Friday, November 20, 1998

Head of isle Jet Ski committee
sees need for education,
not more rules

By Craig Gima


Despite the death of a Japanese tourist last week in a commercial jet ski accident, Hawaii has one of the best safety records in the nation for jet-powered personal watercraft, also known as Jet Skis or thrill craft, according to a National Transportation Safety Board expert.

Bill Grossard, who helped conduct a NTSB study on personal watercraft safety, addressed the state Thrill Craft Advisory Committee yesterday. The committee is working on recommendations to improve safety among private Jet Ski operators to present to the Legislature in January.

Jewell Tuitele, chairwoman of the committee, said they wanted to hear from Grossard to get an idea of how other states are implementing the NTSB's Jet Ski safety recommendations and how that might apply to Hawaii. She said the committee is looking at mandatory education and mandatory use of life vests or personal flotation devices when operating Jet Skis.

"To make more rules would be, in our opinion, useless," Tuitele said. "There are more than enough rules. What we need and what our committee is focusing on is education."

Tuitele said unlike other recreational boats, Jet Skis are restricted to certain locations and cannot be operated by anyone under 15.

Grossard told the committee that two states, Connecticut and Maryland, require Jet Ski operators to be licensed. Other states have some sort of mandatory education requirement.

Tuitele said the advisory committee has not yet decided on specific recommendations.

During the committee meeting, members noted Jet Ski use in Hawaii is in many ways unusual compared to the way Jet Skis are used in other areas of the country. For example, Jet Skis are used here in high surf to tow surfers into large waves. Use of life vests by Jet Ski operators under those circumstances can actually be more dangerous because the vests could inhibit swimming and the ability to dive under waves.

Grossard's NTSB study indicates deaths from personal watercraft are increasing while deaths from recreational boating as a whole are on the decline. There were 20 deaths involving Jet Skis in 1988 compared to 83 last year.

The only other previous Jet Ski death in Hawaii occurred 12 years ago when a 6-year-old on a Jet Ski hit a woman in an inflatable kayak. That death led to the passage of the law which requires operators of jet-powered watercraft to be at least 15-years-old.

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