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Boating safety key for weekend

Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Worthington Police Officer Darren Vossen (from left) and Nobles County Deputy Dustin Roemeling are both members of the Nobles County Boat and Water Patrol, which will have a presence on Lake Okabena over the upcoming holiday weekend.

WORTHINGTON -- Shortly after 10:20 p.m. on July 4, 2005, there was a mass exodus of boats toward the shores of Lake Okabena after the fireworks show ended. In the rush to get boats off the water, one boat collided violently with another, running into and over an anchored boat carrying several people. Several people were injured, but luckily, no one was killed.

That same year in the state of Minnesota, 23 people died and 93 were injured in boating accidents, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Nobles County Boat and Water Patrol officers hope people will take things a bit slower getting off the lake after fireworks this year, and they plan to be out on the lake to make sure.

"They just need to have patience getting off the lake," explained Worthington Police Officer Darren Vossen, who is part of the boat and water patrol.

Boating safety is also on the mind of Minnesota Conservation Officer Gary Nordseth, who will patrol over the holiday weekend.

"During boat checks, I will be looking very closely for impaired drivers, and those folks will be treated like anyone else who gets arrested for driving while impaired," Nordseth stated. "They will be off to jail. Boating and impaired operating don't mix."

The legal limit for boating while impaired (BWI), 0.08 blood alcohol concentration, is the same as that of driving while impaired (DWI), according to Nobles County Deputy Dustin Roemeling, another boat and water patrol officer.

"It is still a motorized vehicle," Vossen added. "The laws are the same."

Any boat out on the water must have at least one life jacket per person aboard. Children younger than the age of 10 must wear a jacket whenever the boat is under power. According to Nordseth, the life jackets should be size appropriate.

"It is just common sense," he stated. "If a child wearing an adult-sized jacket went overboard, they would slip right out of it. It wouldn't do what it was intended to do."

Any boat more than 16 feet long must also have a throwable floatation device, a fire extinguisher and a whistle or horn. If operating at night, navigation lights are required on both the stern and the bow.

"The white stern light must be on at all times after sunset -- even when the boat is anchored," Nordseth said. "And reduce speed at night. These are things that can help prevent crashes."

Another important tip, Roemeling said, is to have a spotter if pulling a tube or skier. While a spotter is not legally necessary if the boat has factory-installed mirrors, using one is safer.

"And boaters need to be sure to keep a safe distance from people on skis and tubes," he explained. "If pulling someone, you need to keep a safe distance from other boaters."

Water skiing, tubing and similar acts are prohibited between one hour after sunset to sunrise of the following day, while operation of personal watercraft is allowed only from 9:30 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset.

When it comes to personal watercraft, age defines who can operate such a device. Children 12 years old and younger cannot drive, while those ages 13 to 18 can only do so with a permit or while supervised. Also, while traveling any faster than a no-wake speed, the watercraft must remain at least 150 feet from any shore, structure, dock or boat.

"And no jumping waves of other boats," Vossen said.

Regarding maximum boat capacity, anyone being towed on a floatation device or skis is included in that number. When it comes to the age a person can operate a boat, Vossen said any child age 10 and younger cannot do so, even when supervised, for any boat with a motor of more than 75 horse power unless there is an emergency.

If jumping from a boat into the water, Nordseth said, always go feet first.

"Whether off a dock or a boat, never dive in head-first," he stated. "There could be rocks or logs right under the surface of the water. And always wear a life jacket. When going in the water in a lake, there are too many variables."