Despite DUI Enforcement, Minnesota Boating Fatalities Remain High

December 29, 2016

Boating fatalities in Minnesota remain high despite stepped-up efforts to stop people from going out on the water while intoxicated.

The state Department of Natural Resources reports there were 17 boating-related deaths in Minnesota in 2016, and 18 last year, which was an 11-year high, the Star Tribune reported Tuesday.

“It’s good the numbers went down, but if we’re coming off an 11-year high, we’d hope it would be down,” said Lt. Adam Block, who oversees DNR conservation officers on popular lakes in the western Twin Cities area. “Anything more than zero is too many.”

Locally and nationally, alcohol is the top factor in boating deaths and accidents. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said the solution is for boaters to be responsible. Boating while intoxicated citations jumped to 106 this year thanks to stricter enforcement, compared with 81 citations last year and 76 in 2014.

All three of the fatalities on Lake Minnetonka, the state’s most popular lake, involved intoxicated adults who weren’t wearing life jackets, Stanek said.

The number of nonfatal boating accidents also went up this year to 76 – the highest tally in eight years – compared with 71 last year.

Minnesota, which ranks No. 1 in the nation for boat ownership per capita, saw its 2015 uptick in boating-related deaths after an early ice-out and warm weather. This year’s warm days, an extended boating season and lower gas prices boosted boating traffic on lakes and rivers again.

Coast Guard data show that Minnesota has a lower-than-average fatality rate compared with other states. And the number in recent years pales in comparison with those in the 1960s and ’70s, when Minnesota would record nearly 60 deaths a year then. The numbers fell over the following decades as education and enforcement ramped up.

“We are making great strides forward with educating folks,” Stan Linnell, the DNR’s boating and water safety manager.

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