Thu, 09 Dec 2021

BRAINERD, Minnesota - Minnesota boat owners are storing their watercraft for the winter. But that isn't stopping the conversation about responsible water recreation. Groups calling for more safety requirements say it's about preserving lakes for future seasons.

Watercraft used for certain lake activities like wakesurfing is getting bigger and more powerful. That's led to concerns about large waves harming shorelines and vegetation.

Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said it's why his group wants the Department of Natural Resources to require a boat operator's safety certificate.

"Lakes are extremely complex and very fragile," said Forester. "So, the training in lake ecology that would come along with the boater operator certification I think could go a long way toward helping people protect and preserve lakes. "

He noted that Minnesota also just had its deadliest summer on lakes since 2005. The DNR says among fatalities, 17 stemmed from boating accidents.

The department is being asked to include the certificate language in its next agency bill in the Legislature. DNR officials say they support more education, but add it's too soon to say whether there will be talks to include it.

Supporters say it isn't about cracking down on boaters, as they understand how significant water recreation is to Minnesota.

Steve Frawley, chair of the government relations committee of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association, said he's worried about increased traffic from wakesurfing, and feels the training could be one of several solutions in ensuring that all residents enjoy the lakes for years to come.

"I think it would be very important to have some kind of a certification process so that people understand the impact of these boats," said Frawley, "especially on narrower and shallower lakes."

Current Minnesota statute does have permit language for teenagers. Forester called it a good first step.

But he said with boat sales increasing by 30% during the pandemic, it's clear there are new boat owners who could use some training.

"The boating industry is really innovative and has been changing a lot in the last few years," said Forester.

He said the sophisticated watercraft requires more skills and greater awareness.

The request calls for creating a working group to determine the parameters of a certification program.

Source: Minnesota News Connection

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