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Boat Drivers Would Need To Pass Safety Course Under Proposed Bill

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A group of lawmakers and activists are working to make Minnesota's lakes safer.

"We just want to make sure that, you know, people kind of know the rules of the lake and are doing their best to keep each other safe," said DFL Rep. Erin Koegel.

Minnesota currently requires no safety or education course for adult operators. Koegel and others have authored a bill that would change that for people under roughly the age of 35.

Kids who are ages 12 to 17 must pass a boating safety exam to drive one.

Tim Sonenstahl, a co-owner of Wayzata Bait and Tackle, thinks it's a good idea.

"A lot of people out here carelessly driving boats," he said. "You have to have a driver's license to drive a car. It's as dangerous as a car, you know, probably more dangerous because you're out in the water."

Lake Minnetonka Boating
(credit: CBS)

Boating safety and conservation advocates support the legislation. Jeff Forester, the executive director of Minnesota Lakes and River Advocates, can easily name several examples of dangerous behavior, including getting too close to buoys, not using life vests, and getting too close to other boaters.

"Some of these bass boats can go 70 miles an hour," Forester said. "These are powerful watercraft on our lakes now."

Minnesota has the second-most registered boats in the U.S., with nearly one boat for every six people. Among the hundreds of thousands of boats, at least 10,000 are newly registered in the last year.

"We really need to make sure that we're introducing new people to boating but making sure we're doing it in a safe way and respecting other people on the lake," Koegel said.

If the bill passes, the law will go into effect the summer of 2024.

In Wisconsin, teenagers 16 and older must pass a safety course to drive a boat on their own.

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