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Attention Personal Watercraft Owners
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 PWC’s is being proposed, which would take away owner’s 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.
In many cases the bad reputation that PWC’s 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. Today’s 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.
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.
Can You Do?
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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.
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 PWC’s are:
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