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18 boating deaths in Minnesota last year – life jackets 'key' to preventing

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There were 18 boating deaths in 2015 – preliminary numbers that one agency official called "concerning."

The state Department of Natural Resources said last month the 18 boating fatalities is the highest mark since 2005 – the last time the figure got that high (and they recorded 23 deaths that year). No more were recorded from that time through Dec. 31.

A common issue, according to the DNR's Debbie Munson Badini: No life jacket.

The "majority of victims were males between 20-60 years old who drowned due to not wearing a life jacket," Munson Badini, boat and water safety outreach coordinator with the DNR, told BringMeTheNews. "Getting that high-risk demographic to put their safety first by putting on a life jacket is the key to seeing a steep drop in boating deaths in the future, not just in Minnesota but around the country."

Half of last year's 18 fatalities were on cold water, too. (Usually, about one-third of boating fatalities occur during the cold water season.)

The DNR called a life jacket an "absolute must" when the temps drop.

“A fall into extremely cold water can incapacitate you within seconds,” Munson Badini said in the news release. “Water temperatures are dangerously cold across the entire state, which means it’s more important than ever to wear that life jacket.”

Nationally in 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard found 78 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those who drowned, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Overall trend unchanged

The 18 boating deaths are higher than 2014, when there were 14.

However, Munson Badini (while noting one death is "too many") said in the grand scheme of things, the jump doesn't change the "overall trend" of Minnesota being one of the safest state's in the country for boaters.

The increase though is concerning because most of them were preventable, oftentimes with a life jacket, Munson Badini said.

Here's a look at the past decade of water fatalities in Minnesota, according to the DNR.

Why are the numbers preliminary?

The accidents have to be reviewed and confirmed by the Coast Guard, Munson Badini said. Occasionally, they'll look at a case and decide it should be classified as something other than a boating death – a "non-boating drowning" or "other health condition," for example.

The DNR usually gets the Coast Guard's take by March.

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