By Troy Wolbersen, Douglas County sheriff
With so much uncertainty and so many changes in our lives these days, it is a relief to know that our lakes are open, and they provide plenty of room for social distancing. The beauty of the blue waters can change a person’s attitude for the better real quick.
We want people to feel safe while enjoying their time on the lakes, and safety on the water is one of the responsibilities of the sheriff’s office. It’s our job to make sure you and your family stay safe as well as everyone around you.
One simple way to stay safe while boating is to wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD). We would love it if everyone wore them. Children under 10 must always wear a PFD (life jacket) while on a watercraft. At the very least, there must be a wearable and accessible PFD for every person on board that is 10 or over. It can’t be stowed away, and there has to be a throwable floatation device on boats 16 feet or longer. Everyone on a personal watercraft (jet-ski) must wear a PFD. For those in a canoe, kayak, paddleboat or on a stand-up paddleboard, there must be a PFD on board.
Exciting news for those that enjoy kayaking is that Douglas County will be installing a new kayak launch dock on Lake Brophy. This launch will be installed by mid-June and will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with an accessible transfer bench and a support grab rail.
Some people have “a need for speed” while boating. Feeling the wind in our hair, which we have plenty of these days, just needs to be done safely. Remember, we have three deputies who patrol the lakes. Unsafe and careless operation is not the preferred way to meet one of those deputies. Just like on the road; distracted/careless operation, unsafe speed, and alcohol are the leading causes of crashes on the water. It would be best if those operating the boat do not consume any alcohol until everyone is safely back on shore for the day.
The navigational buoys are in place on the lakes. The white and orange buoys mark shallow areas, a rock or other hazard. The red and green markers indicate a channel. The red buoy is on the right when you are going upstream. If you choose to pass through the channel outside the markers, you may find yourself in a shallow or rocky area.
Before that first day on the lake arrives, make sure the equipment on your boat is working. There are a lot more accessories on boats today so check the charge on the batteries. Your boat’s navigation lights need to be in working order if you plan to be on the water from sunset to sunrise. Also, don’t forget to check that your fire extinguisher is in working order.
Please continue to be aware of the guidance for social distancing while on the lakes. Tying boats together and creating a large gathering goes against the spirit of social distancing. We expect the lakes to be busy this summer. The sheriff’s office will be out there to help keep them safe so everyone can enjoy the sunshine and the beauty.
Troy Wolbersen is the Douglas County sheriff. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.