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It’s Time to Lift the Whale Seasonal Ban on Personal Watercraft

September 26, 2013
Capt. Ted King - Pacific Jet Sports Inc., Lahaina , Maui Weekly

Personal watercraft (PWC) are jet-propulsion vessels under 13 feet long. They go by many different manufacture names--the Kawasaki Jet Ski, Yamaha Wave Runner, Bombardier Seadoo and Honda Aqua Trax. In Hawai'i, the government just calls them all "thrill craft."

Why is this vessel banned on Maui's West and South Sides from Dec. 15 to May 15? Is it the emissions from the PWCs engines? Or is it the noise pollution from PWCs? Or is it the chance of a collision with a whale? Would PWC operators 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 Japanese compact cars and 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. They are the same engines found in power plants and factories.

Commercial fishing boats, snorkel charters, dinner cruise and whale watching excursion boats all use diesel engines. They use the same motors found in heavy equipment, such as bulldozers, 18-wheeler trucks and big Robert's buses.

Smaller, personal boats are powered by a wide array of motors, from inboards engines, much like those found in midsize cars, to outboard engines.

Not only do PWCs separate themselves from other vessels with low-emission engines, unlike every vessel mentioned previously, PWCs do not have a prop--a propeller. Noise travels underwater twice as fast as in the air. Without a prop in the water, the decibel reading of the jet motor shows that it is the quietest motorized vessel on the ocean.

Because whale populations have dramatically increased over the last 20 years, the number of vessel-whale collision has also increased. A prop-driven vessel collision with a whale will result in a tragic injury. In the case of a collision with a jet-propelled vessel, this would not be the case.

In the natural habitat of the manatees in Florida, only jet-propelled vessels or those with prop guards are allowed to operate.

What is more dangerous, propeller blades spinning underwater going 5 miles an hour, or a jet ski skimming on the surface at 30 miles?

Today in Hawai'i, you can skipper a speedboat, go fishing 100 miles from shore, or go on a full moon cruise anywhere you want without any kind of boating license.

PWC are highly regulated regarding how close you can come to shore. Here in Hawai'i, you must have an operator's license to drive a PWC (unless you rent one from a licensed operator in a designated area under close supervision). A daylong PWC class is offered a couple times a year in which the operator learns the rules and regulations of State of Hawai'i.

It is time to change this outdated law created back in the 1980s.



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