Boating and Personal Watercraft Basics
Boating mishaps throughout the country have dropped steadily in the past decade, from 8,026 accidents and 4,442 injuries in 1996 to 4,789 accidents and 3,331 injuries in 2008, according to Recreational Boating Statistics 2008 from the U.S. Coast Guard [download report]. Unfortunately, the number of deaths has remained steady, between 700 and 800 per year. With July traditionally the worst month for boating accidents, here is a summary of rules, regulations and safety tips from the Department of Natural Resources’ Minnesota Boating Guide 2010. Visit the Boat & Water Safety home page online or download the brochure for more detail.
- Readily accessible life jackets for each person on board your boat (Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved). You’ll also need a Type IV throwable device for boats 16 feet or longer.
- Children under 10 must wear a life jacket in Minnesota whenever a watercraft is under way, and anyone operating or riding a personal watercraft (PWC) regardless of age.
- Navigation lights must be on from sunset to sunrise whether under way or anchored: white lanterns or flashlights on non-motorized boats, 360-degree white lights and red/green side lights on motorized boats.
- Fire extinguishers (B-I or B-II) are required for any boat with an enclosed engine, fuel tanks or other spaces.
- Ventilation is required on any motorboat with an enclosed compartment, and all gasoline engines (other than outboards) must have a flame arrestor.
- Horns or whistles are required on any boat longer than 16 feet.
General Operation and Rules of the Road
- Boaters age 12 or younger can operate a boat 25 horsepower (hp) or less with no restrictions in Minnesota, 25 to 75 hp with an adult 21 or older, and under no circumstances over 75 hp.
- Boaters age 12 to 17 can operate a boat 25 hp or less with no restrictions, 25 hp and over with a watercraft operator’s permit or with someone on board 21 or older.
- “Rules of the road” guide your actions when passing, meeting or crossing other motorized and non-motorized watercraft, commercial vessels or emergency watercraft [download rules].
- Waterway markers – buoys, signs or lights – signal unsafe areas, direct traffic, control speed, protect resources and provide other information. Download the Minnesota markers chart.
- Personal Watercraft (PWC) – jet skis, WaveRunners, Sea-Doos, etc. – are considered motorboats and must follow the same rules as well as additional regulations. [download here]
- Several other prohibitions and rules governing boat handling and behavior on the water are outlined in the Boating Guide.
Boating Safety 101
- Wear your life jacket: most boating deaths result from drowning when a boater falls overboard or the boat capsizes.
- Booze and boats are a bad combo, leading the way as the number one factor in fatal accidents. Boating while intoxicated (BWI) is also illegal, will go on the violator’s driving record, result in loss of motorboat operating privileges and could mean jail.
- Prevent collisions by being alert: most crashes with another boat or other objects are usually the result of inattention, fatigue and lack of knowledge about local water conditions.
- Take a boating safety course even though it’s not required for adults in Minnesota; statistics prove that the vast majority of boaters involved in accidents, injuries or death on the water have no formal boating education. Review boat courses here.