Seasonal ban on personal watercraft should be lifted

Personal watercraft are jet-propulsion vessels under 13 feet. They go by many different manufacturer names – Kawasaki Jet Ski, Yamaha WaveRunner, Bombardier Sea-Doo and Honda AquaTrax. In Hawaii, the government just calls them thrillcraft.

Why are these vessels banned on Maui’s west and south sides yearly from Dec. 15 to May 15? Is it the emissions from the PWC engines? Or is it the noise pollution from PWCs? Or is it the chance of a collision with a whale? Are all PWC operators ignorant and would harass whales? Or do whales just not like PWCs?

Four-stroke engines power PWCs. These motors have some of the highest Environmental Protection Agency ratings of any boat. The same motor in these vessels can be found in compact cars or motorcycles.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have oceangoing ships sharing the same waters – cargo ships, cruise ships, naval ships and barge tugs – that are all powered by big diesel engines. The same engines found in power plants and factories. Commercial boats in the pursuit of fish or on snorkeling charters, sunset dinner cruises and even whale-watching tours use diesel engines. The same motors you find in heavy equipment such as bulldozers, 18-wheeler trucks or buses. Smaller personal boats are powered by a wide array of motors – from inboard engines, much like that you find in a midsize car, to outboard engines.

Not only do the PWCs separate themselves from other vessels with low-emission engines but they also do not have a prop. Noise travels underwater twice as fast as in the air. Without a prop in the water, the decibel readings of the jet motor make PWCs the quietest motorized vessels on the ocean.

The population of whales has been dramatically increased over the last 20 years. The number of vessel-whale collisions has also increased. When a prop-driven vessel and a whale collide, there is going to be a tragic injury. In a collision with a jet-propelled PWC, this would not be the case.

In the natural habitat of the manatees in Florida, only vessels which are jet-driven or have a prop guard are allowed to operate. What is more dangerous? Propeller blades spinning underwater going 5 mph or a personal watercraft skimming on the surface at 30 mph?

In Hawaii, a person must have an operator’s license to drive a PWC unless renting one from a licensed operator in a designated area under close supervision. The PWC class is a daylong class and offered a couple times a year. In Hawaii, a person can skipper a speedboat or go fishing 100 miles from shore or go on a moonlight cruise without having any kind of boating license. PWC are highly regulated with how close a rider can come to shore. PWC operators have been taught in this class the rules and regulations of state of Hawaii.

I guess that leaves us with this: Whales just don’t like Jet Skis, WaveRunners, Sea-Doos, AquaTraxs or, as the state likes to use, the negative-sounding thrillcraft – just like the lawmakers back in the late 1980s did when they wrote this outdated law. Science at its finest.

* Ted King is the owner-operator of Pacific Jet Sports Inc., which offers personal watercraft rentals of the coast of West Maui.