Frequently Asked Questions About Watercraft Defects

Are jet skis safe for children?

What is a personal watercraft?

What is the most common cause of fatal boating accidents?

What procedures should a captain follow after a boating accident occurs?

Q: Are jet skis safe for children?

A: Jet Skis, and other personal watercrafts (PWC), are widely popular among children and teenagers, but experts question how safe the vehicles are for inexperienced and immature operators. Over 100 children are injured or killed annually in personal watercraft accidents. Additionally, in a study conducted by the University of Florida, trauma surgeons found that children injured in accidents involving personal watercrafts were more seriously injured than those involved in motorboat collisions.

Some doctors, like Dr. Elizabeth Beierle, believe that parents can help prevent serious injuries to their children and those in their Jet Ski's path. She said, "I think that parents need to be made aware that these are dangerous vehicles and the reason that they're dangerous is because of the fact that there are people, i.e. - children, that are just too young to operate them and parents need to be aware and need to be made aware that these are not toys."

Common injuries from a Jet Ski or other personal watercraft accident include:

  • Closed-head injuries
  • Trauma to the chest
  • Abdominal injuries
  • Spinal injuries

Many personal injuries from a PWC are similar to those experienced by motorcycle riders and occur when a personal watercraft operator strikes an obstacle and is ejected from the vehicle.

Common personal watercraft accidents include collisions with:

  • Other vehicles
  • Docks
  • Tree stumps hidden in the water
  • Other fixed objects

Parents should implement rules concerning their children's personal watercraft usage and follow tips including the following:

  • Check with your state to determine licensing requirements for boaters under the age of 18
  • Use a life jacket and make sure it fits properly
  • Keep hands, feet, hair and clothing away from the pump intake
  • Never operate a Jet Ski in less than 24 inches of water
  • Make sure an adult is present whenever a child is operating a personal watercraft.

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Q: What is a personal watercraft?

A: A personal watercraft (PWC) is a recreational watercraft that 1-4 people can ride or sit on in the water. PWCs have an inboard engine that creates thrust to propel the vehicle through the water. WaveRunners, Jet Skis and Sea-Doos are popular examples of types of personal watercrafts.

Personal Watercraft Uses

PWCs are lightweight and relatively inexpensive compared to boats, which make them an attractive option for both recreational and non-recreational purposes.

PWCs are commonly used for:

  • Towing surfers so they can catch waves
  • Rescuing swimmers at lakes and beaches
  • Studying marine life
  • Rescuing flood victims
  • Enforcing laws on lakes and rivers
  • Coaching rowing teams
  • Target practice by the U.S. Navy

Personal Watercraft Injuries and Fatalities

Every year the U.S. Coast Guard compiles data on recreational boating, including personal watercraft usage. In its recent annual report, the Coast Guard compiled the following casualty data on PWCs:

  • Drowning Deaths: 14
  • Other Deaths: 53
  • Injuries: 982
  • Total Casualties: 1,049

The highest number of casualties from recreational boating were attributed, in order, to open motorboats, followed by personal watercrafts, cabin motorboats, canoes/kayaks, and lastly, pontoon boats.

Personal Watercraft Safety Tips

The National Association of Rescue Divers recommends that PWC operators follow certain safety tips to avoid accidents:

  • Check state regulations on Jet Skis
  • Wear safety equipment like a life jacket and eye protection
  • Attach a whistle to your life jacket to summon help, if needed
  • Stay clear of swimming areas and wildlife
  • Never operate a PWC at night
  • Don't engage in boating under the influence (BUI)

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Q: What is the most common cause of fatal boating accidents?

A: In an annual report on recreational boating, the U.S. Coast Guard lists "Alcohol Use" as the number one cause of fatal boating accidents. Boating while under the influence of alcohol use was linked to 21% of all fatal accidents. Of the 339 recreational boating deaths reported nationwide, 145 were caused by alcohol use.

Other common contributing factors include, in order:

  • Careless/Reckless Operation
  • Drug Use
  • Excessive Speed
  • Failure to Vent
  • Lack of Improper Vessel Lights
  • No Proper Lookout
  • Operator Inattention
  • Operator Inexperience
  • Restricted Vision
  • Rules of the Road Infraction
  • Sharp Turn

Impaired Boating Skills

Boating Under the Influence (BUI), is a serious problem as the weather warms and more and more people turn to the water as a source of recreation. Drinking excessively while boating can lead to the impairment of a boat operator and affect skills such as:

  • Ability to distinguish colors
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Judgment
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Reaction Time
  • Focus
  • Peripheral Vision

Impaired boat operators aren't just a danger to others on the water, but to themselves. Someone who is operating a boat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over .10% is 10 times more likely to die in an accident than someone who is sober.

A person is considered to be boating under the influence, and subject to criminal sanctions, if they are found to have a .08 or greater BAC.

Penalties for BUI in Massachusetts

Boaters convicted of a BUI offense are subject to the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for up to 30 months
  • >Fine up to $1,000
  • Motor vehicle license and vessel's registration revoked for up to one year
  • Imprisonment up to 10 years, and fines up to $5,000 for accidents resulting in serious bodily injuries

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Q: What procedures should a captain follow after a boating accident occurs?

A: Every year thousands of people are injured or die while engaging in recreational boating activities. According to the annual U.S. Coast Guard report on boating accidents, operator inattention is the number one contributing factor of accidents.

Although a lack of awareness may have contributed to an accident, it is important that attention is paid and certain steps are followed after the accident to minimize injuries and properly document what happened. Failing to do so may lead to criminal charges and a civil lawsuit for the boat's operator and owner.

Immediately After An Accident

If an accident occurs, the operator of a watercraft must:

  • Stop the vessel immediately at the scene of the accident, AND
  • Assist anyone injured or endangered by the accident (unless this would jeopardize additional boaters), AND
  • Give, in writing, operator name, address, and vessel identification to anyone injured, and the owner of any property that was damaged by the accident.

Within 48 hours After An Accident

A boating accident report must be filed with the Massachusetts Environmental Police within 48 hours after an accident if:

  • the accident resulted in death, or
  • the accident resulted in a serious injury.

Within 5 days After An Accident

A written report must be filed with the Massachusetts Environmental Police within 5 days of an accident if:

  • the accident resulted in death, or
  • a person disappeared indicating a possible death or injury, or
  • an injury occurred requiring medical attention, or
  • therewas property damage in excess of $500.

(Source: Boat Massachusetts)

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