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WAKE ZONE
Be Aware of PWC Ban Proposals
By Lori Wolak

Attention Personal Watercraft Owners
Are you aware that several states have been asked to selectively take away your ability to use your PWC on certain bodies of water? PWC owners need to be vigilant about protecting our right to use Americas waterways. We need to make sure that bans are not enabled which would prohibit the use of PWCs on certain bodies of water. PWC users have as much right to use the public waters as any other boaters.

Background Information
Personal watercraft (PWCs) are small inboard boats powered by a jet drive propulsion system. Personal watercraft, or PWC, is the common or generic name for several brands, which use names such as JetSki, Waverunner, Sea Doo, Wave Jammer, or Wetbike. Because of their relatively small size and absence of a propeller, they can accelerate and turn quickly and can be used in shallow water. Despite their small size, they are boats, not toys. They are classified by the U.S. Coast Guard as Class A inboard boats (boats less than 16' in length).

Bills giving localities the ability to impose PWC-specific bans have been proposed in several states recently, including Virginia, Maine and New Hampshire. Although none of these bills have passed, the issue remains. Legislature to prohibit PWCs is being proposed, which would take away owners ability to use their PWC in certain places. Families who have invested in a personal watercraft as an enjoyable and manageable alternative to a larger, costlier powerboat need to be alerted to the possibility that their access to the lake is threatened. Discriminatory efforts being championed by anti-boating groups across the country could affect them.

The Issues
PWCs are the fastest growing product line in the recreational
boating industry. You might ask what could be wrong with this vessel? You dont have to be wealthy to own one. They're easy to store and maintain. They cost less than large boats, and get better gas mileage. They can do all the things a small boat can do, such as tow kneeboarders, tubers or water-skiers. You dont have to have a huge truck or SUV to tow a PWC. An attractive alternative to conventional powerboats, PWCs have a lot to offer the recreational boater. So what is the problem?

In many cases the bad reputation that PWCs have is based on old data and ideas regarding them. Noise levels, which were complained about in the early days of the PWC, have been addressed and greatly improved by the manufacturers. Emissions have also been reduced to lower levels than the strictest requirements. Since 1998, PWC manufacturers have committed significant development resources to design and build vessels that are cleaner and quieter to address the issues brought up by the opponents to their use. Todays PWC is quieter and safer than previous models, so that they are now one of the most environmentally conscientious motorized vehicles on the water. Every new PWC sold today complies with all federal and state emissions and noise level requirements. Many are compliant with the EPA's 2006 marine engine standards as well as those outlined by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which are the most stringent emissions standards in the country.

The real issue seems to be that whenever there are different recreational pursuits in the same place conflicts tend to occur. One problem is the PWC image. Like any motorized vehicle, in the control of irresponsible or inconsiderate operators it could be dangerous. Thoughtlessness or carelessness by PWC operators can create a conflict with other waterway users, jeopardize public safety and cause environmental concern.

The Complaints
PWC owners are frequently thought to be inconsiderate of others. Opponents to the use of PWCs complain that drivers speed too close to swimmers. Complaints about noise and danger are common when PWCs share popular waterways with other boaters. Complainers also note excessive speed close to other boats, and speeding through mooring areas, near jetties and boat launching areas. These complaints are symptomatic of the long-controversial relationship between the owners of personal watercraft and traditional boaters.

 Homeowners complain the machines make too much noise, and often gripe that the personal watercraft users ride recklessly. Dangerous and careless behavior, such as wave or wake jumping near other boats is often cited. Some personal watercraft can reach speeds up to 70 mph or more, so can be dangerous in the hands of inexperienced operators. In one case recently, opponents stated that a crackdown is needed because newer, more powerful machines are too dangerous for young riders. They were requesting the minimum age for driving a PWC without an adult to be raised from 14 to 16. This idea has a lot of supporters, however, I have not found any factual data that proves that drivers in the 14-15 year age group are responsible for more accidents than any other age group. Remember, the same people who are likely to have an accident on a PWC are probably also likely to have an even bigger accident with a larger, traditional boat.

What Can You Do?
Whatever your level of experience as a PWC operator, it is important to be aware of and considerate to all other water users. If you own a PWC, please help make sure we can all continue to enjoy the fun. Besides being a courteous and safe driver yourself, be sure to carefully train guests who want to drive the PWC, and advise them of the local no-wake zones and other regulations before loaning out your boat. Don't forget to warn them that they must use throttle to steer! A useful checklist to review with them is posted at http://www.pwia.org/pdfs/PWC_Checklist.pdf.  The more careful and courteous riders are out there, the less likely there will be more anti-PWC proposals.

The PWIA (Personal Watercraft Industry Association, www.pwia.org) is an organization which represents the five major manufacturers of personal watercraft. This organization actively advocates for state and local governments to implement reasonable and sound guidelines for PWC use. They recommend mandatory boating safety education for PWC operators, as well as a minimum age of 16 to operate a PWC (18 to rent). They advocate PWC use only during daylight hours, and the establishment and enforcement of no-wake zones, operation at slow-no-wake speed within 100 feet of shore, anchored boats, piers, or swimmers, and strict enforcement of all boating safety and navigation laws. PWIA has put together proposed model PWC legislation which can be viewed at http://www.pwia.org/issues/modelbill.html. Contact the PWIA (info@pwia.org) if you hear rumblings of proposed PWC-specific regulations or bans. They will be happy to provide information to share with the local town council or other authorities. When local PWC owners write letters and speak up at town meetings, elected officials listen. The PWIA can also get involved directly when appropriate.

Boating Education
Many industry insiders believe that an educated boater is a safe boater. In response to the need to educate PWC operators, a free internet boating education course has been developed jointly by the United States Power Squadrons, Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., and the Northwest Personal Watercraft Safety Project, according to a recent press release. The course can be found at www.PWCSafetySchool.com and is a complete boater education course. It is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. It is unique in two ways: it is offered free of charge and it is the only online course that is specifically tailored to the needs of personal watercraft education. It has an online certification option for states and local governments to help promote safe and responsible use of personal watercraft on our increasingly crowded waterways. PWCSafetySchool.com is designed to educate PWC users and other boaters about the safe and responsible use of their boats, as well as help fulfill state boating safety education requirements. The sites content is based on the Jet Smart PWC boating education offered by the United State Power Squadrons. More than five years in the making, the online course consists of an education handbook and test with a series of multiple choice and matching questions covering all aspects of safe and responsible boating.

The U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a basic Personal Watercraft course. It is a one-hour introduction to the safety issues involved when operating a PWC. Because of its brevity, it is not approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) nor is it approved by most of the states which require formal instruction in order to operate a boat (the Auxiliary's Boating Safely, Boating Skills & Seamanship and Sailing Fundamentals courses are more appropriate for meeting legal requirements).

Other sites for more information on the safe use of PWCs are:
Personal Watercraft Illustrated Online

Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA)
National Marine Manufacturer's Association (NMMA)
United States Power Squadrons
Personal Watercraft Conflict Resolution
Northwest Personal Watercraft Safety Project
United States Coast Guard - Office of Boating Safety

American Watercraft Association
Americans for Responsible Recreation Access
Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A.

 

 


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