Be on the lookout for early season boating conditions and hazards

Boaters eager to hit newly thawed lakes and rivers across the state should be on the lookout for debris in the water and the potential for ice-damaged ramps at public water accesses.
Fluctuating water levels in the early spring can dislodge logs and other debris making them a navigational hazard to boaters. Lakes and rivers that have experienced major flooding in recent years can be especially problematic.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local governments maintain an extensive system of 2,898 public water access sites throughout the state. As the ice goes out, DNR crews begin working to inspect and repair launch ramps, and put the docks in at the DNR-maintained public water access sites – but they haven’t reached all of them yet. This work will be accomplished statewide over the next few weeks and hopefully completed by the May 14 fishing opener.

Winter weather is always a challenge to Minnesota’s public water access sites. As lake ice expands and pushes against the shore during the winter months, it can push and buckle the concrete plank structures like an accordion. This phenomenon, called “ice jacking,” often leaves the boat ramp unusable.  

Boaters can help by inspecting ramp conditions before launching their watercraft. If a boat ramp is not yet ready for use, boaters can locate alternate access sites by visiting www.mndnr.gov/wateraccess.

Regardless of the time of year, it’s always a good idea to check the condition of the ramp prior to launching to ensure there are no hazardous conditions present that may damage your boat or equipment,” said Nancy Stewart, the boating access program coordinator for the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division. “If you find damage at a DNR public water access, you can help by reporting it on the DNR’s public water access Web page at www.mndnr.gov/wateraccess.”
Suggestions for early spring boat launching include:

  • Check the ramp for broken planks and ensure the gravel is firm.
  • Have hip boots or waders available in case you need to enter the water to help guide the boat and trailer, especially where docks are not yet available.
  • Lower the motor only after you are sure there is enough clearance.
  • Watch for free floating obstructions in the lake or river.

Boaters are also reminded to make safety a priority, especially when water temperatures are dangerously cold. Each year, 30 percent of boating deaths occur on cold water. Nearly all could be prevented by wearing a life jacket; the vast majority involve men ages 20-60 years old. Learn more at www.mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.

For more information about DNR-maintained public water access sites, or to report damage, visit www.mndnr.gov/wateraccess.

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