MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is calling 2021 the deadliest boating season in 16 years.

They’re asking late-season boaters to take extra precautions on the water.

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So far this year, there have been 17 fatalities on the water – and 16 of the victims were not wearing life jackets.

Elliot Nutting is a regular at White Bear Lake. He launches his boat out every night, despite an unusually busy year.

“I’ve seen so many boats this year,” Nutting said. “I feel like it’s overpopulated compared to years before, so many boats on the water.”

Joe Albert, communications coordinator for the DNR’s Enforcement Division, says the pandemic has caused a spike in interest for the outdoors. But with more first-time boaters, accidents have also climbed up.

“We see fatalities unfortunately every year, but this year has just been really eye-opening to see the numbers, it’s unfortunate for sure,” Albert said.

About 30% of boating-related deaths happen during the cold water periods of spring and fall. Albert said even the strongest swimmers can succumb due to cold water.

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.

(credit: CBS)

Jay Adams was seen fishing with his dad at White Bear Lake. The young angler said he never goes out without a lifejacket.

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“You need to wear a life jacket because if you fall in the water, just for people’s safety, even if you know how to swim,” Adams said.

Nutting echoes the sentiment. He added that putting any distractions away is also helpful.

“I put my phone away for sure whenever I’m driving the boat,” Nutting said. “I don’t want to get into any crashes. I’ve heard some horror stories about that.”

The DNR recommends people always wear a life jacket when they’re on the water. But the biggest thing people can do if they fall in is to try to calm themselves — then figure out how to get themselves out of the situation.

“A lot of people end up swallowing water right away, then they start to panic because their limbs aren’t working like it should, nothing’s working like it should,” Albert said.

Here 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.

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