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Sen. Carrie Ruud: We need to improve boater safety in Minnesota

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, discusses boat and water safety

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State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point

The growth of the boating industry has been incredible. Minnesota ranks first in the nation in registered boats per capita, and Minnesotans own about 7% of all registered boats in the United States.

Our state is also fifth in the nation when it comes to total boat sales.

In recent years, Minnesota saw a $1.1 billion increase in powerboat and accessory sales. We are expecting increased sales and boating recreation numbers this year. As Minnesotans increase their use of watercraft, it's important that we ensure they are being operated safely and effectively, reducing the risk for any potential accidents.

I have introduced legislation that focuses on boater safety so we can address this issue. Our state has seen a steady increase in boating accidents and boating-related fatalities throughout the last decade. We had a record low nonfatal boating accidents in 2014, but that number has since doubled.

Yet Minnesota only requires boaters ages 12-17 to take a safety course but does not extend this requirement or any other safety requirements to adult operators. Most states already have some form of safety requirements in place for adults, and it’s time we follow suit.

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My legislation requires the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources to establish a safety course and testing program for operating watercraft. Minnesota already requires that adults take exams to operate cars, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

It only makes sense we add a safety course for watercraft. This course would have to be approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and would be available online, ensuring accessibility to everyone.

This legislation will make the boating industry safer and more enjoyable. Many new boat owners just don’t know the rules - they are not necessarily trying to be disrespectful, but their lack of knowledge leads them to boating too fast, creating disturbing wakes or wandering too close to other watercrafts and shoreline.

If we required completion of a safety course, we could help teach new boat owners how to operate their crafts safely, without sacrificing any of the fun aspects of boating. Minnesotans want to enjoy their lakes, but we want people to recreate safely and respectfully.

Requiring a boater safety course would be good for all parties: It would increase the confidence of boat operators, would reduce accidents and would keep our lakes safe for recreation.

It’s time for Minnesota to get on board with boater safety requirements.

State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, represents District 10.

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