Prepare Now for Safe Summer Boating

Summer will be here soon and with it will come many outdoor recreational opportunities.  If boating is something you or you and your family will do, then it’s time to think or rethink boat safety.  ​According to the National Safety Council, about 74 million Americans engage in recreational boating each year.  Most boat outings are fun times, but the good times can quickly turn otherwise if boaters are not vigilant about safety at all times.  The most common boat tragedies occur when someone falls overboard or a boat capsizes or collides with another boat.  The US Coast Guard statistics show that 7 out of 10 boating accidents resulting in death occurred due to operator error or lack of boating safety instruction.

The good news, though, is that saving lives and reducing injuries can be as easy as taking a boater safety course. That way, you familiarize yourself with operation basics and etiquette, as well as state and federal waterway rules. And, by taking the course, you may even be able to lower your insurance premium.  Some states actually require completion of a boat safety course in order to operate a vessel on lake and streams within the state.  Since this blog is written largely for audiences in Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota, I will make reference to requirements for these three states only.  (Additional information can be accessed at Boat Ed®.)  For these three states, the requirements are as follows:

Iowa – Education is required for those 12 to 17 years old who will be operating a motorized vessel over 10 hp or a personal watercraft (PWC) in Iowa.  Cost of the course is $29.50 with an additional $5 state fee.  Permits are issued by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  The course may be taken by anyone 12 years of age or olders, non-residents included.  Anyone under the age of 12 years may operate a vessel powered by a motor of more than 10 horsepower, including a PWC, only if he or she is accompanied by a person 18 years or older who is experienced in operating a vessel. Anyone older than 18 years of age may operate a motorized vessel or PWC without any restrictions.

Minnesota – Education is required for those 12 to 17 years old who are unsupervised and will be operating a boat over 25 hp in Minnesota. Education is also required for those 14 to 17 years old who are unsupervised and will be operating any personal water craft (PWC).  Anyone under the age of 13 years may not legally operate a personal watercraft (PWC) in Minnesota.  Those 18 years of age or older may operate a motorized vessel or PWC without any restrictions. Cost of the online course is $22.50 and may be taken by anyone 12 years of age or older, non-residents included.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will issue the permit to those who complete the course.

South Dakota – South Dakota does not require boating education.  The course may be taken to save on insurance or to operate a boat in states that require a card. Cost of the course is $19.50 with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks issuing the permit. There is no minimum age or resident requirement to take the online course. Anyone under the age of 12 years may operate a vessel powered by a motor of more than 6 horsepower only if accompanied by a person 18 years or older. Anyone under the age of 14 years may operate a PWC only if accompanied by a person 18 years or older.

Boat Ed® offers courses and tests recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard, approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and meet individual state’s certification standards.

Besides completing safety courses and being familiar with federal, state and local laws, life jackets should be worn rather than just stored onboard.  While most states have a mandatory life jacket law for youth, the Just Wear It Campaign advocates that everyone in a vessel should be wearing a life jacket at all times.  Life jacket requirements for the three states are as follows:

Iowa – Iowa law states “a person shall not operate a vessel in Iowa unless every person on board the vessel who is age 12 and under is wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket.” A life jacket must be worn when the vessel is underway, which means when a vessel is not at anchor, tied to a dock or the bank/shore or aground. A child age 12 and under in an enclosed cabin, below deck, or aboard a commercial vessel with a capacity of 25 persons or more is exempt.  The law became effective in 2008.

Minnesota – As of May 2005, Minnesota law requires a life jacket to be worn by children less than 10 years of age when aboard watercraft in Minnesota when the craft is under way (not tied up at a dock or permanent mooring).

South Dakota – Every person on board a PWC must wear a certified personal flotation device (PDF) at all times.  Children under seven years old must wear a PDF while on any vessel operating at greater than “slow, no wake speed” unless below deck or in an enclosed cabin.  Requirements do not apply to boats 12 feet or less in length without a motor of any kind.

There are many styles and kinds of life jackets available.  For more information on how to choose an approved life jacket appropriate for you, check out How to Choose the Right Life Jacket from the US Coast Guard.

To further reduce risk, the Coast Guard offers these tips:

  • Don’t drink: Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination
  • Get an annual vessel safety check
  • Know about carbon monoxide; this odorless, colorless poisonous gas is emitted by all combustion engines and onboard motor generators

The extra effort that goes into taking these kinds of precautions will help create fun-filled adventures for you and your family on the water.


Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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