When Wave Runners and Jet Skis became the rave on Michigan waters in the mid-1990s, most people viewed them as a pricey water toy. It wasn't unusual to see a personal watercraft race past your family boat with a child of 12 as the navigator.
It was common to see personal watercraft chasing the wakes of boats pulling skiers or children in tubes.
The problem was, when a kid is having fun, they are not always paying attention to the danger involved. This resulted in not only operators being injured or killed, but a downed skier coming face to face with a rocket on the water.
This issue hit particularly close to home on Labor Day weekend 2009, when a local teen died and others suffered injuries in a personal watercraft collision on Spring Lake.
Until it became clear that these pricey toys could be dangerous in young hands, laws proved dicey at best. Did regular boating laws apply to a personal watercraft, or was this machine something different? It took a while for lawmakers to figure it out, but now they appear to have it just about right.
Today's personal watercraft models can reach speeds of 65 mph-plus. One thing that riders shouldn’t fail to keep in mind is these machines do not have brakes. And on busy inland lakes, traffic can quickly put any rider in a danger zone.
New state laws enacted on Oct. 1, 2011, provide further safety and precaution requirements, especially regarding youths. Previously, 12-year-olds could operate the crafts alone, but now operators must be 14 and have restrictions placed on them. Our young teens may not like the rules, but the measures add up to keeping them safe on the water.
Kids ages 14 and 15 are allowed to operate a personal watercraft, but only if he or she is accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or a person at least 21 years old who has been designated as having permission by their guardian. They can also pilot a personal watercraft if he or she is operating or riding the craft at a distance of not more than 100 feet from their adult guardian.
While these measures improve safety on the water for us all, we would hope that parents take a stand and require their children to complete a boating safety course prior to hopping on a personal watercraft and taking off on the water.
Because, in the end, we all want the summer of 2012 to be a safer one for our youth.