Waterway enforcement in a swarm of personal watercrafts
During the summer of 2012, PWCs gained increased public attention due mainly to a series of accidents involving high-profile victims
The Labor Day holiday is now upon is, and as it does every year, this three-day weekend signals the unofficial end to the summer boating season. There will be a lot of boaters out this weekend, but as summer turns to autumn, those numbers will quickly dwindle — so now is a good time to reflect on what we learned in summer 2012.
Personal watercrafts, or PWCs, are a constant source of concern for anyone charged with enforcing recreational boating regulations. These small, nimble craft are able to be launched and operated with little or no experience (if you don’t mind getting wet a couple times while learning) and capable of speeds in excess of 70 mph.
This is a potentially-deadly combination makes these craft one of the most dangerous on the water, and statistics show that they are more accidents than almost any other class of watercraft year after year.
By The Numbers
Further reviews of the statistics show that the major contributing factors include operator inattention, improper lookout, inexperience and excessive speed. Of course, if you are spending your days patrolling anywhere PWCs are allowed this can also be described as typical PWC operation.
While PWCs have been widely popular — and equally dangerous — since the 1990s, the summer of 2012 resulted in increased public attention due mainly to a series of accidents involving high-profile victims.
• In late May, singer Sean Kingston sustained a serious head injury after the PWC he was operating struck a Miami-area bridge
As is often the case, these high profile incidents have caused the media and public to question how these accidents could happen. Reports pointed to the need for licensing of operators and increased safety requirements. Unfortunately, this points to the bigger problem.
According to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) only seven states/territories have no requirement for motorboat operators to produce proof of approved boating safety instruction. None of the above accidents occurred in one of these seven jurisdictions. Since, according to the same USCG report referenced above, 78 percent of operators involved in accidents lack any formal boating education the various state requirements are unknown to many of the boaters who ply our waters on a regular basis.
State By State
• Only eight states require all motorboat operators to obtain mandatory training
This means there are whole classes of operators who either do not need any education or only need it when operating specific types of watercraft. To further complicate matters the requirements change from state to state, meaning an operator who is legal in one state may or may not be legal in a neighboring state or while on vacation.
So, what can we do?
Unfortunately, as officers all we can do is spread the word, educate boaters when possible, and issue citations when necessary. We all know that this will not stop unlicensed, untrained operators from speeding around the waterways — one bad turn from being another statistic.
As professional boaters, we can lend our knowledge and experience to those fighting to improve and standardize the boating education requirements.
While I have no illusions that boat accidents, or even those involving PWCs, will someday be reported as ZERO I am hopeful that they will someday be a lot less.
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