Amid rush to Minnesota lakes, calls to require boater education get louder – InForum

Nisswa Marine sales manager Jeremy Wickcheck saw firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic pushed Minnesota residents to spend more time on lakes and rivers.

Over the past two years, interest in boating has grown by leaps and bounds, Vichek said, especially among families.

“We went through this period” How are we going to sell boats? ” on: “Wow, this is a great opportunity for people to spend more time with their family,” he said.

Fast sales mean that some people who buy boats have not grown up on the water – they have had to learn the ropes, speaking of marine terms. Wiczek spends a lot of time teaching boat buyers how to safely manage their new purchase as well as proper etiquette.

On the lake he is known to give respectful advice to other boatmen who travel too fast or too close to other boats. More often than not, they just don’t know anything better, Vichek said.

“It’s not necessarily that they’re trying to break the rules or trying to be a bad apple on a tree on the lake,” he said. “I don’t think they just don’t know.”

Wicchek and some other dealers believe it is time for Minnesota to start teaching people the basics of boating before they go out on the water.

Jeremy Wicchek, sales manager at Nisswa Marine, stands next to some of the ski boats and pontoons that were popular vendors during the pandemic. Vicchek says he supports the education requirement for boat operators to make boating safer and more enjoyable.

Kirsty Maron / MPR News

Minnesota is one of the five states with the largest number of registered boats – 830,000 last year. But it is one of the few states that does not require any training or education for adult boatmen.

Since 2019, Minnesota has added more than 16,000 motor vessels, said Adam Block, administrator of state law on boats at the Department of Natural Resources.

He said more and more boats – from planks and kayaks to powerful speedboats – are putting more pressure on Lake Minnesota.

“No one is against the possibility of a person going outside and relaxing,” Block said.

Minnesota requires youth ages 12-17 to take a watercraft safety course to legally operate a boat. Among the diverse coalition, including some industry groups and lake associations, there is a growing consensus that it is time to add similar requirements for adults.

The state already requires safety training for snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles for operators born after a certain date.

Minnesota has more boats than any of them, but the boats behave the least like a traditional car, Block said.

“Compared to an ATV, a boat doesn’t have brakes. And if you don’t ride, you usually don’t get any reaction from the steering,” he said. “It’s a concept that people sometimes have a hard time imagining if they haven’t been exposed to it.”

Today’s boats are also bigger, more powerful and hold more people, which gives a lot of distraction opportunities, Block said.

“There aren’t many vehicles with a dozen people,” he said. “If you drive a bus, you have a different level of training and a license. But that’s not the case.” the truth in the pontoon ”.

There were 17 deaths in Minnesota last year, the most since 2015, indicating that boat safety is evolving in the wrong direction, Block said. Alcohol intoxication is a leading factor contributing to boat accidents.

Many lake dwellers also support the education requirement of boaters, tired of inexperienced or careless boaters who drive too fast or too close to shore, docks or other boats.

Some lake associations have also expressed concern about the growing popularity of wakesurfing boats designed to create a big wave for surfing behind. Large quilts can cause shore erosion and other damage.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that wakesurfing boats should be at least 500 feet from shore so that their waves are scattered to the same level as on traditional boats.

The bill, which required wikisurfing boats to stay at least 200 feet from shore, failed to get a position in the legislature last year.

Many fans of the lakes still hope to see restrictions on wakesurfing, but believe the education requirement is more likely to pass and can help resolve some conflicts.

Jeff Forrester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, suggests a training course that will cover not only the safety but also the environmental impact of boating.

“When the wake leaves the back of their boat, they don’t think about where it’s going and what it can do,” Farester said. “We need to rebuild it in a way that doesn’t deplete the resource over time.”

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Professional wakesurfing Noah Flegel is surfing behind a wake boat on Lake Minetonka in Mound, Minnesota.

Christine T. Nguyen / MPR news file photo

The Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations supports the need to educate boatmen, said board member Tom Watson, a seasonal resident of the popular Sig Lakes chain north of Brainerd.

Watson said the requirement to educate boatmen does not solve all the problems, but has support from groups that do not always agree.

“While it may be childish steps, at least it’s moving forward,” he said.

There are limitations, Watson said, including how effectively the DNR can meet that requirement.

It is also unclear whether this will apply to resorts, boat rental companies or boat exchange clubs, whose popularity is growing.

It may seem strange that the boat industry will support more rules.

But Matt Grun, president of the Maritime Retailers Association of America, said educated boatmen are likely to be safer lifelong boatmen who feel comfortable on the water.

“It boosts your self-confidence and reduces the risk of mistakes – hitting a dock, another boat or something like that,” Grun said.

Jill Sims, manager of policy and liaison at the Great Lakes National Marine Association, said more people working from home, spending time in cabins on the lake and on the water, there is a collective interest in making boating safer.

“With such an increase in usage, we want to keep people afloat,” she said. “We want to help them be safe on the water and we want them to be good water managers too. So it seems the time has come. ”

Wicchek thinks some of his customers at Nisswa Marine may complain that they need to take an online course, but most won’t mind.

“I think it will be a collective way for everyone to get the best experience on the water,” Vikcek said.

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