Lawmakers Want to See Mandatory Boating Safety

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Madison: With more than a million boats on Wisconsin's lakes and rivers near misses are becoming more and more common.

Dick Estes has been fishing for a long time, and he's gotten used to boating defensively. "I usually watch what everybody's doing around me and keep an eye on them, and get out of their way if I have to."

State lawmakers would like Dick to be able to relax a little more on the water. That's they they're pushing a bill that would require all kids born after 1989 to take a boating safety course before they operate a boat or a jetski.

24 people died in boating accidents last year.

"This is wrong. We already know that most boating accidents that occur are a result of a lack of knowledge of safe boating practices," says Rep. Doc Hines (R-Oxford), a sponsor of the bill.

A prime example is the 2003 death of Brian Heiser.

"Brian was struck by a personal watercraft driven by an individual with virtually no boating experience and no boating education" says Hines.

"A jet ski hit Brian and threw him 10 feet in the air, causing him internal injuries and head trauma," says Brian's mother Ronda.

Brian's family is working hard to get this law done in his memory. "I don't want another family to go through the same heartache that we are," says Ronda.

Under current law, once you turn 16 you don't need any boater safety education. This bill will impact everyone born after 1989, even tourists.

The DNR says nearly half of all boats are from out of state. "And it's growing. That's a good thing for Wisconsin from a tourism standpoint that it is growing. It also is a bad problem because there are more problems out there because there's more people without education," says Bill Engfer, DNR Director of Recreational Enforcement and Education.

The DNR plans to make the boating safety course available online to make it easier for everybody to take the class before hitting the water.

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