Boating fatalities on pace to surpass last year’s total

St. Paul — At least 10 people have died from boating-related accidents this year, ahead of last year’s pace, which ended at a 10-year high. There were eight such fatalities as August began last year.

“It generally continues a theme,” said Stan Linnell, the Minnesota DNR’s boat and water safety manager. “Capsizing and falling overboard from a small boat are our most common factors, and not wearing a life jacket on top of that.”

The death of a 35-year-old woman from Mounds View at Crystal Bay on Lake Minnetonka on Saturday, July 30, marked the 10th boating victim of the year.

The woman wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Rescue teams searched the waters for hours before recovering her body.

Last year, there were 18 total boating fatalities, which was a 10-year high, according to Minnesota DNR boat and water safety records. Statewide, there were 87 total accidents involving 65 boating-related injuries and damages of $380,997 for the year, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics.

But the state’s watercraft accident records show a general decline in boating fatalities in the state the past 15 years, when only twice there were more than 20 fatalities in a given year.

The Coast Guard’s data also show that Minnesota has the second-highest number of boat registrations at 808,627 in 2015, behind only Florida, which had 889,350 registrations. Minnesota boaters are far more safe than boaters in Florida, where 52 people died while recreationally boating last year.

The most boating fatalities in a given year in Minnesota was 57, which dates back to 1961, the first year the statistic was tracked in the state.

“One thing that we’ve noticed is that the states that have boating education requirements for the longest time have the fewest fatalities,” Linnell said, noting that Minnesota’s program is nationally recognized.

“We have a lot of people that know what they are doing out there,” he said. “But we also have a lot of people that are new to boating and don’t know all of the rules of the road.”

That being said, older males died in six of the nine incidents, and only one was wearing a life jacket.

Among them this year, according to DNR reports:

On April 11, a 52-year-old Shoreview man drowned after his motorized 14-foot boat capsized on the Rainy River. He was found floating in the river and was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Weather conditions may have been a factor in fatality, the first of the year. He was wearing a life jacket.

On May 22, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man drowned after jumping off a moving pontoon on Lake Minnetonka that evening. The boat operator brought the boat around to retrieve the man, but he was unresponsive. Despite a 911 call, and CPR efforts, he died on the scene.

On May 28, a 50-year-old Slayton man drowned after falling overboard from his pontoon on Lake Shetek in Murray County. He was last seen that evening and was reported missing about 24 hours later. His boat and body were located May 30.

On June 11, a 55-year-old Miltona man drowned after falling out of his 18-foot boat on Lake Miltona that afternoon. He had asked a passenger to take the controls of the boat while he went to the back. When the passenger turned the seat the armrest hit the throttle, causing the boat to lunge forward, throwing the victim overboard. While life jackets were thrown to him, he couldn’t reach them. He went underwater and did not resurface until his body was recovered more than an hour later.

On June 20, a 61-year-old South St. Paul man drowned after falling overboard from his 16-foot boat on Lake Andrew in Douglas County. The man had been out fishing that evening, and his family called authorities when he didn’t return. He was found later that evening without a life jacket.

On June 28, a 58-year-old Brooklyn Park man died after falling out of his 16-foot boat on Cut Foot Sioux Lake in Itasca County. Authorities got a call that morning and were told that a person was in the water calling for help while a boat was circling. The victim was removed from the water 30 minutes after the initial call and was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The other fatalities include:

• A 28-year-old Lakeview man who fell overboard from a 16-foot boat on the Mississippi River in Ramsey County on April 30. The man was fishing with a friend early that morning, and fell over while doing something with the anchor. The man was recovered May 16.

• A 63-year-old Minneapolis woman who was canoeing the Root River in Fillmore County on June 18. Her canoe capsized after hitting a log. Her canoeing partner was able to get her to shore and obtain help, but she was unresponsive when responders arrived and was pronounced dead at the scene.

• A 39-year-old Nisswa man drowned after falling off a personal watercraft on Ponto Lake in Cass County on July 24. He was observed by family members falling off his watercraft. They took their watercraft out to him and found him face-down in the water. They brought him to shore, where CPR efforts did not revive him. He was wearing a life jacket.

Linnell thought that alcohol may have been a factor in some of the fatalities, as it typically is in about 30 percent of them.

According to Coast Guard statistics, alcohol was a contributing factor in 10 boating accidents last year. It was a contributing factor in seven fatalities and seven injuries as well. Of 75 fatalities in Minnesota between 2011 and 2015, 30 percent have involved alcohol, according to the Coast Guard.

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