Personal Water Crafts, otherwise known as jet skis, are fundamentally different from conventional boats in terms of design, operation and use. They are designed to allow them to be operated at high speeds in shallow water close to the shore. Jet skis are highly maneuverable and can exceed speeds of 65 mph, and are marketed as thrill ride vehicles, capable of weaving in and out of other vessels, jumping waves, and 360 degree turns at high speeds. They account for one third of all boat sales and are the one of the fastest growing segments of the boating industry in the U.S. However, the accident rates for jet skis far exceed their proportion to other motor boats.
Jet skis have a shallow draft which allows them to operate close the shore, but this also makes capsizing more likely. The chance of drowning goes up significantly in these instances. Impact with the water or another vessel at high speeds can cause broken bones and soft tissue damage, and/or render the passenger unconscious, which can lead to drowning.
According the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard in a 2001 report, 322 boating fatalities (pdf, pg. 14) occurred on boats less than 16 feet in length; this includes jet skis. Alcohol is involved in about one-third of all boating deaths. With blood alcohol levels in excess of .10, boat operators are 10 times more likely to cause boating accidents as compared to a sober operator. Moreover, about 80% of a boating fatalities involve an operator who has not completed a boating safety course. This negligent approach to the operation of jet skis leads to accidents that involve careless and/or reckless operation, inexperience, failure to pay adequate attention, and speeding.
The State of Michigan requires that “boaters must be at least 12 years of age, or turn 12 during the current boating season, to receive their boater safety certificate. Michigan residents under 16 years of age are required to pass a classroom boating safety course to obtain a boater safety certificate. However, a Michigan boater who is at least 16 years of age may take a NASBLA ( National Association of Boating Law Administrators ) approved on-line boating safety course instead of attending a classroom program. PWCSafetySchool.com is an approved NASBLA course; however Michigan boaters must still take a proctored exam to be issued a valid Michigan boater certificate .
To reduce the risk of these accidents, jet ski operators should exercise due diligence on the water, wear a life-vest, complete a boater safety class, and refrain from operating while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.