Personal watercraft, also known by their trade name “jet skis,” are the hottest sellers among watercraft in the Great Lakes region. They’re causing some heated debate as well. They’ve been banned in many National Parks, and some Great Lakes states are also regulating their use. Last summer, New York passed a law allowing towns to make their own rules for jet skis. Some have already banned them on local lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports on the controversy jet skis are provoking:
Personal watercraft, also known by their trade name “jet-skis”, are the hottest sellers among watercraft in the Great Lakes region. They’re causing some heated debate as well. They’ve been banned in many National Parks, and some Great Lakes states are also regulating their use. Last summer New York passed a law allowing towns to make their own rules for jet-skis. Some have already banned them on local lakes.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports on the controversy jet skis are provoking.
When Jay Schecter relaxes in the quiet of his home on Hannawa Pond in northern New York, there’s one sound he can’t stand.
(Sound of jet ski starting up and driving away)
It’s a personal watercraft, or Jet Ski. It’s easy to get Schecter to talk about last summer when young kids driving jet-skis nearly drove him crazy.
“…y’know, weaving in and out of traffic and wake jumping. The awful noise, going uuuuuuuuuuuuu for literally hours on end.”
(Sound of buzzing Jet Ski)
Jet-skis are different from other motorized boats, not just because they sound different. They ride high on the water’s surface and can easily make sharp turns. So they can come closer to shores and docks at higher speeds than traditional motorboats can.
Schecter heard about the new “home rule” law in New York that allows towns to make their own jet-ski rules. At the same time, he started to hear from his neighbors.
“I started to hear complaints about jet-skis from recreational boaters, big time water-skiers, older gentlemen who’d been on the pond for many years.”
So Schecter spearheaded a campaign over the winter to get the machines banned from the water. The town Board compromised with what amounted to a jet-ski curfew from 6 in the evening to 9 in the morning. The proposal sparked a controversy on the pond that’s divided neighbors into pro- and anti-jet ski camps.
(Sound of motor boat approaching dock; then sound of guys under track)
Just down the shoreline from Jay Schecter’s place, a few motorboats idle up to Alex Vangelo’s dock. Alex and his friends like to get together on hot days like these – maybe get in a little water-skiing after work. None of them own jet skis, but they don’t want any new rules, either. Alex says most jet skiers on this pond are responsible users.
“They’ve got three or four jet skis and they get home from work and they like to get on it and ride up and down the river a couple times. Well, God bless ’em, I say”
Alex’s friend Mark Luthauser loves to cruise around in his motorboat and says his neighbors should have the right to enjoy their jet skis.
“I’d be happier without jet skis on here, but it’s just not fair for me to support something just because I personally don’t like it.”
New York’s “home rule” law is the first of its kind in the country. Other Great Lakes states have a range of Jet Ski laws on the books. But most of them don’t restrict where and when they can be used – they just regulate unsafe and risky operation.
Some people say the problems with jet skis go well beyond noise, safety, and personal freedoms. The two-stroke engines in jet skis are heavy polluters, dumping up to a third of their fuel into the air and water. The most often cited statistic says that one day of Jet Ski play emits as much pollution as a new car driven 100,000 miles. Shawn Smith of Blue Water Network, a national environmental group, says jet skis endanger fish and birds, too.
“The way they’re designed, they don’t have propellers; they’re powered by a jet pump. That allows them to get into waterways where traditional boats cannot. Often these waterways are very shallow and represent some of the most sensitive habitat for wildlife – breeding grounds, nesting areas, that type of thing.”
Groups like Blue Water Network are pushing for more states to consider “home rule” laws like New York’s.
But Industry representatives say advances in technology will soon silence the complaints against the watercraft. Monita Fontaine directs the Personal Watercraft Industry Association. She says new personal watercrafts are already 75% cleaner and 70% quieter than the older models.
“People will have to look at what it is they don’t like about personal watercraft because it certainly will not be the fact that there are any environmental impacts. And people will have to see if, in fact, it’s simple prejudice.”
Back on Hannawa Pond, John Ohmohundro, another jet-ski opponent, says the jet ski controversy is similar to other “man and machine” vs. “nature and neighbor” conflicts, from snowmobiles to boom boxes to ATVs.
“Where does your right to play any way you want to interfere with my right for peace and quiet, clean air, clean water, safety…I’m interested in that issue.”
(Sound of jet ski)
So are many other people. Across the region this summer, residents will be crowding public meetings to consider their own Jet Ski restrictions.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.