The Water Patrol Unit spends most of its time educating boaters. Water Patrol is responsible for issuing citations and making arrests for BWI, boating while intoxicated.
Do I need a driver's license to operate a boat in Minnesota ?
Are children required to wear a PFD (Life jacket) while in a boat ?
How far into shore do the Big Island Safety Lanes extend ?
Do I need an observer to tow someone behind my PWC ?
What do I do if I see a buoy out of place ?
The Water Patrol never says the ice is safe. Why ?
You are not required to have a driver's license to operate a watercraft on any lake in the state of Minnesota
If you are stopped by the Water Patrol or a Conservation Officer, you need to provide the officer with proper identification. This ID is usually a drivers license, but it could also be an Minnesota ID card, school or work ID, passport or any other official identification.
Minnesota law requires children under the age of 10 to wear a life jacket while the watercraft is underway unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin. This does not apply to commercial watercraft. All persons on a watercraft must have a properly fitting life jacket on board the water craft. This means that children need child-sized life jackets and adults need adult life jackets.
The Safety Lanes extend all the way to shore. If any part of a boat (including the anchor line) is in a safety lane, it must be moved
The lanes were implemented 2002 to permit access to the island and to the boats anchored close to the island for emergencies. They are also intended to prevent boats from being blocked in by other boats.
In the Summer of 2004, two additional Safety Lanes were added (bringing the total to four). In addition a lane runs parallel to shore.
State law requires that a PWC (personal watercraft) must have factory installed mirrors in order to pull a skier or tube. This rule does not apply to Lake Minnetonka, where an observer is required on PWC.
On Lake Minnetonka all watercraft, including PWC, that are towing skiers or tubes must have an observer that is at least 12 years of age. For PWC on Lake Minnetonka, the observer needs to be able to communicate with the operator and DOES NOT have to sit backwards.
If you see a buoy out of place, or any other hazard to navigation on any lake in Hennepin County, report it to Hennepin County Lake Improvement at 612-348-4378. You can also send an email to Hennepin County Lake Improvements.
If you are on the Mississippi or Minnesota Rivers, hail the Coast Guard on Marine Channel 16.
Each year, as the ice begins to skim Minnesota’s lakes and ponds, the Water Patrol receives hundreds of phone calls from anxious anglers and snowmobile enthusiasts who all have the same basic question: "Is the ice safe yet?" The Water Patrol's standard answer is: "No, ice is NEVER safe."
Realizing this statement is usually misunderstood as being bureaucratic (and relatively evasive), deputies explain that even if ice is a foot thick in one area on a lake, it can be one inch thick just a few yards away.
Here are a few general guidelines for use by winter recreation enthusiasts to lessen their chances of an icy dip or worse. It’s impossible to judge the strength of ice by its appearance, thickness, daily temperature, or snow cover alone. Ice strength is actually dependent on all four factors, plus water depth under the ice, the size of the water and water chemistry, currents, and distribution of the load on the ice.
Wait to walk out on the ice until there is at least 4 inches of clear, solid ice. Thinner ice will support one person, but since ice thickness can vary considerably, especially at the beginning and end of the season, 4 inches will provide a margin of safety. Some factors that can change ice thickness include flocks of waterfowl and schools of fish. By congregating in a small area, fish can cause warmer water from the bottom towards the surface, weakening or in some cases opening large holes in the ice.
Go out with a buddy and keep a good distance apart as you walk out. If one of you goes in the other can call for help. (Everyone should carry their cell phones if they have have one, so if one person goes in, the other can call for help.) The companion can also attempt a rescue if one of you are carrying rope or other survival gear.
Snowmobiles and ATVs need at least 5 inches, and cars and light trucks need at least 8-12 inches of good clear ice.
Contact a local resort or bait shop for information about known thin ice areas.
Wear a life jacket. Life vests or float coats provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia (loss of body temperature). Never wear a life jacket if you are traveling in an enclosed vehicle, however. It could hamper escape in case of a breakthrough.
Carry a pair of homemade ice picks or even a pair of screwdrivers tied together with a few yards of strong cord that can be used to pull yourself up and onto the ice if you do fall in. Be sure they have wooden handles so if you drop them in the struggle to get out of the water, they won’t go straight to the bottom!
Avoid driving on the ice whenever possible. Traveling in a vehicle, especially early or late in the season is simply "an accident waiting to happen." Most ice fatalities occurring in Minnesota involve a vehicle.
Be prepared to bail out in a hurry if you are driving on the ice. Unbuckle your seatbelt and have a plan of action if you do breakthrough. Some safety experts recommend driving with the window rolled down and the doors ajar for an easy escape. Move your car frequently. Parking in one place for a long period weakens ice. Don’t park near cracks, and watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves.
Do not park near other vehicles. Ice is not like a parking lot. It can break with too much weight.
Don’t drive across ice at night or when it is snowing. Reduced visibility increases your chances for driving into an open or weak ice area.
Check at the access if there are signs that indicate an aeration system is in operation on the lake. Aerators keep areas of water open to provide oxygen for fish. The ice can be weakened many yards beyond where the ice is actually open. Stay well outside the fenced areas indicated by diamond shaped thin ice signs.
Above all, avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol increases your chances for hypothermia and increases the likelihood that you’ll make a mistake that will cost you or a companion their life.
If you decide on a plan and you learn basic rescue advice, your survival chances are greatly improved if you do fall in. (Adapted from an article written by Tim Smalley, Boat and Water Safety Specialist for the Minnesota DNR).