By Wayne Spivak, ADSO-CS 1SR
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
Personal Water Craft
- three words that elicit such a wide range of emotions to those of us
who participate in recreational boating and recreational boating
safety. Just three little words and an even shorter acronym – PWC, one
would have never suspected!
Ask at any public
boat ramp or marina what people think of PWCs and you'll hear
everything from "greatest invention since the outboard motor" to "they
should be shot on sight". Obviously, we don't want to encourage people
to violence, but we also need to put PWCs, their use, and misuse in
the proper perspective.
Cars vs. Motorcycles
The PWC issue is akin to the car vs. motorcycle controversy that has
raged ever since motorcycles were introduced. Millions of Americans
not only enjoy their motorcycles, but also drive them responsibly.
But, as with any tool, toy or object, there are those who do not.
These are the same people who weave in and out of traffic to get
ahead. It's the same people who speed like madmen, at dangerous
speeds, and are a danger to themselves, their backseat riders
and other cars and pedestrians.
But should we outlaw
their use? Obviously we haven't, but what many states have done is
create laws that govern their use, and the safety issues that surround
their use. Most states have helmet laws; prohibit riding more than two
motorcycles abreast and the aforementioned weaving. Some states have
enacted additional safety laws, some less.
Many states require
a different driver's license (or class of license) to be permitted to
drive a motorcycle. In New York State, where I live, you can have a
motorcycle license, but not a license to drive a passenger car (or any
combination thereof). In order to get each type of drivers' license, a
driving test is required in addition to a written exam.
So it would seem
that for all concerned, America, or specifically the States have found
a compromise between safety and use. And still, there are those who
insist on violating these compromises. It is these individuals that
tarnish the image of the motorcycle.
Boats vs. PWCs
it is with the motorcycle controversy, the PWC is facing many of the
same problems. Safety use and misuse is ignored, trampled or
fastidiously obeyed. Some of the objections are speed issues, damage
to the environment, noise pollution, and a general disregard for the
'Rules of the Road'.
What has happened is
instead of finding compromises, the National Park Service, and many
states and localities have just banned the use of PWCs in some areas.
The pendulum has swung very high in the arc.
The PWC community
has fought back and now the ban by the National Park Service is under
review. But, whether you are for or against these bans, PWC users and
supporters need to understand the realities of their vessels.
Many of our states have begun to require licensure for those who wish
to ride PWCs. Licensure is typically taking a PWC course. (Several of
the Coast Guard Auxiliary courses are approved; check with your local
flotilla and/or state.) There is currently no on-the-water test.
Some states have
even gone so far as to include all boaters (a good thing); others are
focusing solely on PWC users. Since the criteria for a license is
taking an approved boating safety course, shouldn't all boaters take
Safety on the PWC
PWC safety issues are addressed in a number of different ways. From
the federal equipment requirements, to individual state requirements,
PWCs are vessels and are required to carry items such as visual
distress signals, fire extinguishers, audible signaling devices
(whistles), and PFDs, just to name a few.
Other laws include
noise abatement issues - outlawing the use of these vessels after
sunset and before sunrise. PWCs are not required to have lights, thus
are not permitted to be used when navigation lights are required to be
used. In addition, to protect marshes and wetlands, certain areas have
Safety issues such
as those already mentioned can best be addressed through public
education. The Coast Guard Auxiliary's Vessel Safety Check is one good
example of public education. This program, which is voluntary, lets
qualified Auxiliarist(s) review how the boat stacks up against federal
and state requirements. This is done with the owner/users of the PWC
(or any boat). The owner is guided through a checklist, and if
they pass the check, they are awarded a sticker showing that
they have complied with all federal and state laws.
Should they fail the
Vessel Safety Check, only the boat owner/operator is told what they
are missing. No report is given to any law enforcement agency.
We then suggest that they correct any noted deficiencies. In my
experience, the PWC owners are more than interested in having the
correct equipment. At the same time that we check for equipment, we
suggest other safety concerns (float plans, accident reporting, etc)
and also suggest a boating safety course.
So, by using some good judgment, abiding by the laws and relating all
actions back to the core issue in recreational boating, which is "Is
what I'm about to do SAFE?", PWCs, powerboats, sailboats, and all
users of our waterways will be happier and safer together. To learn
more about boating safety, federal rules and requirements, the Coast
Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary, either contact your local Coast Guard
Station or Auxiliary Flotilla, or find us on the web at
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774