In midst of deadliest boating season in 16 years, DNR asks late-season boaters to play it safe

October 15, 2021


Minnesota’s waterways were unusually deadly this year, with 17 people losing their lives in boating-related drownings and crashes—the highest number since 2005. And with weeks of open water left this year, there’s a chance that total could climb higher.

“Any life lost on the water is one too many, and we hope we’ve seen the last of these terrible tragedies,” said Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator. “Too many families have had their lives immeasurably altered while their loved ones were taking part in what should be a fun and memorable activity.”

Of the 17 people who died, 16 were not known to be wearing life jackets when they went into the water. Some of them fell unexpectedly into the water, while others jumped in and experienced some sort of trouble that prevented them from getting back to their boat. The DNR recommends people always wear a life jacket when they’re on the water, but it’s especially important during the cold-water season, when expected falls in can incapacitate even the strongest swimmers in a matter of minutes.

While air temperatures have been above normal for much of the fall, the water temperature has dropped below 70 degrees, which is the threshold for classifying water as cold. Each year, about 30 percent of boating-related fatalities happen during the cold-water periods of spring and fall.

Anglers and hunters tend to be the primary people on the water at this time of year, but paddlers and others also venture onto the water to enjoy the relative solitude of the water after the summer crowds have parked their boats.

Following are other safety reminders as people head out onto cold water:

  • Wear a life jacket (foam life jackets are more effective than inflatable life jackets during the cold-water season).
  • Distribute weight in the boat evenly and abide by manufacturer’s weight limits to reduce the likelihood of falling overboard.
  • Have a means of communication. Boaters also should let other people know where they’re going and when they plan to return.
  • Watch the weather to avoid shifting winds or storms.
  • Wear an engine cut-off device if the boat is equipped with one.

For more information on staying safe on or around cold water, see the DNR’s cold water webpage.