Sheriff's Corner: It's important for youth to take boat and water safety classes

Cass County Sheriff's Office partners with Pine River-Backus School District and others to teach classes. An upcoming class is slated July 7 in Hackensack.

Tom Burch
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch

After a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are happy to report that our boat and water safety classes are back to being held in person.

For many years, our Boat and Water Safety Division deputies have partnered with local school districts and civic organizations to teach youth boat and water safety courses.

Over the years, Cass County has updated its fleet of equipment to be able to respond to the wide variety of needs that the increased recreational opportunities create for our county and sheriff’s office.

We have partnered with our local school districts to teach the course in the classroom setting and on the water for a practical exercise in the boat. Just this spring alone, we were invited to teach classes in the Northland School District, Pillager School District and the Pine River-Backus School District.

Over 200 students have completed the boat and water safety packet course and course test certifying them and received their boat and water safety certificate for legal operation.

We strongly believe that this education component and helping to familiarize youth to boating and water safety greatly reduces injury and incidents on and around the water.


Although we have covered this topic in previous articles, we often get questions about legal youth operation of boats and other watercraft, and think it’s important information to share.

A Minnesota Watercraft Operator's Permit is proof that you have met the mandatory boat safety education requirements for the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Watercraft Operator's Permit is good for life and does not need to be renewed.

Therefore, it is not a Minnesota boating license! You are not required to have a state driver's license to obtain a Watercraft Operator's Permit.

A common question is: Who needs a Minnesota Watercraft Operator's Permit?

  • Motorboats: In Minnesota, no one under age 12 may operate a watercraft with a motor greater than 25 horsepower unless there is a competent adult on the boat who is at least age 21 and is within immediate reach of the controls of the motor.

Note: No one under age 12 may operate a boat greater than 75 horsepower under any circumstances.
Operators who are between ages 12 and 17 may operate a boat with less than 25 horsepower without restriction. They may only operate a boat that has a motor greater than 25 hp if they have obtained their Watercraft Operator's Permit or if they are under the direct supervision of a person onboard who is at least 21 and within immediate reach of the controls of the motor.

  • Personal watercraft: No one under age 13 may operate a personal watercraft. Operators who are currently 13 must be under the direct supervision of a person onboard who is at least 21.

Note: If they have obtained their Watercraft Operator's Permit, direct supervision is not required, but they must have someone who is at least 21 observing them at all times.
For all those between ages 14-17 wishing to operate a PWC, they must either be under the direct supervision of a person onboard who is at least 21 or have obtained a Watercraft Operator's Permit.

By sharing this information and following guidelines and laws with your friends, relatives and/or summer guests, we can create a safe and fun watercraft and boating season.

An in-person boat and water safety training class will be held July 7 at the Hackensack Community Center, hosted by the Hackensack Lions.


For questions about the classes or to obtain a take at home packet for the program, email our office at

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office has a long history of promoting boat and water safety courses and is very thankful for our school district partners that invite us in each spring to teach the classes and the civic organizations that partner with us during the summer to bring classes to youth visiting during those months.

f you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

Tom Burch is the Cass County sheriff.

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