The following editorial appeared in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins aren’t having a good year, but Mauer is doing some solid work off the field — including a public service announcement in which he points out this sad fact:
“Nine times out of 10, boaters who drown are men, 20 to 60 years old, with one thing in common — they aren’t wearing a life jacket.”
That statement proved true again Aug. 27 when a canoe carrying two men capsized on Silver Creek Reservoir east of Rochester. One man made it to shore, but the other drowned in the reservoir’s murky waters.
According to the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, the men had brought life jackets but weren’t wearing them when the canoe capsized. That means they had met the state’s legal requirement, which mandates the wearing of a life jacket for boaters younger than 10, while those 10 and older must simply have a life jacket “readily accessible.”
Unfortunately, a life jacket that’s lying in the bottom of a canoe, duck boat or speedboat is of little use when the canoe capsizes or when a passenger falls overboard and doesn’t resurface. From 2011-15, 74 boaters drowned in Minnesota, and nearly every one of those tragedies would have been prevented had the victim been wearing a life jacket.
It’s time to change Minnesota’s law.
The simplest, easiest-to-enforce solution would be to mandate life jacket use for all boaters at all times, with the possible exception of passengers on commercial vessels, such as riverboats or large fishing charters.
Yes, there would be howls of protest from people who say personal flotation devices are bulky, hot and uncomfortable, but this isn’t 1960, when your options were small orange horse collars or large orange horse collars. The market today is filled with a variety of PFDs designed with comfort in mind, including some the size of a belt that inflate automatically when submerged.
We’d argue the protests against mandatory life jacket use would fade pretty quickly, which is exactly what happened when Minnesota first mandated seat belt usage in 1986. At that time, the compliance rate was about 20 percent, but today, 94 percent of front-seat occupants are wearing seat belts in Minnesota. Seat-belt use has become an established habit, to the point most of us buckle up reflexively, without even thinking about it.
The same thing could happen on the water with PFDs.
But if the Legislature is unwilling to take such a dramatic step — and we suspect the resort industry “Up North” might lobby against an all-encompassing PFD mandate — there are some smaller steps that could make a big difference. Requiring life jacket use for anyone in a canoe kayak, as well as boats under 16 feet, would be a good start. Another possibility would be to mandate PFD use at all times except when a boat is resting at anchor. At the very least, all boaters should be required to wear lifejackets if they are on the water after dark.
We urge our local legislators on both sides of the aisle to take up this fight. As Joe Mauer rightly puts it, “At the end of the day, what really matters is making it home safe.”
Republished with permission.
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