A Request For More Effective Regulation of Jet Skis
Southern Shores, NC

I Background
II Development of the PWC
III Water Pollution
IV Noise Pollution
V Adverse Impact on Wildlife
VI Safety
VII Regulation Elsewhere
VIII Public Opinion
IX Discussion and Conclusions
A. Jean Guite Bay
B. Currituck Sound Shoreline
C. 16 Year Old Minimum Age Requirement
D. Limitations on Speed



TO: Town Council, Southern Shores, NC 28 April 1999
FROM: J. C. Bradley
SUBJECT: More Effective Regulation of JET SKIS


Southern Shores is an incorporated Town encompassing about 4 square miles, bordered on the east by approximately 4 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach and on the west by 4 miles of "soundside" shoreline. The northern portion of that shoreline is contiguous to Currituck Sound, whereas the southern portion borders Jean Guite (Ginguite) Bay, an appendage to the Sound measuring about 3160 yards (1.8 miles) north/south and roughly 250-300 varying yards east/west. Shallow water, no more than 1-2 feet deep, extends several hundred yards from the shoreline into Currituck Sound. On the western shore of the Bay is unincorporated Martins Point, a long narrow peninsula bordered by Currituck Sound on the west. The Town has "extraterritorial" jurisdiction granted by the State and extending one mile from its borders, including all of Martins Point. (Gen. Stat. Sec. 160A-360) North Carolina has specifically granted to 17 named ocean-front municipalities, including Southern Shores, the power to regulate jet ski operations (Gen. Stat. Sec. 160A-176.2)

On 12 August 1994, a 14 year old boy was killed in Southern Shores when the jet ski he was operating slammed into a bulkhead. One week later a petition signed by 88 "soundside" waterfront residents located both in Southern Shores and in Martins Point was filed with the Town requesting enactment of an ordinance:

(1) Prohibiting jet ski operations within the Town's interior canal system;

(2) Prohibiting jet ski operations by any person under the age of 16 years; and

(3) Prohibiting jet ski operations within 300 yards of a "soundside" shoreline within Southern Shores and its extraterritorial jurisdiction, except for purposes of access and egress and then at speeds not to exceed 5 miles per hour.

The following May an 11 year old girl riding a jet ski on Jean Guite Bay sustained a compound fracture of the leg when she was struck by a following jet ski. The Bay, which much resembles a small lake, attracts water skiers, canoeists and kayakers, as well as significant numbers of both power and sail boats using the Bay to gain access to Currituck Sound. Its banks on either side are lined with residences.

Effective 12 March 1996, after long deliberations the Town Council enacted a fairly comprehensive ordinance addressing such considerations as personal flotation devices, lanyard requirements, permissible hours of operation, proscription of muffler modifications, minimum distances from other vessels, wake jumping, etc. However, it opted for a 14 year old minimum age (rather than 16), and, while limiting jet ski operations within 200 yards of the ocean shoreline, inexplicably invoked merely a 100 yard restricted zone on the soundside. Few ocean beach swimmers venture as far as 100 yards from the beach, but there is user activity throughout Jean Guite Bay.

The purpose of this memorandum is to bring certain facts to the attention of the Southern Shores Town Council and, in consideration of those facts, to request that the existing jet ski ordinance be amended:

(1) To establish a prohibition zone banning jet ski operations from Jean Guite Bay, except for access and egress at speeds not exceeding 5 mph to and from the North Marina boat launching ramp in Southern Shores and the boat launching ramp in Martins Point.

(2) To establish a prohibition zone banning jet ski operations and extending westward from the Currituck Sound shoreline a minimum distance of 400 yards except for the aforesaid access and egress operations.

(3) To require that a jet ski operator be at least 16 years old.

(4) To limit speeds beyond the 400 yard restricted zone, but within the Town's jurisdiction to speeds not exceeding 25 miles per hour.

It is strongly emphasized that the purpose of this request is not to ban or prohibit all jet ski operations, but merely to make them compatible with the activities of other users of the Town's waterways, and to alleviate the adverse impact upon shoreline residents. There are many square miles of open water in nearby Currituck Sound which are readily available to serve as a play ground for jet ski enthusiasts with minimal adverse impact on others.

Although both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the State of Hawaii have referred to the jet ski as "thrill craft" manufacturers of the machines and their trade organization, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA), have successfully promoted the now widely accepted use of the euphemistic term "personal watercraft" or PWC, which for convenience will be utilized hereinafter.

Development of the PWC

According to an article published by the aforementioned PWIA, the PWC concept is believed to have been originated in the 1960's, but the first commercially successful PWC was the "Jet Ski" introduced by Kawasaki in the early 1970's. The PWIA article informs that the PWC is powered by a two-cycle engine which "drives a jet pump that draws water from the bottom of the craft into an impeller (a type of propeller fitted into a surrounding 'tunnel'), which pressurizes the water and forces it out a nozzle at the rear of the craft. It is this jet of pressurized water which propels and steers the craft."

Kawasaki has now been joined by other manufacturers, including Yamaha (Waverunner), Bombardier (Sea-Doo), Mastercraft (WetJet), Arctic Cat, Polaris, and Mercury Marine. According to the PWIA article, PWCs represent 34% of all new powerboats purchased in 1995, some 200,000 units. It has been estimated that by 1998, some 1.2 million PWCs were located in the U.S.

A report entitled "Personal Watercraft Safety" issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) under date of 19 May 1998 placed current sales at 200,000 units annually, and stated that PWCs "now represent more than one third of the new recreational boats sold." (Pg. 54) Other data offered included:

Unit cost (new) $4800-$9400
Horsepower 62 to 135 (the 1974 Jet Ski had 32 HP)
Dry weight Typically 450 pounds
Fuel capacity Typically 10 gallons
Length 87 to 126 inches

The PWIA contends that the average top speed of most PWCs is in the low-to-mid 40 miles per hour range, but that several recent models have a top speed capacity in the low 50 mph range, and that a few now approach or exceed 60 mph capacity. Somewhat differently, the NTSB reported that "speed and performance of the PWC has increased over the years," that "faster models can exceed 60 mph," and that so-called after-market modifications "can further increase the high-end speed capacity." (Pg. 9) One manufacturer has proposed limiting PWC speed capability to 65 mph.

Water Pollution

All PWCs are powered by two-stroke engines. An article by Keith Bush appearing in Personal Watercraft Illustrated, an industry publication had this to say about them: (emphasis added)

Two-stroke engines combine intake and compression in one stroke, exhaust and power in another. Fresh air/fuel mixture enters the cylinder while the exhaust port is still open. Therefore, unburned fuel escapes with every cycle. Also, two-stroke engines require that oil be mixed with the gasoline for lubrication. These two factors combine to produce substantially higher hydrocarbon emissions.

Despite these drawbacks, two-strokes are still the obvious engines of choice for personal watercraft. One reason can be found at the bottom of a four-stroke engine, where the oil sump is located. Turn one of these motors upside down, and oil runs into places where oil has no business being. Four strokes also have a much lower tolerance for water ingestion than their two-stroke kin, as water can mix with the oil in the sump and break down its lubricating abilities, with dire consequences. As an added benefit, two-strokes are fundamentally simpler than their four stroke brothers, making them smaller, lighter and less expensive. Also, because it performs a complete combustion cycle in half as many strokes, a two-stroker doubles the power potential of a comparably sized four-stroker.

In its comments to the National Park Service (NPS) in a rule-making proceeding, the National Park and Conservation Association (NPCA) made the following representations:

(The NPS has given) a grossly inadequate treatment of the extensive scientific literature demonstrating that the two-stroke engines found in the vast majority of PWCs emit hydrocarbon pollution that can devastate marine resources. For example, studies have shown that even low levels of hydrocarbon in aquatic systems can have acute toxic effects on various forms of zooplankton, the foundation of many ecosystem food chains. This type of pollution poses a real threat to marine wildlife habitats within the National Park System. According to other studies, an average two-hour ride on a PWC emits three gallons of gas and oil into the water. In addition, PWCs emit eight times more pollution than equivalent, two-stroke outboard motorboats.

In that same proceeding, the opening statement of the NPS acknowledged that, "Studies have shown that these two-stroke (PWC) engines discharge as much as 25 percent of their gas and oil emissions directly into the water."

A "fact sheet" issued by the NCPA's Conservation Policy Dept., under date of 4 December 1997, observed that:

Pollution is another major concern associated with PWCs. The overwhelming majority of PWCs are powered by two stroke engines which are infamous for their propensity to pollute both air and water. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that between 40% and 50% of the fuel/oil mixture used by two stroke engines is emitted directly into the water and air. Polycyclic Aeromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), which result from the discharged fuel, are toxic to various forms of zooplankton, an important link in the aquatic food chain.

Data developed by the California Air Resources Board indicates that an average two-hour ride on a PWC may dump 3 gallons of gas and oil into the water.

A news release in April of 1998 by Miami University, Oxford, OH, referred to studies the previous summer at Lake Tahoe by its professor of zoology, Dr. James T. Oris. The article included the following text:

* * * emissions from motorized watercraft, including outboard engine-powered boats and personal watercraft such as jet-skis and wet bikes, killed zooplankton and stunted the growth of fish larvae in the lake. * * * The problem, Oris says, is that these emissions work together with the ultraviolet rays of the sun for a combination lethal to aquatic plants and animals. Oris has studied the phototoxity of fossil fuel products for the past15 years, but this is the first study demonstrating a link between natural levels of marine engine emissions and harm to aquatic life. A * * Much of the concern over phototoxity of engine emissions involved carburated, two-stroke engines. Because of the way carburated two-stroke engines work, up to 20 percent of the fuel passes through unburned, he said. "For every five gallons of gas pumped into these engines, up to one gallon is released into the water."

An article by Chad Nelsen published by the Surfrider Foundation in its June/July 1998 issue of "Making waves" observed that:

The primary reason that PWC are so harmful to the environment is that they are powered by two stroke engines. These internal combustion engines power either a water jet pump or fully covered propeller chamber and provide craft with enormous thrust. Unfortunately these engines pollute the water and air, are very fuel inefficient and create an extreme amount of noise, disturbing wildlife and people alike.

Two stroke engines run on a mixture of motor oil and gasoline. According to EPA statistics, two stroke engines are America's number one source of toxic water pollution. Two strokes discharge as much as one third of their fuel and oil unburned into the water and air, which means a two-hour ride on a PWC dumps 2.5 gallons of gas and oil into the water. Hydrocarbons found in gas and oil float on the surface of the water and can settle within shallow ecosystems along the shoreline, a critical habitat area. This is the same type of engine that was banned from use in motorcycles years ago because of its contribution to noise and air pollution. It has been estimated that PWC contribute the equivalent of four Exxon Valdez spills to America's waters annually!

An aide entitled "Making Waves" by Lilly Waterman in the July/August 1997 issue of National Parks Magazine contended with respect to PWCs that, "Running today's typical model for one hour releases about the same amount of smog-generating pollutants as driving a car 800 miles." The article reported that PWCs discharge up to 30% of their fuel into the water, and referred to "Michigan State University research indicating that toxicity of such discharges, made 50,000 times worse by ultraviolet light, damages ecologically essential plankton."

Noise Pollution

Noise has been aptly defined as unwanted sound. It has been said that, "Noise is an affliction suffered by people who have no part in creating it." And, further, that noise is a problem, "Because it is driving people crazy." The World Health Organization in 1996 declared noise to be serious health threat. Among its consequences are stress, high blood pressure, sleeplessness and lowered work productivity.

PWCs produce a high pitch mosquito-like whine in some maneuvers, and a variable, undulating level of noise in others, all of which many people subjected to it find to be a source of great irritation and annoyance. The effect on wildlife can be even more devastating. Contributing to the problem is speed, on the one hand, and, on the other, the practice of "wave-jumping" or "wake-jumping," which enables a PWC to be completely out of the water in one instant, and into it in the next, thus producing entirely different sound levels and sound characteristics. The end result is far more discomfort to the human ear than a steady level of sound. Even the PWC industry acknowledges that the noise patterns emitted by the PWC are both unique and annoying.

The consequential noise pollution is often exacerbated by the practice of PWC operators traveling in groups of 2 or more, a common phenomenon. Moreover, unlike traditional watercraft which (except perhaps, in the case of water-skiing) tend to be operated in a travelling mode from point A to point B, the PWC most often is seen (and heard!) coursing back and forth seemingly endlessly in the same general area, or even operated round-and-round within a very confined area.

The impact upon waterfront residential areas can be devastating. The PWC does not coexist with domestic tranquillity. The two are totally incompatible. Many a home owner sunning on a pier, trying to read or converse on an exterior deck, or engaged in more mundane yard chores has been driven indoors by the whine and undulating sound levels imposed upon his aural senses by one or more PWCs running around in the vicinity.

According to the Bluewater Network, a San Francisco-based organization concerned with environmental matters, typical PWCs produce the following sound levels at 25 meters (82 feet):

Idle: 74-85 decibels
5,000 RPM: 91-100 decibels
Full Throttle: 100-105 decibles

Moreover, modifications easily accomplished and designed to increase engine performance, often result in an increase of 10 decibels, thereby doubling the loudness of the PWC, according to the Bluewater Network.

The Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses (PIANC), domiciled in Brussels, Belgium, referring to the obvious fact that sound energy dissipates over distance, reported in 1995 that "The best study of boat noise dissipation * * * found that sound levels are reduced by an average of about 5 dB(A) every time the distance from a boat to listener is doubled." Thus, if a PWC produces a noise level of 100 dB at 25 yards, the level at 50 yards will approximate 95 dB; at 100 yards 90 dB; at 200 yards, 85 dB; and at 400 Yards, 80 dB. Unsurprisingly, the PIANC concluded that "shoreline noise conflicts will be minimized where rules require high-speed operation to take place at some distance from shore." Such logic is unrefutable.

The American Hospital Association in 1993 recommended hearing protection from even occasional sounds over 85 dB. This level is comparable to that encountered on a busy city street. However, frequent changes in loudness and pitch make the noise produced by a PWC much more disturbing than constant sounds. Kenneth J. Wagner, Ph.D., Northboro, MA, in an article subtitled, "The Noise Issue at Lakes," published in June 1994, informed that sound levels in excess of 75 dB became annoying to many people, and that, "Constant exposure to sound at 75 dB(A) can cause damage to the human auditory system." He also reported that a constant sound at 90 dB was found in one study to be less disturbing than intermittant sound at 75 dB.

The NPS "noise abatement regulation, 36 CFR Ch. 1-3.7, provides that:

Operating a vessel in or upon inland waters so as to exceed a noise level of 82 decibels measured at a distance of 82 feet (25 meters) from the vessel is prohibited.

California's Department of Boating and Waterways requires all engines manufactured on or after January 1, 1978 not to exceed 82 decibels. In 1998, Maine set noise limits for jet skis of 78 decibels for new craft, 82 decibels for older vessels. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has concluded that:

It may be that the 82 dBA is not an adequate numerical standard for PWCs because of the characteristic use patterns which for the most part are much different than most other motorized watercraft * * * the changes in the loudness or pitch often associated with jumping a wake and/or the frequent acceleration or deceleration of the PWC are some of the elements of the use of these machines that are considered annoying. These characteristics are not all able to be measured with a noise meter for translation into decibels. Using decibels alone cannot adequately describe the problem.

To put these matters in still sharper perspective, it is helpful to refer to a noise abatement ordinance enacted by the City of San Diego, CA, establishing applicable limits on one-hour average sound levels during 3 periods in the 24 hour cycle, 7 AM to 7 PM, 7 PM to 10 PM, and 10 PM to 7 AM, the higher permissible levels being in the day time. As measured in decibels, the following maximum permissible day time limits are:

R-1 residential 50
R-2 residential 55
R-3 residential 60
R-4 residential 65

It is eminently clear from the foregoing, that persons living in residences bordering Jean Guite Bay are subjected to far higher levels of unwanted sound generated by PWCs throughout the months from late Spring and well into the Fall.

Adverse Impact On Wildlife

In 1996, Commander Bob, a PWC industry web site, posted the following admonition for operators of PWCs:

In shallow waters where PWCs can easily operate, the bottom gets stirred up, suspending sediment which cuts down on light penetrations and depletes oxygen. This can affect bird and fish feeding. To avoid this, operate your PWC in deeper water. If you do have to traverse shallow water, run at idle speed.

Vegetation! In coastal areas be aware of low tide. Low water levels expose sea grass beds and other delicate vegetation. Disturbances can cause erosion and long lasting damage. Wildlife harassment! A PWC near shore can interrupt feeding and nesting wildlife and cause animals to deviate from their normal behavior. And that, by the way, is illegal! Mammals such as sea otters, sea lions, manatees, and whales can be injured by direct contact with a boat and it is believed that the noise from watercraft can even adversely influence breeding cycles and cause birth defects. So avoid areas of high animal population.

The aforementioned "fact sheet" issued by the NPCA's Conservation Policy Dept informed that:

PWCs are particularly disturbing to wildlife because of their high speeds, unpredictable movements and excessive noise. Because of their size and maneuverability, PWCs are able to enter remote regions and areas of shallow water which are often used by fish and wildlife as nesting and reproduction habitat. One study of disturbance flights of common terns in New Jersey found that even at slower speeds, PWCs were a significantly stronger source of disturbance than were motor boats. And data from the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission show clearly that PWCs cause wildlife to flush at greater distances, with more complex behavioral responses than observed in disturbances caused by automobiles, all-terrain vehicles, foot approach, or motor boats. Much of the increased disturbance occurs because PWCs accelerate or travel at extreme speeds directly toward the shore, while motor boats generally slow down as they approach the shore. Finally, diving birds such as loons and grebes are more likely than other species to be surprised or hit when resurfacing near fast unpredictable personal watercraft because PWCs provide little subsurface auditory warning until fight on top of an animal.

The Bluewater Network has pointed out that:

Fuel and oil released from two-stroke motors float on the surface of the water and settle within the shallow ecosystems of bays, lakes, rivers, and seas, where marine life is youngest and most vulnerable. These areas are home to organisms at the base of the food chain, including fish eggs, larvae, algae, crab, mussels, shrimp, and zooplankton, all extremely sensitive to oil and other petroleum products. In addition, large discharges tend to occur during warmer months at the height of the boating season, which is also when reproduction and early development take place within these aquatic nurseries.

Addressing the issue of impact on wildlife by PWC operations, the aforementioned article published by the Surfriders Foundation further reported that:

Not only does the noise of PWCs bother others and potentially harm the rider, it can also prove detrimental to nearby wildlife. A controlled study of PWC on the San Juan Islands (Washington State) by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute described how PWC, which lack low frequency long distance sounds, do not warn surfacing birds or mammals of approaching danger until they are almost on top of them causing undo panic and disturbance. The high frequency sounds PWC produce in air and water also startle birds. Scientists in New Jersey observed PWC disrupting nesting Osprey and terns, who fly away from their nests and leave their eggs vulnerable to predators.

PWC are designed to travel into shallow water. This allows access to sensitive shoreline areas and results in wildlife harassment. Wildlife biologists throughout the country have testified on the existing and potential impacts of PWC use. In California, biologists observed the separation of seal pups from mothers because of PWC activity nearby. In Florida, endangered manatees have been run over by PWC. The state's Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission also tentatively concluded that PWC, as opposed to conventional boats, produce larger flushing distances of water fowl due to their smaller size, higher speed, and larger spray. In a recent letter to San Juan County, officials at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife's Ecosystem Management Program have gone on record to report that they are becoming increasingly concerned with the effect of (personal watercraft), on both nesting birds and spawning salmon. And the state of Hawaii classified PWC as thrill craft * * * .

In a letter dated 25 September 1997 submitted by John Kelly, Resident Biologist for the Audubon Canyon Ranch Cypress Grove Preserve, Marshall, CA, the sanctuary manager for the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary was urged to prohibit PWC use in the Sanctuary because it had been clearly demonstrated, "that PWCs have major negative impacts on birds and other wildlife * * *." Among the 5 pages of single-spaced text submitted, the following statements may be found.

(1) A study by Joanna Burger of Rutgers University "found that even at slower speeds, PWCs were a significantly stronger source of disturbance to birds than were motor boats."

(2) " * * * PWCs are not just another kind of boat, but cause dramatically greater negative impacts to wildlife than do other motorized boats."

(3) Data developed by Dr. John Rogers of the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission's Wildlife Research Laboratory indicate that, "Brown Pelicans, which often approach other vessels, maintain a large distance from PWCs * * *."

(4) Tom Wilmers, U. S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist at the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge in Florida has, "seen a PWC repeatedly flush an Osprey from a nest site 11 times in less than an hour." According to Wilmers, "PWCs literally 'blow' shorebirds off of roosting sites by driving at high speeds along the shore."

(5) Tom Wilmers further noted that PWCs commonly flush foraging herons and egrets at low tide in areas generally too shallow for other boats.

(6) In order to protect wildlife from an obvious menace, PWCs have been successfully banned from numerous state, national and international parks and refuges, with rulings based not on formally controlled ecological studies but on simple and reasonable assessments of the obvious: PWCs pose a major threat to wildlife.


The NTSB report of 19 May 1998 gathered statistics from the Coast Guard and from State reports of PWC accidents in 1996 and the first 6 months of 1997. The following table illustrates the growth of PWC-related safety problems in the United States:

Number of PWC involved in recreational boating accidents Number of persons injured in PWC-involved accidents Number of PWC-related fatalities
1987 376 156 5
1988 650 254 20
1989 844 402 20
1990 1162 532 28
1991 1513 708 26
1992 1650 730 34
1993 2238 915 35
1994 3002 1338 56
1995 3986 1631 68
1996 4099 1831 57

Preliminary estimates indicated that there were 83 fatalities in 1997. The States with the highest number of fatalities were Texas (I I), CA (8) and FL (8). NC had 3 (Pg. 3). In NC in 1997, PWCs accounted for a total of 87 accidents, for 42% of all boating accidents and for18% of the fatalities. (Page 69)

Coast Guard information indicates that out of 8005 recreational boating accidents in 1996, some 2868 involved PWCs which accounted for 7.5% of State-registered recreational boats, 36% of the accidents and 41% of the injuries. (Pg. 2)

Inattention, inexperience and inappropriate speed were the most frequently cited causes contributing to PWC accidents (Pg. 19), and inexperience and speed were the leading causes of reported fatalities. (Pg. 43) The NTSB warned that "Operating a PWC requires a high degree of vigilance." While some models can exceed 60 mph, "even at a speed of 40 mph, a PWC travels about 20 yards per second. As speeds increase, the time available to react decreases." (Pg. 27) Some 20% of PWC accidents were attributed to inappropriate speed. (Pgs. 18, 20)

The NTSB found that the PWC has, "Unique operating characteristics" (Pg. 53); that the PWC "have a tendency to capsize" (Pg. 52); that "there appears to be a high risk of injury associated with the personal watercraft (Pg. 56); and that because the PWC cannot comply with Coast Guard safety standards, the industry has had to resort to a series of exemptions from the Coast Guard (Pg. 51) Falling overboard, capsizing and swamping are considered boating accidents for traditional boats, "but for PWC these are expected events; consequently, PWC are designed and constructed with somewhat different objectives than traditional boats." (Pg. 10)

The NTSB further pointed out that releasing the throttle on a PWC completely eliminates the ability to steer, leaving the vessel coasting in the original direction based on the effects of momentum. There is no braking mechanism (Pg. 9). Stating that "Steering difficulties were evident in many of the accident reports examined," the NTSB cited as an example an accident wherein a 24 year old PWC operator lost control of his PWC which then hurtled ashore, killing his onlooking mother (Pg. 10) Steering problems or loss of control account for 20% of accidents involving PWCs (Pgs. 54, 56)

The NTSB report (Pg. 5) offered statistical data respecting 3 individual States -- CA, FL and MN -- which, as supplemented by random selections from various news and other articles, elicited the following factual recitations:

(1) In CA in 1996, PWCs represented 16% of registered vessels, 45% of recreational boating accidents, and 55% of injuries.

(2) In FL IN 1996, PWCs represented 9% of registered vessels, 37% of accidents, and 48% of injuries.

(3) In MN in 1996, PWCs represented 3% of boats, 29% of accidents and 45% of injuries.

(4) According to Paddler Magazine, a publication of the American Canoe Assoc., a study conducted by Boat US showed that nationwide (year not shown), " jet skis account for approximately 11% of all boats but are involved in 50% of all boating accidents."

(5) The Associated Press, 8 July 1998, reported that Americans now own 1.2 million PWC, with sales running at about 200,000 annually, that PWC account for 11% of all water craft registered , "but 35% of accidents involving vessels."

(6) Paddler Magazine also reported that (year not provided) in PA "jet skis represent only 5.5% of all registered boats," but are "involved in 61% of all on-water collisions in the State."

(7) The "Commander Bob" industry web site, citing the State's Dept. of Natural Resources, reported that in 1997 in WI PWC accounted for 4.55% of all registered boats, 26.67% of all reported accidents and 27.7% of all injuries.

(8) A Philadelphia Inquirer article, 14 June 1998, reported that in PA, PWC in 1990 accounted for 1.9% of boat registrations, 7.5% of boating accidents, and 4% of boating injuries, climbing in 1997 to 6.3% of registrations, 28% of accidents and 32% of injuries.

(9) The same source reported that in NJ injuries involving PWC nearly tripled from 13% in 1990 to 40% in 1996.

(10) In 1996, PWC accounted for 8% of registered vessels in FL but for 37% of "crashes."

(11) The USCG reported that in 1996 PWC accounted for 5% of all watercraft but were involved in 31% of all accidents.

Regulation Elsewhere

Efforts by governmental entities to mitigate through legislation the pernicious aspects of PWC operations have tended to focus on one or more of the following:

(1) Establishment of PROHIBITION zones within which operations are totally banned.

(2) Establishment of RESTRICTIVE USE zones, typically mandating "no wake" or low speed (5 mph).

(3) Minimum age requirement for operators.

(4) Mandatory use of personal flotation devices.

(5) Hours of operation limitations, typically proscribing PWC use between sunset and dawn.

(6) Prohibitions against exhaust or muffler system modifications.

(7) Limitations with respect to jumping the wake of another vessel.

(8) Minimum distance requirements with respect to other vessels, piers, etc.

(9) Mandating PWC operations in a "reasonable or prudent manner, and/or prohibiting operations in a "reckless or dangerous" manner.

(10) Lanyard requirements.

Among the North Carolina political jurisdictions which have enacted legislation curtailing PWC operations, principally by means of distance requirements or minimum age limitations, are:

Atlantic Beach (7/20/92) Southern Shores (3/12/96)
Carolina Beach (9/11/90) Sunset Beach (4/3/89)
Emrald Isle (1/1/93) Topsail Beach (4/15/98)
Kitty Hawk (10/2/95) Brunswick County
Holden Beach (6/4/90) New Hanover County (5/19/97)
Ocean Isle

The most stringent buffer zone restriction is that of Carolina Beach which extends 1500 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. The State of North Carolina, effective 1 August 1994, specifically targeted PWC with personal flotation use requirements and several proscribed operational maneuvers. (Gen. Stat. Sec. 75A-13.2)

Elsewhere, there are two major court decisions worthy of comment The first of these was Personal Watercraft Industry Ass'n v. Dept of Commerce, 48 F. 3d 540, decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Dist. of Columbia Circuit, 3 March 1995. There, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dept of Commerce, adopted regulations prohibiting PWC -- referred to by the Court as "thrill craft" operations throughout the 4,000 square nautical miles of coastal and ocean waters spreading seaward as far as 46 nautical miles and extending along the California coast from the Gulf of Farallones in Marin County, on the north, to San Simeon and Cambria Rock, on the south. Excepted were 4 zones totaling 14 sq. nautical miles set aside for "thrill craft."

At the trial level, the U.S. District Court had held the restrictions on PWC to be arbitrary and capricious because PWC were treated differently than other vessels. The U.S.C.A. rejected that ruling and sustained the regulations. Incidentally, the U. S-C-A-, District of Columbia, is considered by many lawyers to rank immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court in power and prestige.

The second major decision is that of the Supreme Court of the State of Washington in Weden v. San Juan County, Docket No. 64776-3, filed 9 July 1998. There, San Juan County, consisting of a group of islands located immediately to the east of the southern tip of Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada, banned PWC from all marine waters in the County. As grounds for the action, the ordinance enumerated certain undesirable aspects of PWC operations, including:

(1) High-pitched, uneven noise cause conflicts with shoreline users.

(2) The unique ability of PWCs to operate close to the shore.

(3) PWC operational characteristics which make them hazardous and incompatible with recreational vessel users.

(4) Statistics relating to PWC accident rates.

(5) High speed capability up to 60 mph.

(6) The deleterious impact on marine mammals and birds.

Finding that, "PWC owners are directly responsible for the problems created by the use of their machines," the Court upheld the ban in a 7-2 vote.

An editorial appearing in the "New Bay Times" in July of 1998 reported that sailors in the Florida Keys were, "pleased with the new rules prohibiting operation of jet skis within 1250 feet of shore anywhere from Key Largo down to Key West."

Clark County, WA, enacted an ordinance specifying that, "Vessels shall not exceed a maximum speed of forty (40) miles per hour on all waters of Clark County, except the Columbia River." It also banned operation of vessels in various named lakes, rivers and creeks.

A number of other jurisdictions have enacted bans on PWC operations on specified bodies of water or have used distance to establish buffer zones, among them:

Jurisdiction Bans and/or Buffer Zone Distances
Maine (1998) Banned from 245 specified lakes, and from lakes of less than 200 acres
Vermont (5/1/97) Banned from lakes of less than 300 acres
Massachusetts Banned from lakes of less than 75 acres
Lake Tahoe, CA Two-stroke engines prohibited beginning 6/1/99. 600 foot no wake zone
Newport News, VA (1/26/93) Prohibited in named waters
Walton Co., FL (7/14/97) Banned from coastal dune lakes; 750 foot buffer zone elsewhere
Mendocino Co., CA (1991) Banned from coastal estuaries
N.Y.C., NY (7/31/97) 1500 foot buffer zone on all shorelines
Monroe Co., FL (1998) 1200 foot buffer zone, specified Florida Keys
San Fransisco, CA (4/27/98) 1200 foot buffer zone, including from shores of islands
Malibu, CA (6/24/92) 300 yard buffer zone
New Smyrna Beach, FL 600 feet from ocean shore
Seattle, WA 8 mph maximim speed wiithin 200 yards of Puget Sound shore

The concept of banning PWC operations from lakes of 200-300 acres may have an application in Southern Shores. The north-south shoreline in the southwestern quadrant of the Town is on Jean Guite (Ginguite) Bay. Using a map in the office of the Town's Building Inspector, it was estimated that the Bay measures 9490 ft. north to south, and, although varying, no more than 900 ft. east to west, for a total of some 8,541,000 sq. ft. Dividing that figure by the number of feet in an acre, 43,400, produced an estimate that the Bay does not exceed 96.6 acres. Its only access to Currituck Sound is a relatively narrow opening at the north end. The Bay's shoreline is lined with dwellings on either side. Consequently, its physical attributes and its use by boaters and others much resembles those of a lake.

Representatives of the NPS have informed that there are 378 facilities or areas administered by it including among them national parks, national seashores, national recreational areas, etc. The NPS published proposed rules in the Federal Register on 15 September 1998 and invited comment from the public within a 60 day window, eliciting some 40,000 responses on the issue of prohibiting PWC operation in NPS-administered facilities. Final rules may be made public by May of 1999.

Under the rules proposed, a total ban would be applied to PWC operations in all but about 25 of the parks and areas administered by NPS. The ban would not apply to 12-13 where the NPS had been involved in dam construction that brought a lake into being, or to a similar number where PWC use already has reached significant proportions to an extent that the NPS was unwilling to decree a reversal. Elsewhere, a two-year or grace period has established within which time individual parks will "actively manage" PWC operations with the probability that PWC operations thereafter will be banned. In the meantime, the following areas are among those which remain closed to PWCs on the basis of individual actions earlier taken:

Grand Canyon National Park AZ Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UT
Buffalo National River AR Canyonlands National Park UT
Golden Gate Natl. Recreation Area CA Mt. Rainier National Park WA
Everglades National Park FL Olympic National Park WA
Canaveral National Seashore FL Lake Chelan Natl. Recreation Area WA
Sleeping Bear National Seashore MI Ross Lake Natl. Recreation Area WA
Isle Royal National Park MI New River National River WV
St. Croix River MN Apostle Islands National Lake Shore WI
Upper Delaware River PA Grand Teton National Park WY
Big Bend National Park TX Glacier National Park MT

With the passage of time, increasing numbers of governmental units are taking action to impose outright bans on PWCs; to designate prohibition or restricted zones; or to enact regulations designed to diminish the adverse impact of PWC operations on water safety, other waterway users, shoreline residents and wildlife.

Public Opinion

In 1998, a public opinion survey conducted nationally by Colorado State University revealed that 52% of the public believed PWCs should be banned from national park units, and that another 40% favored the imposition of limitations. Thus, 92% supported either an outright ban or curtailed use.

In Minnesota a random survey of 800 adults in 1997 by the Minnesota Star-Tribune found that 67% strongly favored requiring PWCs to be operated farther from shore. An unofficial poll at the 1997 Minnesota State Fair conducted by the Minnesota House and Senate booths showed that of 8100 attendees registering opinion some 78% believed PWC operations on Minnesota lakes and rivers should be regulated.

In August of 1997, a Department of Natural Resources survey in Michigan tallied 72% of 463 persons surveyed as favoring more enforcement of PWC regulations.

Reporting on results of a questionnaire circulated by the Town of Nags Head, NC, it was announced on 6 November 1996 that:

Respondents indicated their support of additional regulation of privately owned personal watercraft use in the ocean by a 65% to 35% margin. A similar response rate (69.5% to 30.4%) indicated respondents' support for additional regulation of privately owned personal watercraft in the sound. Respondents indicated their support for additional regulation of commercially owned (rented) personal water craft in the sound by a margin of 63% to 35%.

Several months ago, the Superintendent for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore solicited written comments from the public respecting the regulation of PWCs in that NPS facility. More than 90% of the respondents favored either outright banning or placing restrictions upon the use of PWCs.

Discussion and Conclusions

Jean Guite Bay

Jean Guite (Ginguite) Bay, according to estimates, is a proportionately long (1.8 miles) and relatively narrow (less than 300 yards) offshoot or appendage to Currituck Sound. The Sound is, perhaps, 3 miles wide and as much as 40 miles long. The passageway from the northern end of the Bay into the Sound is less than 200 yards wide. In many ways, the Bay resembles a lake, and one of a size warranting a PWC ban in Maine and in Vermont.

The Bay's shoreline on both the east (Southern Shores) and the west (Martins Point) is lined with dwelling houses. In the warmer weather months traditional power boats and sail boats commonly use the Bay to gain access to the Sound, not only from shoreline locations but also from the Town's many miles of interior canals. Added to that are canoeists, kayakers, water skiers and even swimmers. In fact, the less adept water skiers are often swimmers. Much of the Bay is quite shallow.

Resident wildlife in Southern Shores include ospreys, Canada and other geese, Mallard and other ducks, anhingas and other cormorants, the great blue heron, egrets, muted white swans, pelicans, otters and coypus (nutria). The soundside waters are home to crabs, a variety of fish, turtles and aquatic plants.

Considering such factors as noise pollution, water pollution, the adverse impact on wildlife and aquatic plants and the promotion of safety in a body of water which attracts much attention from other and less intrusive users, IT IS CONCLUDED that the Southern Shores ordinance should be amended to ban PWC operations in Jean Guite bay except for low speed access and egress between the Southern Shores North Marina boat ramp and the Martins Point boat ramp, on the one hand, and, on the other, Currituck Sound. The Sound, of course, provides many square miles of open water within which PWC enthusiasts can run around-and-around, back-and-forth, and otherwise frolic to their hearts content with much reduced adverse impact on other human beings and lesser critters alike.

B. Currituck Sound Shoreline

The northern portion of the "soundside" shoreline in Southern Shores fronts directly on Currituck Sound. It, too, is lined with dwellings and is host to the so-called "soundside wading beach," a favorite gathering place for parents with small children. A critical consideration is that the water remains very shallow literally hundreds of yards from the shoreline.

The deleterious impact of PWC activity in shallow water is the subject of considerable text herein before. Also, persuasive evidence indicates that a buffer zone of at least 400 yards is necessary to provide shoreline residents with a measure of relief from PWC-generated noise pollution. Accordingly, IT IS CONCLUDED that the amendments should establish a 400 yard PWC prohibition zone along the Currituck Sound shoreline. Considering the many square miles of open water beyond the 400 yard line, such a requirement should pose no great deprivation for PWC operators.

C. 16 Year Old Minimum Age Requirement

The PWC industry through its PWIA has in a model ordinance. It recommends in the model and in many other representations urges placing a minimum age requirement of 16 years on PWC operators. Surely, they must be trying to tell us something. CONCLUSION; Follow the PWIA recommendations.

D. Limitations on Speed

The NTSB report of May 1998 makes it quite clear that speed is very much a factor in the PWC accident and injury experience. On Dogwood Trail, which parallels the "soundside" shoreline, Southern Shores has imposed a 25 mph limit on wheeled vehicles. Yet a few hundred yards to the west, a PWC can zoom along at 60 mph with impunity. By what rationale is a speed limit placed on land and none at all on the water? Its difficult to find one.

True, the PWC is designed and operated to promote thrills and excitement with speed as a primary factor.

Driving a motorcycle 50 mph along Dogwood Trail would produce its share of thrills and excitement too, but no responsible municipal government would tolerate it. So why not recognize that "speed kills" not only on land but on the water as well? Why not place speed limits on PWC operations? CONCLUSION; Adopt a 25 mph speed for PWCs.

John C. Bradley
145 Yaupon Lane

Southern Shores, NC 27949

NPC Menu Bar NPC Home Page Support NPC Ask NPC Search the NPC Home Page NPC QuietNet NPC Resources NPC Hearing Loss and Occupational Noise Library NPC Noise News NPC Law Library NPC Library