By Chris Bank
It's no surprise that in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” many of our favorite recreational activities take place against the backdrop of Minnesota’s abundant bodies of water.
With more than 820,000 registered boats across the state — amounting to roughly one boat for every six Minnesotans — sports like fishing, water skiing and wake surfing are widely enjoyed by many throughout the summer season.
Over the last few years, as many of the water activities enjoyed in our state have taken off in popularity, there has been a growing focus on the need to better understand and recognize the impacts of wakes produced by watercraft of all sizes on both our recreational waterways and surrounding communities.
Following months of civic dialogue, in a bill introduced last week in the Minnesota Legislature, stakeholders from across the region have officially come together for the first time to put forth a practical wake regulation that protects our communities, homeowners and boaters alike.
HF 3770 and SF 3624 would put in place a 200-foot setback distance from shores for all wake-surfing activities, regardless of type or watercraft, in the state of Minnesota. This proposed setback length — equivalent to that of a hockey rink — is clear and easily identifiable, making it an effective way for individuals to know when they are a safe distance from shore.
This development is exciting for me — not only as someone whose family enjoys boating as a pastime, but also as a small-business owner who makes a livelihood as a marine-part manufacturer. The bill balances being a good neighbor with positioning our local municipalities to reap the significant economic impacts of boating in our state, which generates upward of $3 billion annually and creates more than 10,000 jobs.
Most important, a 200-foot setback distance is sensible because it addresses concerns over environmental impacts on shorelines from homeowners and local residents. A leading wake scientist found that when boats are operated 200 feet from shore, the wakes they produce do not carry enough energy to have a significant impact on most shorelines. With this bill, families like mine will be able to pursue their favorite activities on Minnesota’s lakes with the peace of mind that they’re helping to protect our natural resources for generations to come.
I recognize that this measure alone isn’t enough to guarantee widespread awareness of responsible boating behavior. A new setback measure needs to be paired in tandem with ongoing education efforts, many of which the boating industry and regulators have already jump-started over the last several years.
For example, the “Own Your Wake” campaign by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds boaters about safe boating practices regularly by working with marinas, boat dealers and others to spread the word about wake education and safety.
Nationally, the Water Sports Industry Association is an active advocate of boater education through its “Wake Responsibly” campaign, which includes a boater pledge and exam to test knowledge of best practices.
In addition to these broader efforts, a number of local boat dealers throughout Minnesota provide regular training sessions for customers after any boat purchase, in addition to distributing supplementary educational materials.
The introduction of HF 3770 and SF 3624 affirms the notion that the 11,842 lakes scattered throughout Minnesotas have become invaluable recreational and economic assets to many who call the state home, as well as to lake visitors who come from all over the country.
This effort also reflects the powerful outcomes that can be reached when a diverse group of stakeholders is able to reach a common-sense agreement that ensures that communities, homeowners and boaters are equally positioned to enjoy our resources for years to come. I look forward to working with policymakers to make this measure a reality.
Chris Bank is a longtime resident of Minnesota and lives along Lake Minnetonka. He is the founder of CrossPoint Marine Co. — a boat lift manufacturer for tow and surf boats - and is a life-long boater, watersports enthusiast and competitor.