With the 2022 legislative session right around the corner, we encourage state lawmakers to resist advocating for hastily crafted rules and one-size-fits all lake regulations regarding Minnesota’s watersports. efore Minnesota jumps into making hastily crafted rules and one-size-fits all lake regulations regarding this new water sport, we would be wise to do what many other lake associations and state regulating agencies have done through many years when faced with boating innovations: encourage education among boat owners and demand courtesy and common sense from boaters of all types.
By Annette Meeks
For the Star Tribune
The 2021 Minnesota Wakesurf Championship on Lake Minnetonka kicked off July 16 with two wake surfing group events.
Shortly after Jesse Ventura shocked the world and became governor-elect of Minnesota, his transition team asked me to present a series of bold policy recommendations for the new administration to consider. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for a think-tank staffer who had spent the previous year studying the entirety of state government and producing a policy blueprint for the incoming administration.
Ultimately this project, which consisted of 21 task forces with over 150 volunteers from all walks of life, produced over 201 recommendations on how state government could run better, more efficiently and with better results for citizens and taxpayers.
It’s safe to say that my first meeting with the governor-elect didn’t go as I had planned.
Soon after I began my presentation, Ventura interrupted me and asked me what ideas I had “on Jet Skis.” I looked up from my prepared text to ask, “Jet Skis?”
“Yes,” he said. “They’re trying to ban them from my lake and I have two of them that we like to ride around on. They’re fun, and some of my neighbors don’t like fun.”
That was 1998, and Minnesota lakes soon became home to thousands of personal watercraft (PWC) or Jet Skis — so much so that, at its peak, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated nearly 9 PWC registrations per 1,000 Minnesotans. And, as Ventura warned me, they soon became an issue on thousands of lakes of all sizes.
Today? Jet Skis peacefully coexist on lakes all across the state.
With new watercraft comes a time of education about how to extend courtesies to other boaters, allowing all of us to have fun on the lakes.
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Minnesota is home to some 834,974 boats — the second largest number of boats registered in the nation. The DNR estimates that motor boats “make up 68% of all registered boats in Minnesota” and sales figures show that bigger pontoons and faster boats are rising in demand as well as personal watercraft.
In recent years, kayaks and other types of nonmotorized boats have also increased in popularity.
While we all can’t afford lakefront property, many of us are able to afford some sort of watercraft. Nationwide, 62% of boat owners have an annual household income of $100,000 or less.
Boats aren’t just recreation in Minnesota — they contribute to our economy. Nearly 43,000 Minnesota jobs are connected to the recreational boating industry, generating an estimated $5.46 billion in annual economic impact to our state’s economy.
For many of us who follow public policy, it appears that about every 20 years a new invention occurs that allows even more people to have fun on water while driving others to complain and demand government intervention. That trend likely started 99 years ago in Lake City, when Ralph Samuelson strapped two boards to his feet and had a power boat pull him along, sometimes at speeds greater than 80 mph. Imagine how those on the shore felt when they witnessed the first water skier racing by.
Nearly 20 years later, another Minnesota entrepreneur “invented” what has become a fixture on many lakes in Minnesota — the pontoon boat. Gov. Ventura will happily tell you how controversial Jet Skis were when he purchased the first pair for his family. And yet somehow, through the years, we’ve all figured out how to get along.
The latest group churning up controversy in water sports are wake surfers. These boats are designed to make impressive waves that allow surfers to ride behind the boat without a tow rope. So popular is this latest family water sport that dealers cannot keep the boats in stock: Several Minnesota boat dealers reported earlier this spring that they were already taking orders for 2022 delivery for wake boats.
The concern about wake boats is much the same as we’ve heard in the previous 99 years since water skiing started churning things up on the water front: they make too much noise and the wake surfers aren’t courteous to others who are also enjoying the lake.
A few areas have attempted to regulate wake surfing and have instead created a wave of unintended consequences.
Oregon officials banned wake surfing on part of the Willamette River. In the process of keeping wake surfers off the river, they also now have to keep water skiing and jet skiing off it, too. Other “tow sports” including tubing are also prohibited from parts of the river as a consequence of trying to rein in other people’s fun.
Before Minnesota jumps into making hastily crafted rules and one-size-fits all lake regulations regarding this new water sport, we would be wise to do what many other lake associations and state regulating agencies have done through many years when faced with boating innovations: encourage education among boat owners and demand courtesy and common sense from boaters of all types.
We don’t want to be the state that bans fun.
Annette Meeks is CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.