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EDITORIAL: Be smart on the water

The whole summer lies ahead — an opportunity to have fun on Douglas County's many lakes.

When one thinks of summer in the lakes area, visions of boating, water skiing, fishing and lazily floating along in a pontoon are common images.

Don't invite danger into the picture.

Last year, 12 people died in boating accidents in Minnesota. Another 92 people were injured.

Top contributing factors in boating deaths include alcohol, lack of operator experience, operator in attention and excessive speed, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Last week, the Department of Natural Resources reminded boaters to make sure their watercraft, equipment and safety items are in legal and proper working order. The DNR urged boaters to review regulations in the 2018 Minnesota Boating Guide or at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/boatwater.

At the top of the list for boating safety is wearing a life jacket or at least making sure that everyone in the boat has ready access to one. Children younger than 10 must wear life jackets while aboard watercraft that are underway. It's the law.

Many adults may think they don't need a life jacket, that they can swim, that nothing bad can happen to them out on the water. Those assumptions can cost a life. Remember those 12 boating deaths last year? In only one incident was the victim wearing a life jacket; his body was found on shore after he'd gone kayaking.

"Wearing a life jacket is an important part of staying safe when the water is cold during the spring," said Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator. "In the event of an unexpected fall or capsizing, having a life jacket on can make all the difference."

Why do even good swimmers drown if they're not wearing a life jacket? Research shows that when people suddenly find themselves in cold water, something happens automatically: They gasp.

If that happens when their heads and faces are underwater, they can inhale up to a quart of water, according to the Coast Guard. A life jacket keeps a person's head above water, buying him or her time to get out of the water or wait for rescue.

People have the wrong impression that life jackets are clunky of cumbersome. That may have been true decades ago, but other options are available these days, including inflatable styles designed to be more convenient and comfortable.

Follow these five safety tips from the DNR for ensuring a safe season on the water:

1. Always wear a life jacket. It's worth repeating again: Cold water or an unexpected fall into a lake can incapacitate even the strongest swimmer.

2. Don't drink alcohol. It slows your reflexes. Your vision and balance are already impaired by the sun, wind and water movement, and alcohol reduces your chances of surviving an accident.

3. Take a boating course. Know proper driving techniques, rules to follow and navigation basics for your boat.

4. Be prepared. Keep on board all necessary equipment — anchor, horn or whistle, a Type B U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher, navigation lights in working order, valid boat registration with numbers visible, and in some boats, a marine carbon monoxide detector.

5. Avoid boating alone. If you do, tell someone your expected route and bring a cell phone.

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