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Sharing the Water: Kayakers and Canoeists vs Jet Skis


By Tom Wharton, The Salt Lake Tribune

The conservation and public policy director for the American Canoe Association bristled when asked if proposals to limit the use of personal watercraft such as Jet Skis and WaveRunners are elitist.

"What are they sharing with us?" asked the ACA's David Jenkins whose group issued a new report on problems with motorized personal watercraft at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City this week. "They are siphoning the fun we are allowed to fuel their own Jet Skis. We can't see wildlife, fish or enjoy a relaxing, quiet experience. Who is robbing who of a recreational experience?"

The ACA released its report Hostile Waters: The Impacts of Personal Watercraft Use on Waterway Recreation that examined all available accident data collected by state boating agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard from 1996 through 2000.

It found that even though personal watercraft -- PWCs -- represent only 6.2 percent of vessels on U.S. waters, they are involved in 55 percent of all collisions between vessels. These collisions average 1,000 more a year than the number of open motorboats involved in the same kind of mishaps, even though motorboats outnumber PWCs by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Jenkins said the ACA, the United States' largest paddlesports organization with a membership of over 50,000 canoeists and kayakers, kept hearing anecdotal stories from members about problems involving PWCs without knowing whether a small, vocal minority was complaining or if there was a real safety issue.

So the group put together a report which will be sent to lawmakers, state boating law administrators and concerned citizens. He said that while there are 1.1 million PWCs in use in the U.S., there are an estimated 8.8 million kayakers and 25 million canoeists.

"State agencies [that manage boating] are more geared toward the motorized community," said Jenkins. "There is a bigger mix on our waterways. This is not elitist or intolerant of other uses."

The ACA called for changes in the way open waters are managed. Currently, 98 percent of the nation's surface waters are open to PWC use.

Suggestions for dealing with PWCs included:
Limiting high-speed PWC use to specific zones.
Prohibiting use of PWCs on lakes less than 500 feet wide and river segments less than 1,000 feet wide.
Increased criminal penalties for reckless or negligent operation.
Better accident reporting.
Prohibiting the use of PWCs on most federally protected waterways.

Utah Division of Parks and Recreation director Courtland Nelson, surprised at the number of kayak companies displaying their wares at Outdoor Retailer, said he can see a time when Utah might have to segregate PWCs from other watercraft or create safety zones.

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