Jet Ski Irritation: If You're Plagued, Petition

In this week's Dock of the Bay, we tell you about three proposals that the Department of Natural Resources has received to impose speed controls on vessels in popular boating areas.

DNR should proceed as swiftly as possible to grant the wishes of local residents who are losing their patience. While they're at it, DNR officials should take stock of every crowded area in order to protect both the physical and mental health of the local population.

We keep hoping that operators of wave-runners will see the handwriting on the wall and police themselves. The writing is plain to see: restrictions and planned curbs are piling up in every corner of the country. U.S. Park officials are considering outright bans in many states. In Washington State, the state Supreme Court upheld the right of officials to ban personal watercraft in the San Juan Islands to protect wildlife.

In the Florida Keys, sailors told us over the July 4 weekend that they are pleased with new rules prohibiting operation of jet-skis above five knots within 1,250 feet of shore anywhere from Key Largo down to Key West.

We don't relish outright bans and draconian restrictions. They threaten personal liberties. They impinge on boat sales. They frustrate families who see personal watercraft as an affordable way to get on the water.

Unfortunately, we continue to witness mindless stunts by jet-ski operators, many of whom are visiting the Bay and renting the machines. Like wave-hopping a few yards behind powerboats; like racing among anchored boats and swimmers; like aiming full-throttle at ducks along the shoreline before veering away.

The law couldn't be clearer: Personal watercraft are restricted to six knots within 100 feet of another boat, person, pier, piling or anything in the water. A moron can grasp it.

Maryland officials say they are effectively controlling jet-skis, which have tripled in number in recent years. (In Maryland, personal watercraft make up just seven percent of boats but produce 40 percent of accidents causing personal injury.)

Enforcement figures raise questions about Maryland's resolve: The number of citations declined last year by 14 percent after five years of increases.

Maybe operators are getting the message so that fewer citations are necessary. Maybe the devil-may-care behavior we have witnessed is limited to just a handful of hooligans with a headful of rum.

You can decide by taking stock of your part of the Chesapeake. If you see no problem, fine. But if you have concerns about jet skis, you may want to get your citizens association to formally petition for relief. Then keep an eye on DNR.

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VolumeVI Number 28
July 16-22, 1998
New Bay Times

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