Boater education legislation deals with safety and responsibility on the water

It’s refreshing when our elected officials come together and work for good public policy in a bipartisan manner.

The Minnesota Legislature is doing just that as it considers legislation that would ensure boaters are responsible and informed about best practices for safety, operation and maintenance. Introduced as SF3392 and HF3787, the language is now included in the House Environment and Natural Resources omnibus bill (SF 4062).

This common sense legislation has broad bipartisan support. The bill is supported by the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, lake associations, marine manufacturers, law enforcement, marinas, boat dealers, resorts, cities and citizens of our great state of 10,000 lakes. We share a common goal: to increase the safety of all Minnesota boaters and lakegoers.

The new law will require all operators age 12 and older born on or after July 1, 1987 to complete a boater education course and receive a boat operator’s permit. The program will establish approved national safety standards with the opportunity for messages and content tailored to Minnesota provided by key stakeholders working with the Department of Natural Resources. This education will focus on important topics such as stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species, impacts of wakes, and best practices for towed water sports. The legislation will also require the operator of any charter boat to receive a summary of the statutes and rules, instructions for safe operation, and to take a brief examination before operating a boat. The Minnesota Resort Community worked successfully to ensure the requirements increased safety without burdening businesses.

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Minnesota ranks second in the US for registered boats. In the last two years, 16,000 new motorized boats have been registered in the state. As a result, injuries are increasing. US Coast Guard statistics confirm that 77% of boating fatalities occurred with an operator who had no safety briefing. That number drops to 12% when the operator receives a nationally approved boating safety education certificate. It’s about time we updated the outdated boater education program that only targets young operators. Those under 18 years of age do not buy new boats. The new legislation is a proactive approach that protects public safety, diverse recreational opportunities, and the ecological health of our lakes.

Many in Minnesota are excited about this bipartisan legislation. I’ve been boating Minnesota lakes since before I was born (my mom was pregnant with me when she and my dad were boating in 1960). I have served as Mayor of the City of Greenwood for over 13 years, and my family is blessed to live on Lake Minnetonka in the largest community in South Lake. I love seeing the lake being enjoyed by people of all ages throughout the state and beyond. When tragedy strikes on the water due to unsafe boating, we are all affected.

I encourage our state elected officials to help pass this important boater education legislation. The education we require of our youth (which has been shown to reduce incidents on the water), should be something all boat operators can get behind. That’s just common sense.

As boating season approaches, remember to focus on safety and how best to operate on Minnesota’s incredible bodies of water.

Deb Kind is the mayor of Greenwood, Minnesota.

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