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- The ARC - California Edition -

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Personal Watercraft and the Brain

A total of 391 Personal Watercraft (PWC) accidents were reported during 1997 within California. This resulted in 276 injuries, 8 fatalities, and almost $750,000 in property damage.

The number of registered PWC’s account for only 17% of the registered vessels within the state, but they were involved in 42% of all accidents, 52% of all injuries, and 19% of all fatalities.

As a result, some very significant changes were made to the laws of California which went into effect on January 1, 1998 regarding the operation of Personal Watercraft (PWC).

Operator age, self circling devices, nighttime operation, and wake jumping rules were the key changes made to the boating regulations.

“Like most laws, these laws were passed because a few inconsiderate or ignorant operators ruined it for the majority”, according to Lt. Randy Trefry, supervisor for the California Park Service. Here is a summary of his report about the changes to the laws.

It now is an infraction for any person under 16 years of age to operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower. There are some exceptions including a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length, or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore, or two moored boats.

Very key to the enforcement of such a law is the provision that any person who permits another person who is under the age of 16 to operate a motorboat of more than 15 HP is also guilty of an infraction.

The new law now will require all persons operating a personal watercraft equipped with a self circling device switch to use the system. The regulation will mandate that the operator attach the lanyard to his or her person, or be subject to a citation. Nighttime operation of a PWC will now be prohibited even if the boat is equipped with navigational lights. Nighttime definition will be the hours from one-half hour after sunset, until one-half hour before sunrise.

Unsafe operation of a PWC will now include the distance behind another vessel. The recklessness and carelessness of a few PWC operators has now imposed a ban on jumping or attempting to jump the wake of another vessel within 100 feet of another vessel.

Other actions added to the definition of unsafe PWC operation include turning sharply so as to spray the person or vessel, or operating at a rate of speed and proximity to another vessel so that either operator is required to swerve at the last minute to avoid collision.

(PWC News; Dept. Boating and Waterways, 1998)


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