Ah, summer. As temperatures climb, the lakes and rivers in the area draw us to an ongoing summer ritual. And what better way to enjoy the water than sluicing through the sparkling waves. But boating isn’t the only way to go any more.
Commonly known by brand names such as Sea-Doo, Wave Runner or Jet Ski, personal watercraft are a popular alternative to more traditional boats. Ranging from 125 to 250 horsepower, they can be an exciting way to tour a waterway or even tow a skier, wakeboarder or tube.
It looks like our cars and trucks aren’t the only vehicles that have been shaped by a concern for the environment. In the last decade, says Jason Galarsa, sales representative for Kawasaki and Honda of Medford, personal watercraft have also been evolving to have fewer emissions and simplified maintenance that lowers their impact on the environment. “They run a lot cleaner than they used to.”
In order to keep Oregon’s waterways safe for everyone, as of January 1, 2008 all boat operators 70 and younger need to have a mandatory Boater Education Card, a permit that must be carried onboard with you on the water. Not a “driver’s license” for the water, Deputy Tom Turk of Jackson County Sheriff’s Patrol Marine Division describes it as “a document that says you understand the rules of the water.” To obtain your boater education card, a boater must pass the Oregon State Marine’s boater education class, “A Course on Responsible Boating.” Covering boating safety and responsibilities, the course is available for a variety of ages and groups, an Internet course for individuals or an equivalency test can be written in certain conditions.
Free study guides are available through the sheriff’s office or can be ordered online (shipping costs do apply). For more information about boating education classes, call your local sheriff’s department.
If you’re considering a personal watercraft for your family, consider how you want to use it, your own experience level and who will be operating it. Ranging from approximately $7,000 to $13,000, there are a range of features and options available.
The most popular size, says Galarsa, is the three-person watercraft. The “stand-up” variety are still available but as Galarsa points out, they take more skill to handle and are designed for a single rider. Freestylers get the most from this style. Two-person watercraft are a little more agile than the larger craft, but, notes Galarsa, “you cannot legally pull anybody with it.”
The reason is simple math, says Deputy Tom Turk of Jackson County Sheriff’s Patrol Marine Division. “They’re certainly powerful enough. That’s not the issue,” says Turk. The law requires any craft that pulls a skier or tube to have enough seating for the operator, an observer (with flag) and for the person(s) being towed if and when you need to pick them up. It also means a three-person craft cannot pull a tube with two riders.
A unique feature of the new personal watercraft is a programmable pair of keys. While one key operates the craft at full power, a second key called a “learning key” or “smart learning operation” key can be programmed to limit the speed of the craft. As Galarsa points out, “If a parent is allowing a teenager or someone with less experience to operate the boat, they can give them this second key.” Of course, an adult is still required to ride along with anyone younger than age 16.
And don’t forget the mandatory extras — a fire extinguisher, a marine-approved whistle or horn, your boater education card, registration and a lifejacket for everyone on board. “Personal watercraft have to follow all the rules and regulations of a powerboat,” says Turk, but notes there are also some differences. For example, unlike a boat, lifejackets must be worn and must be “inherently buoyant” (Type I, II, or III). And personal watercraft are not allowed on the Rogue River above Gold Rey Dam. A good rule of thumb, says Galarsa is that personal watercraft are “allowed on all the lakes that allow waterskiing.”
Lastly, take the time to learn about your personal watercraft and boating safety. “When we sell these, we take the time to go over safety, operation and maintenance in great detail. We feel it’s very important,” says Galarsa. “We want people to have fun and do it safely.”