Smart Boating

    Safe and fun boating in the BWCA

      There’s a certain amount of risk involved in almost everything you do.  You can minimize risk when you’re on the water by being prepared and by always wearing your life vest. 

     The state of Minnesota requires children 9 and under to wear their life vest at all times when they’re in a watercraft.  There are a few exceptions to this rule that aren’t very likely to occur in the Boundary Waters such as infants too small to wear life vests, passengers of a vessel with a captain, when the boat is anchored and being used as a swimming platform and if they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. 

     There are rules to follow when operating a watercraft too.  One rule I wasn’t aware of was the need to have a throwable device on board as well as a wearable life vest for each passenger.   The Minnesota DNR has an online boating guide with lots of information.

News Releases


Safety equipment found lacking in some boats

(Released August 16, 2010)


The safety of Minnesota boaters is a top priority. Conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) want to see more folks taking the necessary precautions the rest of the summer to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.

A few areas are of particular concern.

“I regularly see three problems,” Milaca-based DNR Conservation Officer David Schottenbauer said. “Folks take the boat out and forget the life jackets. Or they are unaware they need a throwable personal flotation device (PFD), like a boater’s cushion, for boats 16 feet and longer. Also, boaters incorrectly assume that a boat cushion counts as a primary flotation device.”

Regardless of length, all boats except sailboats (including canoes, kayaks and duck boats), must have a readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable PFD for each person on board.

Also, any boat 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) must have onboard a readily accessible Coast Guard approved Type IV throwable flotation device, such as a boat cushion or ring buoy. Lack of a throwable device is a common boating law violation.

The good news is that children under 10 are doing a great job wearing their life jackets while boating, in compliance with the Minnesota law that became effective in 2005. Exceptions include being on a boat with a licensed captain or a boat that is anchored and being used as a platform for swimming. Children below deck in a cabin cruiser are also exempt from this regulation.

The bad news is that officers report that some parents are buying unapproved flotation jackets, suits and swimming aids for their children to wear while boating. These do not fulfill legal requirements.

The DNR reminds adults to check the label for U.S. Coast Guard approval before putting a PFD on a child. Children found wearing their life vests while boating are eligible for a PFD Panda certificate. The certificates – good for a free Dairy Queen treat – are handed out by DNR conservation officers and county sheriff’s deputies.

Violations of any life jacket law involve fines and fees of more than $100 for each occurrence.

More boating safety information, including a copy of the “Minnesota Boating Guide,” is available by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.