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COOK COUNTY CONNECTION: Ways to Stay Safe on the Water this Summer

Jun 04, 2021 08:23AM ● By Editor
By Pat Eliasen, Cook County Sheriff from Cook County MN - June 4, 2021

The boating season is upon us, and there are important factors that need to be considered so everyone can have a safe and enjoyable summer season. The Cook County Sheriff's Office and the Search and Rescue division want to offer some advice and ideas for gear for all boaters to consider.

Statute 86B.501 states that all watercraft and waterfowl boats using the waters of the state must be equipped with proper Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs, and there must be an appropriate amount available for all people onboard. The only exception is the operation of sailboards. Even for an experienced boater, having access to and wearing a PFD is critically important. Water in northern Minnesota is very cold in the spring and early summer, and if capsized, especially when wearing bulky clothes and boots, your chances of survival without a PFD are lessened significantly. 

Another statute to study is 86B.313 which addresses personal watercraft, more commonly known as Jet Skis. The regulations for these types of watercraft are a bit more stringent than those of a regular boat. Rules and guidelines of note are PFDs must be worn by all occupants, the operation may NOT commence between one hour before sunset, and 9:30 a.m., within 150 feet of a dock, shoreline, swimmer, raft or moored watercraft, used for harassing wildlife, or in a reckless or unreasonable manner. Other restrictions include no towing of skiers or tubers unless there is a spotter onboard or the watercraft is equipped with mirrors, and current registration must be displayed. 

The summer season is short in northern Minnesota, so many people try to squeeze as much fun as they can into a few short days. Many of the activities may involve alcoholic beverages, but we caution you to treat the operation of a boat as you would the operation of a motor vehicle in this regard. Nobody may operate a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the level of impairment is set at .08, just as it is for a vehicle. Penalties for this offense are comparable to the consequences for the operation of a motor vehicle under the influence and range from a misdemeanor for a first offense to a felony for subsequent offenses. 

The Cook County Sheriff's Office receives a grant each year from our state government to perform watercraft and PFD checks at local businesses that rent these items. The grant is also used for patrol functions on area lakes for compliance in areas such as registration, possession of proper PFDs, safe operation and other statutory conformity. 

Another factor to consider when taking advantage of the spectacular summer days consists of taking care of yourself while recreating. Applying sunscreen to exposed areas can decrease the possibility of sunburn or other skin-related issues. 

Knowing the weather forecast can be a great advantage, so you do not get caught on a large body of water during a storm. Some storms in Cook County can appear very quickly and be very dangerous with high winds, significant rain and even hail.  

All of us at the Cook County Sheriff's Office want everyone in Cook County to have a safe, fun-filled summer experience, and the fewer incidents we must respond to the better for everyone. Be responsible, treat each other with the same respect that you would expect, be patient and kind, and I wish nothing but the best for each of you. 

If you do experience a situation where you need a response from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, please call 218-387-3030, or in an emergency, dial 911.    

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service


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