Where has our summer gone? It’s definitely gone fast and it’s been quite interesting. The days of a nice rain shower every 4 or 5 days have turned into day after day of an inch or more of rain. It all seems to come at once too. This has resulted in high water throughout the county, including our lakes, rivers, roads and ditches, ponds and streams. Because of this, we’ve been forced to put emergency “No Wake” restrictions on our lakes and warn recreational users of our rivers to use extreme caution if they want to use an inflatable tube, kayak or canoe. I’ve fielded more phone calls and emails about these warnings and restrictions than any other year as your Sheriff. So for this month, I thought I would talk more about the how and why we have done these warnings and restrictions.
So first let’s talk about the rivers. Last September a number of tornados hit Rice County and left destruction behind. Trees blocked many parts of the Straight and Cannon Rivers, especially north of Faribault. The DNR was able to clear a path so that canoes and kayaks could navigate the river. For our experienced boaters, this is fine. But for the novice boaters or people that decide to use inflatable rafts or tubes, the results have not been favorable. They are unable to navigate around hazards and end up capsized or deflated. Most “tubers” don’t wear a PFD and now they are fighting the debris, current and undertow trying to make it to safety. Canoes and kayaks get pinned up against downfall or get pulled under and trapped to be spit out when the river says its time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for enjoying nature and experiencing the great outdoors. But put some thought, planning and research into your adventures. Make sure you plan for the unknown and unpredictable. Take the extra time to don your personal flotation devices. Remember you are not only putting you and your friends and family at risk, but also the first responders. Like traffic crashes, boating and water incidents are quite preventable.
Now let’s talk about the Emergency No Wake restrictions. The state gives Sheriffs the authority to enact Emergency No Wake restrictions. They are valid for no more than 30 days. Why do we put these emergency restrictions on? Some think it’s because we don’t want jet skis, fishing boats or recreational water craft having too much fun. Sorry but not true. It’s to decrease the erosion of our shore lines around the lakes due to the high water. Every lake has a “normal” level. We’ve had times where the levels are extremely low and we have experience droughts. But for the last few years, we’ve seen our water levels more on the high side and this has wreaked havoc on our shorelines of both our lakes and our rivers. So by limiting the wakes and waves by decreasing our speeds on the water, our hope it that it lessens the damage to our shorelines. Yes, I know that the wind makes waves and that does its share of damage too but that is not preventable. Making a wave or wake is. So all I can ask is that you respect our temporary restrictions and obey them.
Hey, I have an idea. Take your tubes, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards and put them on the lakes if the water is high. You don’t have the fast currents, you have a wider area to use and you don’t make a wake. Yes, it can be difficult to water ski or wake board behind a canoe though. Hey, but it’s a start.
I always recommend that you wear your PFD so just in case the unexpected happens, you’re ready for it. You could be a great swimmer but if you hit your head or get the wind knocked out of you, it might be difficult to recover. Most boaters don’t expect to fall into the water.
Also remember that if you have a child under 10, they must wear a life jacket in the watercraft. You must also have a Type 4 throwable if you are in a watercraft 16 feet or longer (excluding canoes & kayaks). If you are on a personal watercraft (Wave runner or Jet Ski), you must wear a PFD.
Personal Watercrafts, remember the hours of operation are 9:30 AM until 1 hour before sunset. Also, when operating a PWC, you must slow to no wake speed when within 150 feet of a non-motorized boat, shore, docks, swim rafts, swimmers, or any moored or anchored boat.
Have navigations lights illuminated between sunrise and sunset while on the water. When at anchor, only one 360 degree white light is necessary.
My last safety tip for you is to not operate a watercraft while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Your life is worth so much more than a BWI or a watercraft incident resulting in serious injury or a death. So make good safe decisions.
For specific age requirements for boat operations and all other boating safety requirements, contact the DNR or Sheriff’s Office or refer to the MN DNR Minnesota Boating Guide, available in print or online at mndnr.gov/boating safety.
Remember to use common sense, make good decisions and enjoy the remainder of this crazy summer. Be Safe!