Jet Skiers fight limits, push safety

Posted: Friday, January 14, 2000

The Northwest Personal Watercraft Safety Project has developed the following code of ethics for craft owners and users. Dealers and salespeople are expected to have purchasers read and sign the code and give them a copy. It says they will:

Respect the rights of all users of recreational waterways.

Be considerate of other users at boat launch ramps and docks.

Follow the navigation ``rules of the road'' around all other vessels, including regulations prohibiting wake-jumping.

Give all anchored or drifting vessels plenty of room.

Operate at headway speed in ``no wake'' zones.

Be especially aware of swimmers, divers and other craft when approaching shore.

Not disturb wildlife and avoid areas posted for the protection of wildlife.

Not litter the shore or be careless with fuel or oil.

Volunteer assistance in case of emergency.

Base speed on equipment, ability, weather, wave conditions and other vessel traffic.

Pay close attention to noise produced and be aware of how others react.

Personal watercraft advocates are touring the state to make waves about efforts to restrict their use.

The advocates are trying to update the image some have of the craft commonly known by brand names such as Jet Ski and Sea-Doo.

``Most people have an image of a 16-year-old kid, out there screwing around and jumping waves,'' said Stephan Andranian, government affairs manager of the International Jet Sports Boating Association, which supports safe operation practices.

``In Alaska most people use personal watercraft for long-distance touring,'' Andranian said. In Anchorage, for example, he met owners who tour from Whittier to Valdez, camping along the way.

Andranian said the jet sports association wanted to let Alaskans know watercraft advocates are making an effort to solve problems such as noise and disruptive use.

``We plan to be pro-active to solve these problems,'' Andranian said.

Janice Plessner, public affairs supervisor of Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA of Irvine, Calif., accompanied Andranian on visits to Anchorage and Juneau this week. She and Andranian buttonholed legislators and recreational boaters about new watercraft technologies and codes of safety.

Personal watercraft are defined by the industry as water vehicles with engines, without propellers and ridden astride. The U.S. Coast Guard classifies them as inboard motor boats.

The industry has had tremendous growth since its birth in the 1970s, Plessner said, reaching peak annual sales of about 200,000 machines five years ago. In the past two years, sales have dropped to about 100,000.

About 1,300 Alaskans own personal watercraft, Plessner said, for a total of about 1,600 machines in the state.

John King of Seattle, project director for the Northwest Personal Watercraft Safety Project, said the joint visit was to fend off ``a small but vocal minority in Homer'' attempting to ban jet skis on Kachemak Bay.

Homer City Clerk Mary Calhoun said the Kenai Peninsula community's city council passed a resolution Nov. 22 urging the state to prohibit personal watercraft in nearby Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats.

``Both sides are vocal,'' Calhoun said.

Public meetings on the subject were arranged by the state Department of Fish and Game. Habitat Biologist Claudia Slater said she is still tallying the 300 to 400 written or verbal comments gathered, but opinions so far are running 3-1 for a ban.

Andranian of the jet sports association said that's the wrong approach.

``I don't think bans are the most reasonable approach to things,'' he said. ``Let's try some education first and see how things go from there.''

Plessner said some of the problems blamed on personal watercraft are being solved with technological improvements.

``We're paying attention to Environmental Protection Agency regulations that went into effect two years ago requiring lower emissions from all two-stroke engines, including outboards,'' Plessner said.

New watercraft use a direct-injection engine with a computercontrolled ignition system, resulting in better fuel efficiency, quieter operation and lower emissions, she said.

All new personal watercraft are being manufactured to meet a Washington state noise law, Plessner said. The law requires craft noise to be run below 75 decibels, about the same level as a vacuum cleaner

Alaska does not have a statewide law specifically addressing personal watercraft.

``Under existing laws they are considered boats,'' said Jeff Johnson, boat law administrator with the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

Several resource management agencies - such as the National Park Service - have regulations bearing on particular areas. Some of these regulations address habitat issues, Johnson said.

A bill dealing with personal watercraft safety was introduced Oct. 25 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, had nothing to do with the measure, said Steve Hansen, Young's communications director.

``He is generally opposed to the concept of establishing national standards on watercraft. He believes standards should be established on a state-by-state basis,'' Hansen said.

More information about personal watercraft technology and safe operation is available through Personal Watercraft Industry Association website.

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