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Not only are personal floatation devices, otherwise known as "life-jackets," a smart choice during the cold water periods, they are required for youth aboard a boat under the age of 10. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Boaters embark, lifejackets, too

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The unprecedented early open water season has arrived.

This could create an earlier business season for resorts, hotels, tackle shops, gas stations and dock installation companies. People are able to get on the water at one of the earliest points in history. After several months of winter, no matter how mild, we generally favor spring.

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Second, it gives more time for manufactures to sell their open-water wares following a short ice-season that was short on sales. This was due to poor ice conditions and angler awareness that even though it was mid-winter, ice escapades were risky for a large portion of the state.

Finally, the early ice-out feels like a record defying field goal in the final seconds of a football game. It's a winner and something that will be etched into the books. At least, that's what most people hope.

The reality of the early ice out is very complex. With very little rain and melting run-off, the lakes and rivers are low. Yet it's not like we haven't seen low water levels in the past.

The cycles of life from invertebrates, waterfowl and fish life will probably change in pattern. At least for this year. Your meticulously scribed log-book of when and where the fish bite may possibly work as well as it has in the past...or not.

But ultimately, anglers currently have the itch; that intrinsic desire to get out on the water despite the conditions, simply because the lakes are open.

Yet boater beware, a consideration for safety should accompany the angler, especially upon the earliest outing.

Water temperatures in the lakes are currently very low, nearly at the point of freezing.

Those anglers who are banking on an on-the-water excursion have some important planning to do before they launch their boat in March or early April (it sounds strange to even mention that time-frame for northern Minnesota boaters).

First off, with the super-cold water temperatures, a personal floatation device is imperative to your survival. And you actually have to wear the protective device for it to be advantageous. The consequences for being overly confident are heavy.

Swimming in the icy cold water, even if you're a seasoned athlete, can turn fatal without a life preserver or personal floatation device. Even a short swim could be very dangerous.

Wearing a personal floatation device is the most important consideration. But think about all of the additional planning to ensure you don't meet the icy water as well.

Make sure your boat equipment is functioning properly before you launch the boat. An operational engine, fire extinguisher, tools and ropes are also imperative.

A simple rope, however, can put you in danger too, if not careful.

Many boaters use a rope to aid in the launching process, but it should be put away in storage instead of left lying on the floor. Otherwise one misstep could result in a polar plunge.

Besides the obvious safety factors, it would be wise to double check your license and registration.

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