PWC News

Division of Boating and Waterways 1997

PWC Task Force
Chuck Raysbrook, Director of the Division of Boating and Waterways
James Marriot
Delta Watercraft Club
Roger Hagie
Kawasaki Motors
Corp., USA
Shawn Stuebner
Watercraft Awareness
Safety Program
Lt. Randy Trefrey
California State Parks
Richard C. Tipton
Recreational Boaters
of California
David Johnson, Chair
Phadrea Bota
Megan Standard
Division of Boating and Waterways
(916) 322-1819

PWC Report from Sacramento

By David Johnson, Chairman, PWC Task Force
Dept. of Boating and Waterways

As we all know, the use of personal watercraft is the hottest thing in boating. The latest numbers from DMV indicate there are 141,000 personal watercraft registered in California, compared to "just" 114,000 from last year! In Los Angeles County alone, there are over 31,000 PWC. Obviously, with the large number of new persons riding these craft, there is strong need to provide boating safety, education and law enforcement programs throughout the state.

Last year, we had the opportunity to produce a 16 minute video on the safe operation of PWC. Filmed on location at Folsom Lake near Sacramento and Mission Bay in San Diego, we did a lot of boating and, specifically, rode a number of PWCs and talked to many boaters who ride these craft. From this experience, I came away with two impressions: (1) PWCs are FUN, but, (2) there are serious and increasing safety problems with respect to PWC users.

The fun part is that one can ride a small boat with little draft, be close to the water (literally), ride with your friends, manuever quickly and get there fast. The drawback is there are thousands of persons who are riding PWCs for the first time and they are simply not aware of the rules of the road and other safety precautions. This situation has led to a substantial increase in the number of personal watercraft accidents and injuries.

As an example, while we were filming on Folsom Lake, we witnessed one accident where an underage PWC operator slammed into two other young teenagers also on a PWC. The PWC that got hit was taking on water and could not operate so we ended up towing the disabled craft to shore. The kids that got hit were pretty shaken up. Lucky, though - - no broken bones or injuries.

This type of accident is absolutely preventable. How? Keep a sharp look out! Operator inattention in one the major causes of PWC accidents. Operators should keep a 360 degree awareness of other boaters in the water and should never ride too closely with their friends -- always leave a way out. Many PWC accidents are also caused by "radical maneuvers" such as wake jumping and spraying down other boaters. The point here is: always operate in safe manner and be considerate of other persons on the water and on the shoreline.

So, what can we do? Well, first, there are some important bills in the California Legislature that are concerned with the operation of PWCs. One is Senate Bill 347 (Thompson), which would prohibit certain unsafe practices by PWC operators such as spraying down another boater, causing another boater to swerve at the last minute, wake jumping within 100 feet of another boat, and night operation.

In addition, SB 545 (Rosenthal) would increase the minimum age for operating a motorboat greater than 15 horsepower from 12 to 16, with specified exceptions. A person 12-15 years of age could operate a motorboat if there were a person 18 years or older also on board. These bills are presently being considered by your representatives in the California Senate and Assembly and the Governor.

As your state boating agency, we are doing all we can to get safety information out to PWC users. We are presently developing a high school curriculum, our PWC safety film is presently being distributed, and we have doubled our law enforcement budget to help aid local counties and cities. We want to make our waterways safe for everyone. If you would like to share your thoughts with me, I would be pleased to discuss any and all PWC issues. I can be reached at (916) 322-1821. And remember -- keep a sharp lookout!

1996 California Boating Accident Statistics and PWC

DBW's analysis of 1996 boating accidents found implications for PWC safety that users should be aware of. In 1996, 850 boating accidents, involving 537 injuries, 56 deaths, and $2,241,700 in property damage, were reported to the Department. As of December 31, 1996, there were 141,213 PWC registered in California, comprising 16% of registered vessels. During the 1996 calendar year, 385 PWC-related accidents were reported, resulting in 298 injuries, 8 fatalities, and $508,300 in property damage. PWC account for 16% of all vessels registered in California, but were involved in 45% of all accidents, 55% of all injuries, 14% of all fatalities, and 23% of all property damage. Other findings:

  • Operator inexperience was the number one cause of PWC-related accidents, figuring in 49% of PWC accidents, notably operator inexperience in operating jet-powered vessels. Many operators do not realize that when they let off the throttle, they lose steering capacity, contributing to numerous accidents. Second was operator inattention (47%), followed closely by and excessive speed (43%).
  • 70% of PWC involved in accidents were not being used by the registered owner; 56% of the PWC involved in accidents were borrowed, and 14% were rented.
  • 69% of PWC accidents involved collisions with other vessels, most often another PWC.
  • In collisions with vessels other than PWC, the PWC operator was nearly 3 times as likely to be exclusively at fault.
  • PWC operators involved in accidents were more likely to be younger operators. The median age of a PWC operator was 24. The median age of all operators of all vessels involved in accidents was 31.
  • Nearly 1/4 of all PWC-related accidents involved PWC operators performing radical maneuvers just prior to the accident. These maneuvers included wake jumping, executing donuts (360 degree turns), playing chicken, or most often, purposely spraying another vessel. These maneuvers resulted in some very serious injuries as well as one fatality in 1996.
  • When two PWC collided, 44% of the cases involved operators who knew each other and were riding together. Most of these collisions involved two distinct types of activity prior to the collisions. The first type of activity, which resulted in 50% of the accidents, involved two operators traveling one behind the other. The operator in the rear was following at an unsafe distance and the operator in the lead made a turn without looking, and a collision resulted. The second type of activity, which caused 25% of the collisions, involved radical maneuvers which included wake jumping, donuts, playing chicken, or most often, purposely spraying another vessel.


The Department has completed production of a public safety announcement highlighting the dangers of PWC operators performing radical maneuvers, for distribution to TV stations throughout California, and a PWC safety video that on the rules of the road, operating instructions, and other safety information, for distribution to users educators, marine dealers, establishments that rent PWC, PWC clubs, and boating organizations.

The Department is creating two courses to train boaters in the proper operation of PWC, a high school PWC safety course, which will be available in December, 1997, and a PWC practical handling curriculum for all ages, focusing on operation and safe boat handling. It is designed to be incorporated into existing safety courses offered by organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, marine enforcement agencies, and aquatic centers. The development of this curriculum is scheduled to get under way in July 1997.

Invasion of the "Pocket Rockets"

By James Marriott, Member, PWC Task Force
Delta Watercraft Club

Six years ago, the average maximum speed of all PWC was about 35 miles an hour. A few were pushing 40 mph, but most were slower. Today the average is up around 50 mph, with some high- performance models hitting 60 mph off the showroom floor. And with after-market souping up, some can go even faster.

A great achievement in technology, many of you may think. Yes, but it comes with some unintended ill effects. As an avid rider with many years of experience, I feel that I could handle these high speeds in a safe manner, and yet they scare me. I am not afraid of going that fast, but of having someone else with little or no experience riding near me or a friend.

Anyone can walk into a local dealership and buy their own 60-mph "pocket rocket" and be on the water the same day. Picture yourself as that "anyone." This may be your first time on a PWC, and in no time at all, you feel like an "expert." You'll be doing 180's, 360's and other fun stunts. You may be cruising in a narrow river channel at top speed, enjoying the wind in your hair. You will continue to feel like an expert until something unexpected happens. Perhaps a boat comes around the river bend on a collision course with you. Perhaps the boat whose wake you were jumping stops all of a sudden, leaving you no time for evasive action.

The same problems existed back in the 40-mph days, but will likely worsen as the top speeds increase. I do not believe that we should lower the capacity, but I feel that we all need to be more responsible about the way we ride, and match our speed to our skills. We need to make sure that anyone we allow to ride our crafts is well versed in safe operation, and to (kindly) point out their errors before they injure or kill someone.

In a car, 60 mph may seem slow. But there's a lot of metal between you and other vehicles, and you have seatbelts, perhaps an airbag, and other safety gear to protect you. But your PWC is just an eight-foot-long piece of fiberglass with you sitting in the middle. There's nothing to stop you, if you hit another boat or the shore. No airbags, no seat belts, not even brakes. Sixty mph on the water is more like 100 mph in a car. Can you really handle a car at 100 mph?

If you are considering buying your first PWC or a second one for yourself or a family member, be honest with yourself. Do you or they really need one that does 60 mph? Do you or they have the skills and the maturity to ride it safely? If there's any doubt, consider buying one of the fine entry- or mid-level models--after all, until lately, they were the top-of-the-line, fastest machines on the market. Not only will you save a lot of money, but you may be saving a life!

Editor's note: The increasing speed capacities of PWC are a subject of concern within the boating community. Because of the rising number of PWC accidents in California, the increase in speed capacity has become an important safety issue. Although it has been argued that this increase is market driven, the Department is concerned because excessive speed is the third leading cause of PWC accidents. What do you think? Do you, as a PWC user, want ever-faster craft? How about if it's at the expense of safety? We welcome your comments on this important issue.

Club Corner

By Mark Denny, Government Affairs Supervisor
International Jet Sports Boating Association

The International Jet Sports Boating Association (IJSBA) is the world's largest membership organization for personal watercraft enthusiasts. Founded in 1980, the IJSBA's roots are in personal watercraft racing. The IJSBA began by sanctioning races for the growing number of personal watercraft owners. Today, the IJSBA sanctions a national tour of professional PWC racing, over 200 regional races and races in 29 countries culminating in the world championship Skat-Trak World Finals event at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

As the personal watercraft market has grown and expanded, IJSBA has grown with it. The largest growing segment of IJSBA's membership today is made up of recreational riders. For those members, IJSBA has tailored an attractive membership package. Call me at the IJSBA at (714) 751-4277, ext. 23 for more information.

What makes the IJSBA unique is its growing number of Charter Clubs. The IJSBA recognizes that part of the fun of PWCs is riding them with friends. Fortunately, many PWC enthusiasts already know this and have formed local associations of fellow PWC enthusiasts with whom they can get together and enjoy their sport. Many of these clubs choose to form an association with the IJSBA through its Charter Club Program.

IJSBA Charter Clubs are fun and active local groups of PWC riders. Charter Clubs hold fun events such as rides, poker runs and trips to new riding areas. They also are respected community organizations that raise money for charity, organize beach clean-ups and sponsor safety seminars that educate their members and others on safe boating. As grassroots groups, they are also effective at promoting a positive image of our sport and protecting waterways from unfair restrictions.

Below is a list of California IJSBA Charter Clubs. Find the club near you and join today. If there is no club in your area, call me at the IJSBA for help in getting one started.

California PWC Clubs

Aqua Addicts
Robb Adams
11360 Dartmouth Lane
Pomona, CA 91766
(714) 703-2377
Bandit Motorsports
Tony Alonzo
P.O. Box 178
Montebello, CA 90640
(213) 721-3510
Bay Area Jet Ski Pleasure Riders
Jacqueline Domnitz
80 Crestview Avenue
Daly City, CA 94015
(415) 992-4855
Central California Jet Sports Association
Teri Cosentino
30405 Yosemite Springs Pkwy.
Coarsegold, CA 93614
(209) 221-0792
Central Coast Jet Sports Association
Bill Butkovich
364 Monterey Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 467-3737
Club Splash
Steve Cloney
9066 Mirassou Court
Sacramento, CA 95829
(916) 689-1654
Dillon Beach Surf Pilots
Jeff Akers
P.O. Box 98
Dillon Beach, CA 94929
(707) 878-2504
International Jet Sports of the Bay Area
Don Bertone
338 Lathrop Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94134
(415) 543-9669
L.A. Sheriff's Dept. Racing
David Misch
P.O. Box 6219
Whittier, CA 90609
(310) 696-8821
Lake Berryessa PWC Club
Ed Hasbrouck
1755 E. Bayshore Road, #15
Redwood City, CA 94063
(415) 365-9602
Orange County Jet Sports Club
Glenn Bothwell
23071 Via Pimiento
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
(714) 586-3408
Orange County PWC Club
Chip English
P.O. Box 80273
RSM, CA 92688
(714) 538-8744
Delia Christian
P.O. Box 6075
Corona, CA 91718
(909) 354-5216
San Diego PWC Assn.
Christine Milton
17161 Alva Rd., #2732
San Diego, CA 92127
(619) 675-8291
Santa Barbara Watercraft Assn.
Timothy Gaasch
1258 Casitas Pass Road
Carpinteria, CA 93013
(805) 684-6350
Shasta PWC Assn.
John Heath
44 Hartnell Avenue, #299
Redding, CA 96002
(916) 365-7311
South Bay Jet Sports Assn.
Doug Hayes
1224 Curtner Avenue
San Jose, CA 95125
(408) 267-2572
Sunwest Sports Club
Joe Morabito
958 El Sobrante Road
Corona, CA 91719
(909) 735-7721
Ventura County PWC Assn.
Bruce Lewis
296 South Brookshire Avenue
Ventura, CA 93003
(805) 658-7712
Wave Wranglers
Anthony Vara
976 Avenue B
Calamesa, CA 92320
(909) 795-1964

DBW's Boating Education for High School Students

By Phaedra Bota
Education Unit

Boating Safely is a boating safety education course which was developed through a joint effort between two volunteer organizations dedicated to teaching boating safety, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons. In September 1993, DBW, which provides boating safety education curriculum to California schools, adopted the Boating Safelycourse for use as the high school element of its school curriculum. Along with course materials, each teacher receives an offer of assistance from the USCGA to provide consultation, a guest speaker or even a substitute teacher. Since its adoption, nearly 100,000 high school students have taken the course.

Due to accident statistics and the growing PWC market, DBW identified a need for a unit specifically addressing young PWC operators. So in 1995, Jet Set was born as a supplemental unit to the Boating Safely curriculum.Jet Setaddresses personal watercraft operation and safety issues in a clear and concise format for a young audience. Nearly 70,000 copies have been distributed to high school students.

Developed for the high school student, but used by adult boaters as well, Jet Set is now available to anyone who operates PWC on California waters. If you are interested in obtaining copies of Jet Set for yourself or your club, contact the Education Unit of DBW at (916) 445-2428.

A new high school curriculum is currently being produced. Despite the success ofBoating Safely and Jet Set, there is a need to maintain a fresh and appealing course for the high school audience. The new course will incorporate PWC information with the general boating topics. It's important for us to convey the message that personal watercraft are boats and must abide by the same rules and regulations that traditional boaters must follow. Schools can look for the new program to be available for Spring 1998.

Growing Pains

By Jim Marriott, Member PWC Task Force
Delta Watercraft Club

PWC have evolved a lot in the past ten years, from the days when only stand-up Jet Skis® were available, to today's wide variety of choices. The make-up of the sport's participants has changed, as well, from predominately young and male, to all ages, both male and female.

While these changes are good, we now have new factors to think about. PWC riding has grown to near epic proportions: about 33% of all boats sold in the United States last year were PWC. Such rapid growth has caused a lot of growing pains, both within the boating community and outside it. Waterfront landowners complain about our existence, as do some environmentalists.

There are several reasons for the conflicts. A lack of education about boating laws and etiquette on the part of some PWC operators is one of the biggest problems, as is the lack of common sense. Just as in any other sport or other event, there are rules that need to be followed. Some are written laws, while others are just plain common sense or courtesies.

You probably wouldn't appreciate driving along the roadways among thousands of others who have no knowledge of the laws of the road. Would you get in a car with an untrained driver? No. Would you get in the car with a drunk driver? No. Would you give the keys to your new car to your 10-year-old? Of course not.

Many of you probably agree with me, but how many of us have or would let a 10-year-old operate a PWC, especially one who has had no training? How many of us have or know someone who has operated a PWC after they have been drinking? We all need to think of PWC as more than "water toys." They can cause the same damage, injuries and deaths that a car can. We need to educate ourselves, our friends and our children before we allow them to operate our PWC.

Our actions speak for themselves, and then some. When a PWC rider spends his or her time riding recklessly, or annoys others, it affects all of us. Another boater will sit there and curse all PWC riders, the waterfront landowner who is tired of hearing the continuing noise of a rider who will not move on will call the police, the city council and/or his or her legislator. Do not ride in a fashion that will affect the rest of us, and if you see someone doing so, point it out to them. Peer pressure is the best weapon.

Whenever possible, try to do something nice for someone or something that will shine a brighter light on our sport. Tow in a disabled boater if possible; pick up litter around the water or launch ramp. Slow down, wave and say hello to those fishermen as you pass them. Let's kill all of them with kindness, rather then kill ourselves with stupidity.

As the number of PWC sales continue to grow, and they are expected to, we all need to police ourselves. We need to band together and work to be seen positively rather than negatively. You can join a local club, or start one yourself if there isn't one in your area. You can contact the IJSBA for more information on clubs. [Ed. note: See Club Corner in this issue.] If we fail to do this, I can almost guarantee you that those who dislike or do not know us will win. There will be more legislation and more sites we are banned from. Let's give a little effort today to save a lot later.

PWC User Study

By Roger Hagie, Member, PWC Task Force
Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA

The Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA) conducted a PWC user study to learn more about PWC owners. Owners from all 50 states whose model years were between 1991-95 were surveyed. Owners were selected from among owners of Arctco, Bombardier, Kawasaki, Polaris and Yamaha craft. A total of 11,500 surveys were mailed out and 26% were returned.

Following are some highlights of the completed study:

  • Eighty-five percent of the owners were male; 15% were female.
  • The average age of a PWC owner is 41.
  • Seventy-one percent of respondents were married, 21% were single, and 8% were divorced, separated, or other.
  • The average household income of those surveyed was $95,400.
  • Thirty percent of those in the study have taken a boating safety course.
  • The average number of years of experience in powerboat operation was 15. Even young operators (under the age of 24) have an average of 6 years of operating experience.
  • The average PWC owner rode his/her about 7 days per month during the 1995 season.
  • On a typical day of use, an average of 3 different people operated the craft.
  • On average, 9.2 gallons of fuel per day is used to operate a craft.
  • The vast majority of PWC operating (85%) was done on fresh water. Thirty-six percent of operation took place on large lakes, and 35% on small lakes. Forty-five percent took place in calm/rippled water, and 41% in light or moderate chop. Only 8% of riding was done on the ocean.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 owners (88%) are "extremely" or "very" satisfied with their PWC, and 86% are "extremely" or "very" satisfied with the sport.
  • The most frequent passenger on the craft was the spouse or significant other. In 3 out of 4 cases, the owner was the most frequent operator.
  • For most PWC owners (72%), a licensing law would have no impact on their interest in boating and PWC operation. For 18% of owners, interest in boating would decrease. For 7%, interest would increase.
  • Sixty-two percent of respondents have access to a home on the water. Twenty-seven percent own or rent a second home on the water, while 26% have a close friend or a relative with a house on the water.

And finally, fewer than half agree with the following statements:

  • I am concerned about the noise made by PWC. (44%)
  • Local regulations have curtailed the use of my PWC. (42%)
  • People in the area where I ride don't like PWC. (42%) I am concerned that the emissions from PWC will harm the environment. (31%)
  • PWC can harm wildlife. (31%)

NTSB Proposes PWC Safety Study

Washington, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board is proposing the most comprehensive study of personal watercraft ever conducted. The study will look at accidents nationwide in order to determine means of prevention.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there are 2.4 million PWC in operation nationally. In 1994, PWC were involved in 3,002 accidents, resulting in 1.338 injuries and 56 deaths.

The study would review State accident reports for all fatal accidents and for a sample of non-fatal accidents occurring during the study period. DBW will review the study when completed and report on the results here.

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