Children under 14 would have to stick to swimming or water-skiing under a bill gaining support in the New York Legislature that would restrict the use of personal watercraft.
The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington, a Suffolk County Democrat, and state Sen. Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, bars anyone under the age of 14 from operating a personal watercraft, commonly known by brand names such as Jet Ski, Sea-Doo, or WaveRunner.
Those aged 14 to 18 would be required to pass a boating safety course to operate the vehicles, which have powerful motors and can reach speeds up to 60 mph, Eddington said. The measure has already passed the Assembly and appears to be headed for a full vote in the Senate.
New York is one of only three states that currently allow 10-year-olds to operate personal watercraft by themselves, Eddington said.
“I look at it this way: a 14-year-old is high school kid, but a 10-year-old is an elementary school kid,” she said. “These Jet Skis are bigger and heavier than they were in the past. My own grandson is 10 and I can’t imagine him out alone in the ocean on a Jet Ski.”
Eddington said she decided to sponsor the bill after two recent tragic accidents involving children under 14 years of age using personal watercraft, one of which resulted in death and the other a severe injury.
The Personal Watercraft Industry Association supports the bill. It suggests a minimum age of 16 to operate a personal watercraft.
“We feel that’s a good standard to use,” said Chris Gullott, state and local affairs manager for PWIA, noting that 16 is the same age that’s required to operate an automobile.
While sales of the vehicles have declined in recent years, their use remains popular with about 20 million Americans riding personal watercraft each year, according to the PWIA.
Sales of personal watercraft peaked in 1995 with approximately 200,000 units sold. They declined to around 80,600 in 2003, a drop the industry attributes to market saturation and laws banning personal watercraft use in certain areas.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates there were approximately 1.35 million personal watercraft owned in 2002.
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