By Tom O’Brien, Chair, Safety Committee
Great Herring Pond is a paradise found. All the seasons are beautiful, but in the summer after all the trees fill in with greenery, the flowers bloom, and many colorful birds return, it is more. Summer brings breathtaking sunsets, the smells of flowers and outdoor cooking, the warm breezes that always visit even on hot days. It’s the perfect place and time of year to enjoy the water. Our water comes alive with many fun outdoor activities.
As the Chair of the Safety Committee of the Herring Ponds Watershed Association, I thought I’d visit one of our enjoyable pond activities – Jet Skiing! A lot of residents enjoy jet skiing on the pond. While it is super fun, it is one of the more dangerous vessels in the water. The following are “rules of the road” from Massachusetts Environmental Police for jet skiers as a reminder to enjoy the waters safely:
Although a personal watercraft (PWC) – Jet Ski – is considered an inboard vessel and comes under the same rules and requirements of any other vessel, there are specific considerations for the jet ski operator.
Requirements Specific to Jet Skis
- Every person on board a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)– approved wearable personal flotation device (PFD) or Type I, II, III, or V PFD that is in good and serviceable condition.
- If the PWC is equipped with an engine cut-off switch, the lanyard must be attached to the person, clothing, or PFD of the operator.
- PWC may be operated only from sunrise to sunset.
- Persons under 16 years of age may not operate a PWC on Massachusetts waters under any circumstances.
- Persons 16 or 17 years of age may operate a PWC only if they have passed a state approved boating education course.
- PWC may not be operated within 150 feet of a swimmer or a moored vessel unless operated at headway speed.
- PWC may not be operated within 150 feet of a shoreline used for swimming.
- It is prohibited to use a jet ski regardless of size, to tow water skiers, tubes, or any similar device upon Massachusetts waters.
- PWC may not be operated on any Massachusetts waters that are less than 75 acres in size.
Courtesy When Encountering Other Vessels
- Jumping the wake of a passing vessel, or riding too close to another vessel, creates risks and is prohibited in Massachusetts. Visibility around the vessel making the wake may be blocked, both for the jet ski operator and for approaching vessels.
- Excessive noise from jet skis often makes them unwelcome.
- Avoid congregating with other jet skier operators near shore, which increases annoying noise levels.
- Avoid making excessive noise near residential and camping areas, particularly early in the morning. Excessive use in one area can be an irritant to people who are there to enjoy a quiet and relaxing time.
- Avoid maneuvers that cause the engine exhaust to lift out of the water because that increases noise levels.
- Do not modify your engine exhaust system if it increases the noise. Improperly modified exhausts will not make your jet ski faster and may raise the noise to an illegal level.
When operating your jet ski or other jet-propelled watercraft, consider the effect you may have on the environment.
- Make sure that the water you operate in is at least 30 inches deep. Riding in shallow water can cause bottom sediments or aquatic vegetation to be sucked into the pump, damaging your jet ski and the environment.
- Avoid causing erosion by operating at slow speed and by not creating a wake when operating near shore or in narrow streams or rivers.
- Do not dock or beach your jet ski in reeds and grasses. This could damage fragile environments.
- Take extra care when fueling your jet ski in or near the water. Oil and gasoline spills are very detrimental to the aquatic environment. Fuel on land if possible.
- Never use your jet ski to disturb, chase, or harass wildlife.
Steering and Stopping a PWC
Remember—no power means no steering control…
- Most jet skis and other jet-drive vessels must have power in order to maintain control. If you allow the engine on a jet ski or other jet-propelled vessel to return to idle or shut off during operation, you may lose all steering control. Many jet skis will continue in the direction they were headed before the engine was shut off, no matter which way the steering control is turned. New jet skis allow for off-throttle steering.
- Most jet skis do not have brakes. Always allow plenty of room for stopping. Just because you release the throttle or shut off the engine does not mean you will stop immediately. Even jet skis that have a braking system do not stop immediately.
Engine Cut-Off Switches
Most jet skis and powerboats come equipped by the manufacturer with an important device called an emergency engine cut-off switch. This is a safety device that is designed to shut
off the engine if the operator is thrown from the proper operating position.
- In many states, it is illegal to ride your PWC without attaching the lanyard properly between the switch and yourself. If your vessel does not come equipped with an engine cut-off switch, you should have one installed.
Reboarding a Capsized PWC
After a fall, the jet ski could be overturned completely. You should be familiar with the proper procedure to right the jet ski and to reboard from the rear of the craft.
- Most manufacturers have placed a decal at the rear or bottom of the craft that indicates the direction to roll your jet ski to return it to an upright position. If no decal exists, check your owner’s manual or ask the dealer. If you roll it over the wrong way, you could damage your jet ski.
- Practice reboarding with someone else around to make sure you can handle it alone. Don’t ride your jet ski if you are very tired because reboarding would be difficult. Also, avoid riding where there are strong currents or winds, which could hamper your reboarding efforts.
Other Jet Ski Considerations
- Remember that you and anyone on board must wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
- Frequently inspect your jet ski’s electrical systems (e.g., starter and engine gauge connections) to ensure there is no potential for electrical spark. Gas fumes could collect in the engine compartment, and an explosion could occur. After fueling, sniff the engine compartment for any evidence of gas fumes.
- Make sure that every operator and passenger knows how to swim.
- Keep hands, feet, loose clothing, and hair away from the pump intake. Before cleaning debris away from the pump intake, always shut off the engine.
- Never exceed the manufacturer’s recommended capacity for your jet ski.
Improper Speed or Distance is not maintaining a proper speed and/or distance while operating a vessel. Specifically, it is illegal to operate any vessel:
- At a distance from other vessels or at a speed that exceeds safe and reasonable limits given the waterway traffic; marked speed limits; visibility; wind, water, and current conditions; and the proximity of navigational hazards
- At greater than 45 miles per hour on any inland waters of Massachusetts, except on areas posted otherwise
- Motorboats may not be operated:
– Within 150 feet of shorelines used as swimming areas – Within 75 feet of floats or markers that designate swimming areas
- At a rate of speed that creates a wake that causes damage, injury, or excessive rocking to other vessels, rafts, or floats
- At more than “headway speed” under any of the following conditions:
- From 150 to 300 feet of shorelines used as swimming areas
- Within 150 feet of marinas, ramps, rafts, or floats
- Within 150 feet of swimmers
- When vision is obscured by bridges, bends in the waterway, or any other reason
- When operating in a channel, unless channel markers state that higher speeds are allowed
Alcohol and Drugs
Massachusetts has one of the strongest boating under the influence (BUI) laws in the nation. Massachusetts law prohibits anyone from operating any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance.
- Massachusetts law states that a person is considered to be boating under the influence (BUI) if he or she has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater.
- Those convicted of BUI for the first time may be imprisoned for up to 30 months, fined up to $1,000, or imprisoned and fined. An offender also may have his or her motor vehicle license and vessel’s registration revoked for up to one year.
- Repeat offenders will receive more severe penalties.
- Offenders convicted of BUI and causing serious bodily injury to another person may be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to $5,000.
- By operating a vessel on Massachusetts waters, you have given “implied” consent to alcohol testing if arrested for boating under the influence. Anyone who refuses to submit to a blood alcohol level test is subject to having their motor vehicle license suspended for 120 days and vessel’s registration revoked.
- It is illegal for the owner or operator of a vessel to knowingly permit it to be operated by someone under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance.
Remember—jet ski owners are responsible…
As an owner of a PWC, you are legally responsible if you allow your jet ski to be operated by others in violation of Massachusetts law.
- It is illegal to tow a water-skier or a person in any other manner behind a PWC.
- PWC must be operated in a safe and responsible manner. For example, it is illegal to
- Jump the wake of another vessel.
- Speed in restricted areas.
- Follow within 150 feet of a water-skier
- Cross unreasonably close to another vessel.
- Weave through congested waterway traffic.
- Operate in a way that endangers the life, limb, or property of any person.
- Chase or harass wildlife with your PWC.
Sharing Your Jet Ski…Safely!
Before allowing anyone to operate your PWC, you should:
- Make sure they meet the minimum age and education requirements for jet ski operation.
- Make sure they know basic boating safety information and “rules of the road.”
- Let beginners take their first rides in a quiet area. While still on shore, show them the proper procedures for deep water starting and reboarding.
- Explain the basic operating features of the jet ski. Be sure to give instruction on how to steer and control the jet ski. Remind the operator that power is required for steering control!
- Make sure the operator understands how to use the lanyard with the engine cut-off switch.
- Explain the importance of “slow, no wake” restrictions.
- Emphasize the need for staying alert. Beginning riders may concentrate on riding and not on paying attention to the surrounding traffic in the area.
Enjoyable and safe summer to all!!