As the number of accidents involving personal watercraft continues to increase, safety experts are realizing that these accidents are not always due to operator carelessness.
Concern is being focused on the performance oriented, single-rider models that are designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the craft as opposed to in it. They are sold under many brand names, but they are commonly called “jet skis.”
Like bicycles or motorcycles, they need a certain amount of forward motion or speed to become stable. On some types of jet skis, a rider cannot achieve full control and steering until the craft is going fast enough to rise above the water or plane — and some do not plane until they are at or near full speed. This requires even inexperienced riders to operate at high speed to have maximum control!
Although riders may want to keep a proper lookout in all directions, this may be impossible for some beginning riders. They may have to concentrate so intensely on controlling performance that they are forced to look only straight ahead.
With higher speeds, water spray will further obstruct the rider’s narrowed field of vision. At the same time, engine and wind noise will significantly limit the rider’s ability to hear what is going on around him.
It should come as no surprise that collisions account for most injuries and deaths on jet skis — or that the rider in these accidents is frequently a novice who has just mounted the jet skis.
A serious question exists as to whether manufacturers of jet skis and similar personal watercraft are providing adequate warnings and instructions for their safe use. Recently, manufacturers increased their minimum recommended age for an operator to 16. Operators are further encouraged to:
- First practice in isolated areas
- Ride only during daylight
- Wear a personal flotation device
- Wear a helmet