Boating safety officials are seeing more accidents and violations involving pontoon boats this summer. Two people have died in accidents so far this season and several other mishaps have occurred, according to the DNR.
"Being on a pontoon gives folks a false sense of security," said Lee Alderson, a DNR conservation officer in Cloquet. "Some feel pontoons are unsinkable and have the mistaken belief that they don't get involved in boating accidents."
Minnesota has 62,000 registered pontoon boats. Long considered the boat of choice for grandma and grandpa, today's pontoons measure up to 30 feet and are equipped with 250 horsepower motors.
Most pontoon accidents arise from passenger activity and the way in which the craft is being operated. Alcohol often is involved. Passengers stand outside the guard railing and fall off the boat. Some jump off a moving pontoon to swim. Minnesota law requires every person on board a pontoon to stay behind the railing while the craft is underway.
Another problem involves the docking lights, which are meant to be used when approaching a dock. Some boaters are using them as headlights while on the water. Docking lights blind other boaters and overpower the pontoon's navigation lights. For that reason the DNR recommends against operating a pontoon with its docking lights on.
Other violations observed include navigation lights mounted so they point up at the sky instead of port and starboard, stern lights blocked or obscured by canopy tops, and a lack of life jackets for each passenger on board.
Officers have reported seeing overloaded pontoon boats. Perham area Conservation Officer Norm Floden saw a pontoon on which so many passengers were crowded towards the bow that the boat was dangerously close to diving like a submarine when the operator accelerated.
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