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Doug Leier: Think safety first when it comes to water recreation [Grand Forks Herald :: BC-OTD-LEIER-COLUMN:GF]

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Just like everything else this spring, the boating season is a little delayed. But as the air and water temperatures heat up, thousands will head toward the water to enjoy time fishing, boating, on personal watercraft, paddling a canoe or drifting along in a pontoon.

Whenever that first outing occurs, keep safety at the forefront. No matter how many fish you catch or the number of hours spent on a personal watercraft, a trip to the emergency room or worse will erase any amount of fun you had.

I've written extensively about the incredible expansion in the number of fishing waters North Dakota has to offer. That natural phenomenon has helped boost the number of licensed anglers and the time people spend fishing.

We've also seen a corresponding big jump in the number licensed watercraft in North Dakota. During the late 1980s, at a time when the state was experiencing a multi-year drought, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department listed about 30,000 registered boats. Today, that number is approaching 70,000.

With many more boats on the water, keeping yourself and others safe on the water is more of an issue than ever.

One of the ways that boat owners can add to their awareness of safe boating practices is completing the Boat North Dakota course offered by the Game and Fish Department.

While the course is a requirement for youngsters ages 12 to 15 who want to operate, by themselves, a boat or personal watercraft with at least a 10-horsepower motor, it's not just for kids. It's also worthwhile for new boaters and even as a refresher for operators with years of experience. Some insurance companies also offer a premium discount for adults who take the course.

There is no charge for the home-study course, which involves a self-paced workbook and 60-question test that is mailed in to the Game and Fish Department. The course is intended for anyone at least 11 1/2 years of age, but since North Dakota law does not allow youngsters to operate a watercraft by themselves until age 12, Game and Fish does not issue the certification card until the graduate turns 12 years of age.

To receive a copy of the home study course, email the Game and Fish Department at ndgf@nd.gov or call (701) 328-6300.

In addition to the free home study course, there is an online version that provides temporary certification immediately upon passing. The online Boat North Dakota course, unlike the home study version, is not free.

Links to the providers of the online course are available on the Game and Fish website at https://gf.nd.gov/education/boating.

Even if you've taken the course in the past or legally don't need the training, with the increased use, congestion and evolving ways of enjoying water recreation, brushing up on boat and water safety can help ensure the memories made this year on the water all are good ones.

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