Summer solace or safety risk?
LET'S talk about personal watercraft, jet-skis, wave-runners or whatever you want to call them. Rarely a summer goes by where they are not in the news, for all the wrong reasons. I can think of at least four fatalities reported this summer.
People either love them or hate them. Personally, I love them, but I can fully understand why other people have such strong feelings against them.
In my experience, just like other mechanical things the inanimate object is rarely to blame, but rather the person behind the wheel, or the handlebars.
I can remember the days before the personal watercraft, or PWC, existed as we now know it. I can recall fondly scrolling through a Hartley Boatbuilding plans catalogue or copies of Popular Mechanics at the local library and gazing in wonder at the "Wet Bike” or "Water-Scooter” that you could build in your garage.
Knock up a frame, cover it in ply, strap a small outboard on the back and a boy could go off and explore the world.
By the time I had grown old enough to swing a hammer with any accuracy, the modern PWC had well and truly arrived and evolved from ungainly stand-up and hideously unstable sit-down models into the large and powerful "boats” we have now.
The designers of these things have done an excellent job at making them very user friendly. Probably too much so.
The downside is they're probably too easy to ride, and ride fast. The evolution of the personal watercraft to what it is today has paralleled that of the old farm bike into the quad bike.
I've taught my kids and several adults, too, how to ride motorbikes and one thing I have noticed is the healthy respect for the ground and how easy it is for them to fall over. Generally, it takes a while to build up confidence and appropriate riding style before they start riding fast.
Put a "newbie” on a quad bike, however, and they can be riding at speeds capable of causing serious injury in a very short amount of time, well before they have learnt what the limitations of the vehicle are. Exactly the same thing can happen with personal watercraft.
Before you jump on and ride into the sunset remember a few things:
You need a licence. There are plenty of boat licence trainers who would be only too happy to help you out and get you on the water safely. Part of the licence training is teaching you how to ride safely and with consideration for all the other people using the water.
Wear life jackets. It's not just common sense, it's also the law.
Obey the specific rules that relate to personal watercraft use. They're mostly about keeping them separated from other boats and waterway users.
Be sensible and above all leave big safety margins around yourself when doing all those tricky manoeuvres. Nobody wants an out of control jet ski sliding through their water-side picnic.
And importantly, don't let your idea of fun ruin someone else's day.
Or even your own.