Generically known as Jet-skis, the brand name of the largest manufacturer, PWCs are wildly popular on area lakes and rivers. Sort of like aquatic motorcycles, PWCs are fast, fun, and easy to operate. They're also considered an inexpensive alternative to motorboats, and are easily maintained and stored. The industry has soared in recent years, and use is up, especially in inland waters.
Like so many recreational craft, not all owners are as responsible as they should be, and children as young as six are sometimes spotted zipping around on the back of PWCs three or four times the size of the child. The legal limit is now 12 years of age. Not only are operator size and strength important considerations, but good judgment is vital when operating a PWC.
House Bill 702 will hopefully make things a bit safer for jet-skiers, swimmers, and everyone who enjoys a day on the water.
If okayed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the bill would become law September 5. It restricts PWC operation to children 14 and older, but will grandfather in those who are 12 or older by the effective date. The bill also would require operators 14 or older to either pass a boating safety course or have an 18-year-old on board with them.
The bill has major support from the personal watercraft industry-in fact, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association's own guidelines call for a minimum age of 16 to operate PWCs, and 18 to rent one for operation. The Association also calls for mandatory boating safety programs emphasizing PWCs, and sunset curfews for young operators.
North Carolina has always led the way in boating safety for young people. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission offers a boating safety course to every public school in the state, for free, and has for more than 20 years. Some PWC instruction is already part of the course, and we are sure that if HB 702 passes, PWCs will receive even more attention.
Boating and PWCs can be fun, relaxing ways to spend the lazy days of late spring and summer. Still, safe operation is a must for riders of any age.
One of the two PWC collisions that occurred at White Lake last year involved a young person. While tragedy was averted in that case, the end result could have been much worse.
We hope HB 702 gets a quick passage and the required stroke of the Governor's pen, even if it will mean a few long faces and cries of "Awww, Mom!" at the jet-ski ramps.