting chance to get your head above water, stay calm instead of panicking, and call for help before hypothermia sets in.”

Despite recent warmer weather, water temperatures statewide are still below 70 degrees – cold enough to cause the gasp reflex and incapacitate even strong swimmers in less than one minute.

In Minnesota, more than 30 percent of boating fatalities occur on cold water, and accident records show the victims are disproportionately male.

“Over the past decade, we’ve seen a steady and troubling trend that indicates men between the ages of 20 and 60 are the most likely to drown while boating, and are the least likely to be wearing a life jacket,” Dugan said.

“Cold water drowning victims in Minnesota are also much more likely to be anglers than any other type of recreational boater. Add this up, and it’s clear that if male anglers were to put their safety first and put on their life jackets, a significant percentage of boating deaths could easily be prevented.”

Before the first launch of the season, anglers are also reminded to review boating regulations, inspect their watercraft and gear, enlist a mechanic to check exhaust systems for potential carbon monoxide leaks, and verify motorboats are equipped with the following:

  • U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jackets for each person onboard (children under 10 must wear a properly fitting life jacket while underway).
  • A throwable flotation device on boats 16 feet or longer.
  • A horn or a whistle.
  • Type B, U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher.
  • Navigation lights in working order.
  • Valid boat registration, with numbers visible.

Watercraft can be registered in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles, at the DNR License Center in St. Paul, or online at

Further details, including boater education requirements and information on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning while boating, can be found at

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