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Trying to make Minnesota boating safer, legislation would extend safety training to adults

Bob Timmons, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

Attempting to make the state's waters safer, proposals before legislators would require more Minnesotans to take a boater safety course before they could operate motorized boats and personal watercraft.

Currently, young people ages 12 to 17 must pass an online boater safety exam through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Companion bills taken up by the Senate and House this session would increase the age requirement to anyone born on or after July 1, 1987. (The proposal is in the House omnibus package.) Boating and lake association advocates, conservationists and law enforcement support the legislation and say the timing is right to bring operating watercraft in line with other regulations.

Already the state with the most watercraft per capita, Minnesota registered 831,000 boats in 2021, an increase of about 10,000 from 2020. Of the top five states by registration, Minnesota is the only one whose boater education rules don't apply to adults.

Conservation officers who enforce the laws on state waterways have witnessed the uptick in traffic and, with it, have issued more warnings to novices about issues like too few life jackets — or none at all, said Lisa Dugan of the DNR's Law Enforcement Division.

Dugan said Minnesota has an opportunity to "catch up."

"It does seem like there are a lot more new boaters," she said, "and it is interesting to think about getting the keys to a vehicle and not having any education before taking it out.

 

"So many people grew up in boating families and had that knowledge passed down, and it may not be happening as much."

Here are answers to several questions about the possible rules changes:

What is Minnesota's current regulation for operating a boat or personal watercraft?

Children younger than 12 can operate watercraft with 25 horsepower or less with no restrictions. Depending on the vessel's size, a 25 horsepower can propel it from 8 mph to 25 mph or more. There are no restrictions for anyone 12 to 17 either, but for any craft with more than 25 horsepower they must have either an operator's permit after taking a boating safety exam or someone at least 21 years old onboard near the controls.

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