Personal watercrafts (PWC), also known as jet skis, are extremely popular in the U.S. but are responsible for far too many on-the-water injuries. The U.S. Coast Guard defines PWCs as jet-propelled boats shorter than 13 feet in length. Although PWCs have been around for decades, the same basic design elements have remained unchanged. The primary difference between a PWC and a traditional powered watercraft is the method of propulsion. Traditional motorized watercraft use propellers. But PWCs use water jet propulsion and are typically smaller, more agile and faster than propeller-driven watercraft.
PWCs gained widespread popularity in the 1980s as several manufacturers started mass-producing and -marketing the watercraft. They were marketed as an affordable recreational watercraft that the entire family could enjoy. Many inexperienced boaters were attracted to the idea of a less expensive, more maneuverable alternative to traditional boats. Moreover, the speed and agility of PWCs created a new, exhilarating boating experience. This combination of speed, maneuverability and interest from inexperienced boaters has caused countless injuries.
PWCs are becoming more dangerous with each year model instead of becoming safer. In effect, PWC manufacturers have added little in the way of safety features. But they have pushed the limits of speed and performance. The first mass-produced PWCs averaged around 500cc engines. With almost every remodel, the engines have slowly increased in size. Today’s average PWC engine is around 1500cc with some as large as 1800cc. Superchargers and other engine upgrades are also common on many of the sportier models. Many of these PWCs reach speeds of 60-70 miles per hour. Not only are these top-end speeds alarming, but the acceleration is also shocking. Many of these watercrafts will accelerate to more than 30 miles per hour in just over a second’s time.
PWCs, by the very nature of their design, create certain hazards. Unlike traditional motorized watercraft, PWCs do not have rudders. As a result, there is virtually no steering unless the rider is accelerating. Moreover, the manufacturers acknowledge that from top-end speed, it takes 300-400 feet to completely stop the watercraft. The operator is forced to accelerate away from danger instead of being able to stop or steer away without engine power. This goes against most riders’ natural reaction. When posed with a hazard or danger, and operator’s natural reaction is to let off of the throttle and come to a controlled stop. However, this can take the length of a football field. Operators are forced to counter-intuitively accelerate if danger presents itself. This flaw in the jet propulsion system has resulted in countless injuries and still presents a problem in new models. In fact, the problem is likely getting worse as newer models become faster and the length of time needed to stop also increases.
PWCs are also responsible for orifice injuries to operators and passengers. These horrific injuries occur when a rider falls off the watercraft backward and lands in the path of the high pressure water jet. These forces are so strong that it can push an extreme volume of water into the riders’ orifices, causing catastrophic injuries. This hazard is also becoming more of a problem as the engine size and jet outputs of the machines increase.
Although PWCs create certain hazards due to their design, many accidents are a result of inexperienced operators behind the wheel. PWCs are small, fast, maneuverable and simple to operate. These characteristics naturally appeal to inexperienced boaters. Unfortunately, quite often novice boaters don’t fully appreciate the power and dangers associated with the watercraft. Predictably, PWCs are very popular with younger operators. Several states have recently increased the age at which one can apply for a boating license. Many believe such legislation is a direct response to the increase of teen boating accidents involving PWCs.
In Alabama, an operator can apply for a boating license at the age of 12 and must pass a written test. Fortunately, from the age of 12 to 14, boaters must be accompanied by a licensed adult older than 21 to operate a vessel. Although this may seem like a young age, I believe It’s a good idea for young operators to learn with a supervising adult as opposed to simply turning them loose at the age of 14 or 16. No amount of reading or testing can fully prepare a young operator to use such a powerful machine. More importantly, parents and friends must remind young and inexperienced riders that although fun, a PWC should not be mistaken for a toy. They are capable of blazing speeds and must be treated as cautiously as any other high-powered machine.
Although experience on PWCs and a heightened awareness of the machine’s power is a great start to limiting accidents on the water, a watercraft that forces an operator to accelerate in an emergency situation is a dangerous product that no amount of education or training can correct. For more than 20 years manufacturers have placed all their efforts in making the fastest and most stylish watercraft. It is time that they put as much emphasis on consumer safety. If you need more information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.