It’s no surprise the Land of 10,000 Lakes leads the nation in per capita boat ownership. But with more than 600,000 motorized watercraft and counting, Minnesota waterways are increasingly congested, requiring additional skill for safe navigation.
Seeing the number of Airbnb rentals springing up on her lake, Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL-Spring Lake Park) said it would be nice if people not only knew the rules but boating safety and etiquette as well.
Koegel sponsors HF949, which would phase in watercraft operator education and permit requirements for people age 12 and up and establish requirements on motorboat rental businesses.
The bill, as amended, was approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday. It now goes to the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
Per the proposal, “The commissioner must issue a watercraft operator's permit to a person 12 years of age or older who successfully completes a water safety course and written test … or who provides proof of completing a program subject to a reciprocity agreement or certified by the commissioner as substantially similar.” Youth ages 12 to 17 must currently complete a water safety course to operate motorized crafts, but not adults.
Further education saves lives, said Adam Block, a DNR conservation officer.
Rental shops would have to provide a summary of boating regulations, and their customers would have to complete a short exam to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft like a jet ski.
The average age of boating fatalities increased after Minnesota instituted youth education requirements and the average number of non-fatal boating accidents were cut in half, from 148 to 71 between the 1990s and the 2000s, according to information provided by bill supporters.
Beside safety information developed in conjunction with the National Association of Boating Law Administrators, boating education would likely include Minnesota-specific information such as the spread of invasive species or impact of wakes.
The question is why boating permits aren’t already required, said Tom Watson, who serves on the board of directors for the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations.
Going out on some lakes is taking your life in your hands in some cases, he said, adding he’s seeing more conflict on and around lakes. Education will make boating safer for those on docks and shores as well as on the water.