Thinking of taking the boat out for one last time this year?

Don’t make it your last time ever.

Boating-related drownings and crashes are up this season. So much so that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging boaters to play it safe in these last few weeks before the ice forms.

According to the DNR, Minnesota is in the midst of its deadliest boating season in 16 years.

As of Oct. 15, 17 people have lost their lives in boat-related drownings and crashes – the highest number since 2005.

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And with weeks of open water left this year, there’s a chance that number could climb higher, the DNR warns.

“Any life lost on the water is one too many, and we hope we’ve seen the last of these terrible tragedies,” said Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator in a news release. “Too many families have had their lives immeasurably altered while their loved ones were taking part in what should be a fun and memorable activity.”

Over 30 percent of boating fatalities in Minnesota happen in cold water with a victim not wearing a life jacket, according to the DNR.

Of the 17 people who died this year, 16 were not known to be wearing life jackets when they went into the water, Dugan said. Some of them fell unexpectedly into the water, while others jumped in and experienced some sort of trouble that prevented them from getting back to their boat.

The DNR recommends people always wear a life jacket when they’re on the water, but it’s especially important during the cold-water season, when expected falls can incapacitate even the strongest swimmers in a matter of minutes.

While air temperatures have been above normal for much of the fall, the water temperature has dropped below 70 degrees, which is the threshold for classifying water as cold. Each year, about 30 percent of boating-related fatalities happen during the cold-water periods of spring and fall, the DNR reported.

Anglers and hunters tend to be the primary people on the water at this time of year, but paddlers and others also venture onto the water to enjoy the relative solitude of the water after the summer crowds have parked their boats.

The DNR provided the following are other safety reminders as people head out onto cold water:

  • Wear a life jacket (foam life jackets are more effective than inflatable life jackets during the cold-water season).

  • Distribute weight in the boat evenly and abide by manufacturer’s weight limits to reduce the likelihood of falling overboard.

  • Have a means of communication. Boaters also should let other people know where they’re going and when they plan to return.

  • Watch the weather to avoid shifting winds or storms.

  • Wear an engine cut-off device if the boat is equipped with one.

For more information on staying safe on or around cold water, see the DNR’s cold water webpage at www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/cold-water.html.