The weather so far in April has been anything but consistent and the same can be said for the ice-out status of Minnesota’s waterways. However, as people’s focus turns to open water, the Minnesota Department of Resources reminds boaters and paddlers that cold water is dangerous and unexpected falls can turn tragic quickly.

Each year, about 30% of fatal boating accidents happen during the cold-water period. In many instances, the victims weren’t wearing a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket – not just having one somewhere on the boat – is the most effective way to survive a fall into cold water.

“For many of us, our most cherished memories revolve around time spent on the water,” said Lt. Adam Block, boating law administrator for the DNR Enforcement Division. “But the water can be cruel and unforgiving, and failing to take the proper precautions before heading onto it can have disastrous consequences.”

As boaters and paddlers take their first trips of the year onto the water, they should:

Ensure their boat is registered and equipped with proper safety equipment, and that all pieces are functioning properly.

Wear a life jacket (a foam life jacket is more effective than an inflatable life jacket during the cold-water season).

Distribute weight 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.

For those planning bonus days on the lingering ice:

Wear a life jacket and carry readily accessible ice picks.

Check the ice thickness frequently.

Double the DNR’s ice thickness recommendations, which apply to new, clear ice.

For more information about staying safe on or around cold water, visit the cold water dangers page of the DNR website.