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Doug Leier, Published May 29 2012

Leier: Enjoying open waters is about cooperation

No matter where in North Dakota you call home, finding a place to wet a line is not too far away.

While the big waters like Devils Lake, Sakakawea, Oahe and the Missouri River might require a longer trip, there’s also spots like Brewer Lake in Cass County, Lake Metigoshe north of Bottineau, Dickinson Dam, Jamestown Reservoir, Davis Dam, Lake Darling ... the list is long and provides variety in both scenery and fish species.

With a few exceptions, North Dakota’s public fishing waters are also North Dakota’s public boating recreation waters, and we’re entering the time of year when water recreation starts to increase significantly.

I know many anglers feel their blood pressure rise just at the sound of a personal watercraft, even if it isn’t anywhere near their boat. On the other hand, many canoeists or kayakers have had to ride out the wake created by a fishing boat speeding by a bit too closely on its way from one location to another on a calm summer evening.

We’re fortunate that North Dakota’s waters are open to a variety of recreational uses. While we all like to have enough space so we can relax and stay safe, sometimes things can get a little crowded – at boat ramps and out on the water.

And if you think things seem a little more crowded over the past several years, you’re probably right. Just in the last six years, the number of boats, pontoons and personal watercraft registered in the state has increased by several thousand, and that doesn’t include canoes and kayaks which do not require registration unless you put a motor on them.

Most of the time, the outdoors provides us with our expected recreation. But I also understand that uses sometimes conflict with each other. Over the past decade or so, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has received significantly more input from people relaying concerns about safety and perceived conflicts.

Sometimes the concerns relate to law violations, and sometimes the activity is perfectly legal but still considered unsafe or inconvenient by some.

The legal issues are covered in North Dakota’s boating regulations. Here’s a short rundown of some specifics relating to the more prevalent questions and concerns we hear.

E No motorized boat or personal watercraft may pass within 100 feet, at greater than slow or no wake speed, of a person fishing from a shoreline, a swimmer, a swimming or diving raft, or an occupied, anchored, or non-motorized vessel.

E Any motorized boat or personal watercraft must have an observer on board while towing a skier, boarder or tuber.

E Motorized watercraft may not chase or harass wildlife, or navigate through emergent or floating vegetation at other than slow or no wake speed.

E Motorized vessels may not operate in a manner that unreasonably or unnecessarily endangers life, limb, or property, including weaving through congested traffic, jumping the wake within 100 feet of another watercraft, or in any other manner that is not reasonable and prudent.

While many boating regulations put greater responsibility on watercraft traveling at the highest speeds, it’s a good idea for operators of anchored or non-motorized vessels to avoid high-traffic areas if possible.

And one more note: There is no law establishing a time limit for launching or loading a boat at a public access. If someone is taking longer than expected, ask if they need help. Our public waters are a shared resource.


Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email:dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com