MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (05/26/2023) — As Memorial Day approaches, people all over the state are breaking out their sunblock and dusting off their boats in preparation for summer fun. It’s crucial to pay close attention to boat and water safety guidelines when you’re on the shore or in a vehicle to keep safe — and keep the fun going — all season long.

James Miner, MD, with the University of Minnesota Medical School talks about common injuries during Memorial Day weekend, and water and boat safety.

Q: What are the most common reasons people come to the ER during Memorial Day weekend?
Dr. Miner:
During the first busy weekend in Minnesota's emergency departments, we see a lot of trauma for the first time, people getting injured because everyone's out doing stuff. As the weather is usually great, people engage in various outdoor activities. However, alcohol consumption is a big common denominator to injuries during Memorial Day weekend. Barbecues and parties often involve more drinking, leading to accidents while cycling, rollerblading or driving. It's great to go to parties with friends but remember to keep track of alcohol use. 

We see more traffic accidents because everyone's out on the road. It's crucial to understand that drivers are often unfamiliar with their destinations since they're not commuting to their regular workplaces. Distractions come from using phones for directions, discussing plans or texting. Recognize that others may be more distracted than usual due to the holiday activities.

Q: What should people keep in mind if they’re planning to head out to a lake or river over the holiday weekend?
Dr. Miner:
Lakes and rivers are so much fun, and they're a big part of Minnesota. But it's important to keep a few things in mind. Firstly, sunburns are common when you're in and out of the water. Get sunscreen on before you're outside, don't rely on your skin feeling hot and keep track of it. 

Second, you can drown in water and you can’t drown on land. Pay close attention to non-swimmers, especially young children, near water. Even small accidents or being stuck can quickly turn into drowning. Have a responsible adult present and ready to help at any time. For non-swimmers, especially children, you should have a life jacket on if you are near the water. I would put a life jacket on if you're near water on anyone who's 6 years old and younger. Life jackets are readily available at various stores and don't need to be fancy or ultra-sleek as long as they keep you afloat.

Q: Rip currents are one of the most common causes of drowning. How can swimmers identify and avoid rip currents? What should they do if they get caught in one? 
Dr. Miner:
In Minnesota, rip currents are primarily found in Lake Superior. They occur as waves are coming towards land, creating deeper and higher currents. On Duluth’s beaches, it’s important to be cautious of rip currents. However, it’s very unlikely for lakes around the Twin Cities to develop them, except during big waves and high winds. 

To spot rip currents, look for breaks in the incoming waves or areas where the water looks flat amidst the surrounding waves. If you've ever been in a boat and you look at the stream behind it, there’s actually a current moving against the way the rest of the water is moving. The opposing forces cancel each other out, which causes the flat look. These breaks indicate a rip current. You won't see it in a little lake. The rivers all have currents, but they're always going in one direction. 

If you do get caught on one, don't try to swim against it. It's like trying to run against a treadmill. Rip currents go faster than a swimmer. Go to the sides because, by definition, they're narrow. Start going sideways to the shore. Eventually, you’ll get out of it.

Q: What are your tips for water safety on a boat or jet ski?
Dr. Miner:
Here are some key points for boating safety:

00:00 Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is a major contributor to boat accidents. The effects of alcohol are magnified on water, so it's crucial to refrain from drinking while boating.

00:33 Stay alert and aware: Keep your situational awareness high, as there are other boats and people on the water. Avoid distractions and ensure that someone is always paying attention to the surroundings.

01:16 Wear life jackets: Have enough life jackets for everyone on board, and make sure that non-swimmers and children wear them at all times. Safety should be a priority, and life jackets provide an extra layer of protection.

01:36 Beware of carbon dioxide: If the engine is on and the boat is stationary, carbon dioxide is being produced. Avoid leaving the engine running unnecessarily, and consider installing a carbon dioxide detector. If you smell exhaust, it means you're breathing in carbon dioxide.

02:09 Know the rules: Familiarize yourself with boating regulations and take boating safety classes if available. Understanding the rules helps you navigate safely and identify any potential hazards.

02:35 Jet ski precautions: When operating a jet ski, collisions are a common risk. Be cautious when crossing the wake of other boats, as visibility may be limited, and their wake can be larger and faster than yours. Maintain distance from other boats when performing tricks.

03:45 Safe diving practices: When diving, always go in feet first, especially in shallow water near anchored boats. Diving headfirst can lead to spinal injuries due to unpredictable lake conditions. Ensure you have a significant depth of water before diving.

Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about water or boat safety?
Dr. Miner:  Being around water is a part of Minnesota’s culture and one of the best things about our state. However, you should never forget that lakes are a force of nature and can be unpredictable. Nature deserves respect from you and the vehicles you bring to it. Be careful with alcohol, consider taking swim classes, remember life jackets and know that there is always less room for making poor decisions when you’re on the water.  

James Miner, MD, is a professor in emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and chair of emergency medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center. Dr. Miner conducts research in the areas of pain management, procedural sedation, altered mental status, shock and monitoring during critical care in the emergency department.


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