Minnesota state legislators are forging ahead with companion boater education legislation (SF3392, HF3787) which would expand the state’s existing youth operator requirements to eventually phase in all boaters. Introduced by Senator Carrie Ruud (R) and Representative Erin Koegel, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has thrown its support behind these bills in its larger effort to establish and increase boater education across the country.
Jill Sims, Great Lakes policy and engagement manager for the NMMA, recently penned an op-ed published in Duluth News Tribune, pointing out the bipartisan nature of the companion bills – a rarity at the St. Paul capitol – and calls on the legislature to adopt this safe and sensible legislation.
The op-ed may be read in its entirety below, or online at Duluth News Tribune.
As we quickly approach our beloved boating season in Minnesota, it is important to examine where our favorite pastime stands. Over the past two years, the number of Minnesotans embracing boating as a new recreational activity has rapidly grown, with the Department of Natural Resources reporting that Minnesota has added 16,000 motorized watercraft since 2019. Minnesota is a leader in boat registrations across the country, second in the nation only to Florida, with a total of 830,000 watercraft registrations last year.
However, unlike most other states, Minnesota does not require any training or safety education for boaters beyond age 17. Fortunately, our state’s elected leaders have an opportunity to fix this issue and make our waters safer for all.
Last month, the Minnesota Legislature introduced companion boater-education bills, SF3392 and HF3787, which would expand the current youth boater-safety education programs to eventually include all Minnesota boaters. The expanded boater-safety education program would educate boaters on best practices, including safe and responsible ways to operate their watercraft, while allowing them to continue to enjoy all the fun that Minnesota’s waters have to offer.
Unlike much of what we see in St. Paul, these proposed bills are bipartisan and share widespread support, from stakeholders to legislators alike. As we continue to see significant growth across the recreational-boating community, we with the National Marine Manufacturers Association believe it is our responsibility to look out for our community and establish safety standards so everyone can responsibly enjoy the waters for years to come.
This legislation offers an opportunity for our lawmakers to implement a much-needed and widely supported boater-education program, ensuring that operators are safe on the water and the best stewards of this natural resource. If passed, the new law would expand boater-safety education to promote a safe environment and deliver key messages to boat operators. The legislation would impact boat operators born on or after July 1, 1987, who will be required to take the boater-safety education course to complement our existing boating-safety laws and operating-age limitations. Furthermore, these bills would better align recreational boats with other recreational products in Minnesota. As it stands, major outdoor recreational products, including ATVs and snowmobiles, require safety training beyond youth operators, with the exception being watercraft.
The recreational boating industry has a long history of taking a comprehensive approach to safety, such as making boat designs safer through innovative, improved, and standardized technologies and educating boaters to equip them with best practices so they can adapt to a variety of situations on the water. The industry continues to advocate for common-sense policies that put boater safety first.
Additionally, the recreational-boating community has long been proactive in efforts to protect our waterways so that future generations and their families can continue to experience valuable time on the water. Each year our community contributes $742 million in conservation efforts, including funding for infrastructure and clean-water projects, wetland restoration, fish restocking, and boating-safety programs.
By building upon the industry’s conservation and education efforts by adopting safe and sensible legislation like SF3392 and HF3787, Minnesota’s waters will continue to provide a reprieve for those eager to escape to the outdoors. Straightforward education and training will improve safety and the conservation and general health of our waters.
It’s time to take the next step and expand boater-education requirements in Minnesota. At a time when recreational boating is experiencing record growth, our lawmakers have a duty to protect those on the water through prudent legislation.