It is refreshing when our elected officials stand together and work towards good public policy in a bi-partisan manner.
The Minnesota Legislature is currently doing just that as they consider legislation that would ensure boaters are responsible and educated on safety, operational and conservation best practices. 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 backed 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 boaters and lake-goers in Minnesota.
The new law will require all operators ages 12-plus born on or after July 1, 1987, to complete a boater education course and receive a watercraft operator’s permit. The program will set forth national approved safety standards with the opportunity for Minnesota-tailored messaging and content provided by key stakeholders working with the Department of Natural Resources. This education will focus on important issues like stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species, impacts of wakes, and towed water sport best practices. The legislation will also require an operator of any boat rental to receive a summary of statues and rules, instructions for safe operation, and to take a short exam prior to operating a boat. The Community of Minnesota Resorts worked successfully to ensure the requirements increase safety without overburdening businesses.
Minnesota is ranked second in the U.S. for registered watercrafts. In the past two years, 16,000 new motorized boats have been registered in the state. As a result, injuries are increasing. The U.S. Coast Guard statistics confirm 77% of boating deaths occurred with an operator who had no safety instruction. That number drops to 12% when the operator received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate. It is about time we update the outdated boater education program that only focuses on youth operators. People under the age of 18 are not buying new boats. The new legislation is a proactive approach that protects public safety, diverse recreational opportunity, and the ecological health of our lakes.
So many in Minnesota are excited about this bi-partisan legislation. I have been boating on Minnesota lakes since before I was born (my mother was pregnant with me when she and my dad were cruising around in boats in 1960). I have served as the mayor of the city of Greenwood for more than 13 years, and my family is blessed to live on Lake Minnetonka in the larger South Lake Community. I love seeing the lake being enjoyed by people of all ages across the state and beyond. When tragedy happens on the water due to poor boating safety, we are all affected.
I encourage our state elected officials to help pass this important boater education legislation into law. The education we require of our youth (which has proven to reduce incidents on the water), should be something all boat operators can rally behind. That’s just common sense.
As the boating season approaches, please remember to focus on safety and how best to operate on Minnesota’s amazing bodies of water.
Deb Kind is the mayor of Greenwood, Minnesota.