Under Attack?

Lead Line — June 2002
Lead Line — June 2002
By Richard Thiel

Under Attack?
The industry is saddled with thorny problems.
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A few months ago I received a press release from the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA) stating that "It is time for the larger boating community to work with the personal watercraft community to protect boaters' rights." It contends that since "personal watercraft are motorized boats," regulations restricting their use could "easily be extended to other motorized vessels, from bass boats to yachts." In other words, if regulators have their way with PWCs today, you might not be able to take your 40-footer everywhere you'd like to tomorrow.

The strategy is clear. PWIA knows PWCs have an image problem among certain segments of the population and hopes that by grouping them with all powerboats, they'll become more palatable. Plus, there's an obvious benefit to mobilizing a group with the kind of political and financial firepower large powerboat owners have.

I was willing to go along with PWIA until I got to this statement: "...anti-boating organizations are bent on regulating the use of motorboats on lakes and other public waterways, and on demonizing the boating industry as a whole." Sorry, but I can't accept the gross categorization of everyone who feels PWCs shouldn't be allowed on certain bodies of water--many of whom are boat owners--as "anti-boating." No doubt there are those bent on demonization of the boating industry, but there are also a lot of people who simply feel that not every body of water should be open to powered watercraft of any type. Large powerboats are restricted by their size and draft; PWCs are not, and there's the rub.

The release also touts the new breed of cleaner, quieter PWCs, and with good reason. No modern machine has undergone such a rapid and radical transformation from bad boy to social butterfly. According to PWIA, new PWCs are 70 percent quieter and emit 75 percent fewer emissions. In other words, PWC manufacturers have done in three years what it took car manufacturers two decades to do. Moreover, PWIA points out that it supports "reasonable regulations, strict enforcement of navigation and safety laws, and mandatory boating education."

These are laudable accomplishments, but the industry is still saddled with a couple of thorny problems. First, there are still thousands of old, loud, smokey PWCs out there, and given the durability of the two-cycle engine and fiberglass, they'll be around a long time. Perhaps a bounty could be offered on old PWCs for owners who trade up to newer units.

The second problem may prove more difficult to solve: behavior. The main attraction of the PWC for many people is its affordable freedom--freedom to go virtually anywhere, often at high speed and often engaging in the kind of driving that is simply not allowed on land or even in a controlled waterway. But not everyone wants to be around them when they cut loose. That's why a lot of reasonable boaters, many of whom own PWCs, think that some waters should be off limits to these machines--or for that matter, any powerboat. Instead of lumping them into a group of radicals, PWIA would be wiser to address their concerns.

The key, it seems to me, is to strive to make PWC owners good neighbors, as responsible as the new breed of machines. I know many of you own one or more PWCs, and I'd like to know how you feel about this issue. Is there a conspiracy to eliminate PWCs that threatens your rights as a powerboater? Should certain bodies of water be off-limits to PWCs and/or all powered boats? Does doing so unfairly compromise the rights of the owners of those boats?

Log onto our Web site at www.powerandmotoryacht.com, take our brief survey, and tell us what you think.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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