Finally. The ice is gone, and we have blue water. Boating season has begun and there is no better place than Douglas County to get out on the lakes.

As sheriff, I want everyone to enjoy their time on the water, and it's my job to make sure you stay safe while doing that.

Every spring, my water patrol deputies start the safety process by loading up the buoys and heading out to area lakes. Buoys are markers that help boaters navigate the waters. The white and orange ones let you know if there is a shallow area, rock or some other hazard to be aware of in the water. The red and green markers indicate a channel. The red buoy is on the right when you're going upstream. If you choose to go outside the markers, you may find yourself in a shallow or rocky area.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has three deputies that patrol the lakes. The boats we use are well marked so if you need assistance, wave the deputy over. The deputy may also approach your boat to see that you have the correct number of life jackets. A readily accessible and wearable life jacket is required for every person on board. Children under 10 years old must wear their life jacket. One Type IV throwable floatation device is also required on boats 16 feet or longer.

If you're on a personal watercraft, you must wear a life jacket whether you are operating the watercraft or just along for the ride.

While using a canoe, kayak, paddleboat or stand-up paddleboard, you must have a life jacket on board. A throwable is not required.

When checking your boat's equipment, you also want to make sure you have a working fire extinguisher, horn and that your boat's navigation lights are in working order. Those navigation lights must be on from sunset to sunrise when you're on the water. Check your trailer lights while you're at it and look to see that current registration is displayed on the boat.

There is no law that says you can't enjoy an adult beverage on your boat but - and this is very important - the person operating the boat can't be legally intoxicated. In Minnesota that means your blood alcohol level must be less than .08. My advice as sheriff is simple. If you're going to be at the controls, don't drink at all. It's just not worth it. Your kids, other boaters, and people on shore feel much more relaxed when the person operating the boat doesn't have a beer or a drink in their hand.

Stay aware of the weather while boating. If a storm is approaching, it's best to head for shore sooner than later.

Let's hope we can all enjoy a summer that brings us more sunshine than rain and light breezes rather than gale force winds.

My deputies take great pride in patrolling the lakes. On a beautiful day, it's not the worst place I can think of to make a living. If you see them, say hi. They can probably tell you where the fish are biting.

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Troy Wolbersen is the Douglas County sheriff. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.