Officials urge safety on water after deadly 2020

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To kick off Memorial Day Weekend, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is launching its "Play It Safe" initiative.

Sheriff David Hutchinson and his office are reminding people to be safe on the water over the weekend and during the summer.

"We’re going to be out here, as strong as we were last year, and the year before," said Hutchinson.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recorded 49 non-boating drownings in the state last year, the most in a decade.

"Watch your kids. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under five. Also in 70% of those cases, a parent was nearby when it occurred. So avoid distractions, like using smartphones or talking to other adults. And supervise your kids, even when lifeguards are present," said Lt. Bill Gottwaldt, Hennepin County Water Patrol.

The sheriff’s office said the number of fatal boating accidents also reached a five-year high last year at 16.

"But last year it could have been a contributing factor of new boaters because of COVID-19, people bought boats and water crafts because there’s nothing else to do last summer. I think anytime you’re boating don’t drink," said Hutchinson.

Hutchinson on Friday urged Minnesotans to have fun over the holiday weekend but to wear a life jacket, be safe and avoid consuming alcohol if operating a watercraft.

The sheriff’s office will also have crews out on the waters of Lake Minnetonka to educate and ensure people are safe over the weekend.