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WISE: Water and Ice Safety Education

“The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office has always been tasked with responding to water emergencies. We are dedicated to keeping people safe around water. It’s that dedication that’s driving us to increase our water safety education options. We want everyone in Hennepin County to know how to keep themselves safe on or near the water.”

– Sheriff David. P. Hutchinson

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, watersports are a way of life. In Hennepin County alone, there are 104 lakes and three rivers. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is responsible for the safety and regulation of all lakes and, in conjunction with the US Coast Guard and adjoining county sheriffs, the rivers of the county. One of the best ways that the HCSO can achieve safety on our lakes and rivers is through education. Through the Water and Ice Safety Education (WISE) program, HCSO works to educate the public on how to be safe during all types of water recreation.

About water patrol

The HCSO Water Patrol provides water safety education, patrols Hennepin County’s lakes and rivers, and responds to water-related emergencies. The HCSO Water Patrol is headquartered on Lake Minnetonka and partners with various agencies on water safety education.

Map of Lake Minnetonka (PDF)

HCSO Water Patrol responsibilities include:

  • Patrolling Hennepin County’s lakes and rivers, both during boating season and winter
  • Teaching water safety classes to the public
  • Performing water rescue operations and ice rescue operations
  • Investigating drownings in Hennepin County, including those in bodies of water, hot tubs, or any other vessels larger than a bathtub
  • Monitoring lake ice thickness during winter.
  • Partnering with Freshwater to declare Ice Out, marking the start of boating season

The HCSO Water Patrol is partnering with organizations around Hennepin County to offer water safety training and education. Resources include:

  • Water safety information
  • Swimming lessons information, including resources for low-income families
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Any announcements on wake restrictions, ice conditions, contaminations, or other water-related news will be available here.

Wake restrictions

While the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office does not declare no wake or high water restrictions, we are tasked with enforcing them. Check this page regularly for any posted restrictions in Hennepin County.

Beach closures

Beach information and beach closures

Ice restrictions

No ice restrictions are in place at this time.

Swimming lessons are critically important for water safety. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office recommends that everyone learn how to swim.

In 2019, The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office offered low-cost swimming lessons and water safety classes in partnership with individual cities and organizations, including the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB). Through the W.I.S.E. swimming scholarship program, low-income youth could apply to receive a package of eight 40-minute swimming lessons for only $5. We hope to again offer these subsidized classes for those who cannot afford lessons otherwise after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. 

Swimming lessons may be available at a variety of locations throughout the summer. To look for classes in Minneapolis, visit the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board website or call 612-230-6495. 

Specialty classes

Women’s only swimming lessons

The Philips Aquatics Center offers classes only for female participants. These classes are led by female instructors. For more information, email or call 612-230-6495.

Lifeguard training

Youth aged 15 and older who can pass a required pre-requisite swimming skill test can take a course to become a certified lifeguard and work at a MPRB aquatic facility. After completing the course, participants will learn about employment opportunities with the MPRB. To register, visit the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board website or call 612-230-6495.

Swimming lessons outside Minneapolis

Hennepin County offers free or low-cost swimming lessons in partnership with the Make a Splash initiative. For more information, visit Hennepin County's youth sports page.

Basic water safety

Water Safety Checklist (PDF)


Watch your children and other swimmers

  • Parents must use active supervision when children are in – or near – the water. In 70% of cases where young children have drowned, one or both parents were nearby. Being nearby isn’t enough. Parents must focus on kids and avoid distractions, such as using cell phones or talking with other adults.
  • Parental supervision is needed even when lifeguards on duty.
  • Adult swimmers should watch out for one another, especially in open water like lakes and rivers.


Wear a life jacket.

  • Weak swimmers or non-swimmers should wear life jackets in the water. Adult supervision is needed even when using a life jacket.
  • Do not rely on water wings or other inflatable devices, especially for children.
  • If you are unsure on how to choose a life jacket, visit the US Coast Guard Boating site.


Learn about water safety.

  • Teach your kids to swim. Adults must know how to swim, too.
  • Keep safety equipment near pools, such as a shepherd’s hook. If attempting a rescue, hand something to the struggling person or pull them to safety with the hook.
  • Use safety precautions with backyard kiddie pools. One child drowns every five days in portable pools.
  • Learn CPR and learn more about water safety.

Boating safety

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol is committed to educating boaters on how to safely enjoy their times on the lakes. Below are the most crucial tips for safe boating:

  • Boaters should slow down and make an extra effort to act in a courteous manner on crowded lakes and rivers.
  • Designate a sober boat operator prior to your day of boating.
  • Sophia’s Law requires all recreational boats that have an enclosed compartment, including sailboats with motors, must be equipped with a watercraft carbon monoxide detector.
  • State law requires children 10 years old and under to wear a properly fitted life jacket while boating. It is highly recommended that all children and adults wear life jackets during boating.
  • State law requires that life jackets are readily accessible for all people on board the boat. Eighty percent of boating deaths could have been prevented if the victims had been wearing life jackets, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Be aware of the danger of a boat propeller. People in the water, have been injured by props while attempting to re-enter a boat.

Floatation stations

On Lake Minnetonka, there are free life jackets available to borrow for children and adults at our Flotation Stations. The program is a partnership between the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, Safe Kids Northwest Metro Minneapolis and North Memorial Medical Center.

Locations include:

  • Gray’s Bay, 2831 County Road 101 S, Minnetonka, MN
  • Spring Park Bay, 4141 Shoreline Drive, Spring Park, MN
  • North Arm Bay, County Rd 51, Mound, MN

Children and water safety

According to the CDC, about 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Fortunately, education has been proven to reduce the risk of drowning. Please keep these safety tips in mind when your children are around water.

  • Always watch children around water, without being distracted. Keep young children within arm’s reach of an adult at all times.
  • Teach children how to swim. Every child is different, so enroll children in swim lessons when they are ready. Consider their age, development, and how comfortable they are around water.
  • Children should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in the water. Air-filled and foam toys are NOT safety devices and not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • Install fences around home pools. A pool fence should surround all sides of the pool and be at least four feet tall. Pool fences should have self-closing and self-latching gates.
  • Immediately drain water from bath tubs once bath time is over.
  • Empty buckets, containers, and kiddie pools immediately after use. Store them upside down so they don’t collect water.
  • Keep safety equipment near pools, such as a shepherd’s hook. If attempting a rescue, hand something to the struggling person or pull them to safety with the hook.
  • Learn how to perform CPR.

Ice safety

When venturing out on the ice, people should remember all the same tips as when near open water, as well as many winter-specific safety tips.

  • Ice should never be considered completely safe.
  • DNR recommends a minimum of 4 inches for people.
  • Follow the same rules for life jacket use as you would on open water.
  • Carry a set of ice rescue claws.
  • Never go on the ice alone.
  • Let someone know where you will be on the lake and when you plan to return home.
  • Avoid channels, creeks, rivers or anywhere there is moving water, such as a bridge overpass.
  • Check ice conditions with a local bait shop or Sheriff’s Department.
  • Physically check the ice where you plan to skate with a chisel or drill. Ice conditions vary even within a few feet.
  • If you break through the ice, don’t panic. Turn around and exit the same direction you came from. Call 911 and seek warm dry shelter.
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