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
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
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)