An Experienced Boat Accident Attorney Shares 7 Safety Measures to Avoid a Minnesota Boating Accident
August 15, 2023 – Paul W. Schroepfer & Robert A. Correia
Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” offers an unparalleled boating experience, drawing locals and tourists alike to our beautiful waters. Yet, the tranquility can be disrupted in an instant, as boating accidents, unfortunately, are a potential risk.
Data from the U.S. Coast Guard highlights the dangers, revealing operator inattention, inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure as the top five catalysts of boating mishaps.
An experienced boat accident attorney can attest to how these unfortunate incidents can transform a day of leisure into a life-altering crisis. However, many accidents can be avoided by following key safety measures.
To help ensure your time on Minnesota’s waters remains safe and enjoyable, in this blog we share seven of them drawn from our extensive experience handling boating accident cases.
Don’t navigate the legal waters alone if you’ve been injured in a Minnesota boating accident. Contact our experienced team at Robichaud, Schroepfer & Correia at (612) 333-3343. We’re here to provide compassionate, knowledgeable support, and help you secure compensation for your injuries.
The Seasonal Nature and Lake Culture of Boating in Minnesota
Minnesota is renowned for its vibrant lake culture. With boating being one of the top recreational activities in our state, the lake waters buzz with activity, especially during the warmer months.
The seasonal nature of boating in Minnesota can’t be overstated. Statistics reveal a significant spike in boating activity during spring and summer when the weather is conducive for water-based recreation.
Most boating accidents occur during this peak season. As such, adhering to safety measures is particularly crucial during these times.
Few can deny that the lure of Minnesota’s lakes is irresistible. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (Minnesota DNR), over 800,000 watercraft are registered in the state, the highest per capita in the United States. Moreover, studies show that a significant percentage of Minnesota households participate in boating activities each year.
However, this love for boating also comes with its share of challenges. Though Minnesota is considered one of the safest states regarding boating accidents, data from the U.S. Coast Guard indicate collisions are the main cause of boating accidents leading to death.
This underlines the importance of having safety measures in place to ensure avoidable tragedies don’t mar the joy of boating. With this in mind, let’s delve into seven safety measures every boat operator and passenger should adhere to for a safer and more enjoyable boating experience on Minnesota’s lakes and waterways.
1. Get to Know and Follow Local Boating Laws
There are specific rules and regulations that every boater should follow while boating in Minnesota’s lakes. For example, boats must be registered with the Minnesota DNR License Center or Deputy Registrar Office. However, according to the Minnesota DNR, a watercraft license is not required for:
- Non-motorized watercraft of 10 feet or less
- Watercraft owned by a person from another state not requiring licensing for that type of watercraft
- Out-of-state boats not within Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days where that state does not require licensing
Minnesota also has specific speed limits for different zones on water bodies, and it’s the legal obligation of every boater to abide by them. It’s a criminal offense to operate a watercraft recklessly and put others in danger.
In an effort to enhance boater safety, new legislation is on the horizon. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recently signed legislation requiring nearly all Minnesota boaters to complete a boater education course and obtain a boater education card before operating a motorized watercraft.
This Watercraft Safety Program will go into effect on July 1, 2025, requiring anyone born on or after July 2004 to take the course. Currently, only persons from 12-17 years of age must pass an online boater safety exam through the Minnesota DNR.
To learn more about Minnesota boating and water recreation regulations, visit this website.
2. Always Wear a Life Jacket
When on a boat, a life jacket can save your life. It’s the first line of defense in case of an accident. Ensure that you have enough life jackets for everyone aboard the boat and that the jackets fit correctly and are U.S. Coast Guard-approved.
While some may argue that they are experienced swimmers and do not need to wear a life jacket, remember that accidents often happen suddenly and can disorient even the most proficient swimmer.
Note: Minnesota law requires life jackets to be worn by “children less than 10 years of age when aboard watercraft in Minnesota when the craft is underway (not tied up at a dock or permanent mooring).”
3. Prepare a Pre-Departure Checklist
Before setting out on a trip, checking the boat’s mechanical systems, such as the engine, fuel, steering, and electrical systems, is critical. Ensure all safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, navigation lights, and anchor, are in working order.
So that no steps are missed, we encourage creating a pre-departure checklist that includes items like boat registration, flares, fire extinguishers, distress signals, navigation lights, and so on.
A well-maintained boat and the presence of all necessary safety equipment can prevent accidents and keep everyone safe.
4. Stay Alert to Changing Weather Conditions
Even a well-prepared, experienced boat operator can get into trouble if they disregard the weather. Sudden changes can catch boaters off guard, leading to accidents.
It’s crucial to always check the weather forecast before setting out and to keep an eye on the sky while on the water. If storm clouds start building or the wind picks up significantly, it’s time to head for shore.
5. Prioritize Sobriety at the Helm
Alcohol continues to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2022, accounting for 88 deaths, or 16 percent of total fatalities. Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol impairs the operator’s vision, reaction time, and judgment.
The operator’s reactions are slowed, which can cause accidents, especially when they encounter bad weather and unexpected obstacles on the water. Always choose and be a sober driver when on Minnesota’s waterways.
6. Watch Out for Swimmers & Other Boaters
Minnesota lakes are full of activities, from people swimming and fishing to boats, canoes, and kayaks. Every boater should be aware of their surroundings and recognize they are not alone on the water.
When you come across swimmers or other boaters, slow down and keep a safe distance from them. Ideally, you should maintain a distance of at least 200 feet from any swimming area.
It’s also important to watch out for other boats, especially during peak boating hours when traffic on the water is high.
7. Invest Time in a Boating Safety Course
Even though it won’t be mandatory for people over 17 to take a boating safety course until July 1, 2025, boating safety courses are available in Minnesota and can help you learn about the rules, regulations, and safety measures of boating.
The course covers topics like navigation, cold water survival, handling emergencies, and more. The knowledge and skills gained from a boating safety course can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.
The importance of taking this course before the July 2025 deadline cannot be overstated. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 74% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
Don’t let an avoidable tragedy take the joy out of boating. Adhere to these seven safety measures and enjoy all that Minnesota’s beautiful lakes have to offer.
Remember, if you find yourself navigating the aftermath of a boating accident, Robichaud, Schroepfer & Correia is here to help.
Involved in a Boating Accident in Minnesota? Connect with Robichaud, Schroepfer & Correia – Your Advocates in Rough Waters
Finding a Minneapolis personal injury lawyer committed to protecting your interests is paramount if you or a loved one has been involved in a boating accident.
With over 70 years of combined experience, the seasoned and devoted Minneapolis personal injury lawyers at Robichaud, Schroepfer & Correia will deliver individualized attention and vital support when you need it the most.
Let us navigate the complexities of your case while you concentrate on recovery. Take the first step – regain control and secure the help you need. Call us at (612) 333-3343 or complete our online form to schedule your FREE consultation.
Copyright © 2023. Robichaud, Schroepfer & Correia, P.A. All rights reserved.
The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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