02-28-2010, 03:30 PM #1
It's all fun n games till someone gets hurt.
P E R S O N A L W A T E R C R A F T
Tragedies involving personal watercrafts occur on the lakes and rivers of this country hundreds of times a year and will likely increase as the number of these type of recreational vessels or "jet-skis" continue to grow. The greatest tragedy, however, is that many of these accidents can be avoided. In recent years, the PWC industry has been involved in a race to build the fastest and most powerful PWC possible. As the speeds and horsepower have increased, the concern for consumer safety has conversely decreased. The National Transportation Safety Board recently addressed many of the safety concerns arising from the increasing use of personal watercraft and recommended the industry take affirmative steps to prevent further injury.
Personal watercraft (PWC) are less than 13 feet long and are powered by an internal combustion engine that generates a powerful jet of water as its primary source of propulsion. People ride on, rather than within, the confines of the hull. PWC's are designed to carry from one to three people and be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel.
The PWC industry is dominated by five manufacturers: (1) Kawasaki, (2) Yamaha (Wave Runner), (3) Polaris, (4) Bombardier (Sea-Doo), and (5) Arctic Cat, Inc./Tiger Shark.
Models generally fall into one of two categories. First, are the performance-oriented models that are designed for trick riding, wave jumping, and hot doggin'. This type of PWC is extremely difficult to control and requires more education and training than other types of PWC. Performance-oriented PWC are generally operated from a standing position.
Models in the second category are designed for high-speed cruising and are generally operated from a seated position. Some models in this category are designed for multiple passengers. The seated style now dominates the industry and accounts for 97 percent of personal watercraft sales.
PWC speeds and power have vastly increased in recent years. The original 1974 Kawasaki "Jet Ski" had an output of 32 h.p. By 1998, 16 different models had engines with 100 h.p. or more. Some of these models can exceed 60 m.p.h. in their stock configuration. In addition, many manufacturers promote various after-market modifications which can greatly increase speed capabilities. Obviously, these speeds are equal to or greater than most full size, propeller-driven craft.
The defining characteristic of PWC is the engine that drives them. Most water craft are powered by either a propeller or sail. In contrast, PWC are powered by a water-jet. While that may seem like an obvious distinction, this design characteristic accounts for many of the dangers associated with PWC use. The water jet works very much like an aircraft jet. Water is taken in through intake valves and is concentrated, accelerated, and expelled through an output valve at the rear of the craft. In contrast to jet airplanes, however, a PWC is both powered and maneuvered by the water-jet. There is no rudder. In other words, the moveable nozzle is directed and the thrust of the water controls the direction of the craft.
PWC's are widely considered the single most dangerous watercraft in existence. They represent roughly 7.5 percent of the state-registered recreational boats, yet they account for nearly 40 percent of all boating accidents. In 1997 alone, nearly 40 people died and thousands were injured while operating PWC's. Unlike every other type of watercraft, more people die from blunt-force trauma than from drowning while operating a PWC.
PWC manufacturers have long catered to the young and inexperienced. According to a recent National Transportation Safety Board's study, the vast majority of PWC operators involved in accidents in the last five years were between the ages of 12 and 21. Manufacturers seem not to realize--or care--that a 12 yr. old child is not equipped to handle a 100 h.p. vessel traveling at speeds in excess of 60 m.p.h. Various state legislative bodies have begun to enact age requirements for operating PWC.
Inexperience is a prevalent factor in most PWC accidents. According to the National Transportation Safety Board's report roughly 84 percent of PWC accidents involved operators who had no boating safety education or instruction. In fact, 73 percent had been riding less than an hour when their accident occurred. Forty-eight percent of those injured had never operated a personal watercraft or had done so only once.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of PWC handling is "off-throttle" steering or, more accurately, the lack thereof. The distinctive nature of the movable water jet, without a rudder or brakes, creates unique handling hazards.
"Off-throttle" steering describes the phenomena that is created when an operator instinctively releases the throttle when confronted with a dangerous situation in an attempt to avoid a collision. Once the water-jet is disengaged, however, the ability to steer is lost. The PWC essentially becomes a missile heading in the last principle direction of thrust.
The proper evasive maneuver requires the operator to continue engaging the throttle and execute a turn away from the danger. To a novice operator, the concept of actually accelerating in the face of danger will seem counter-intuitive. Most operators, when confronted with danger, will instinctively release the throttle and attempt to avoid a collision. So long as PWC are designed in such a way that "off-throttle" steering is impossible and the craft are designed to travel at 60 m.p.h., injuries and deaths will continue to occur.
Lack of Brakes
Another source of danger for PWC operators and the public at large is the fact that PWC have no braking mechanism. Simply put, if a rider wishes to stop a PWC they must either execute a sharp turning maneuver or allow the craft to glide to a stop. At 60 m.p.h. it will take a PWC nearly 300 feet to glide to a stop, depending on the operator's weight and other factors.
Some PWC manufacturers have begun production of models which incorporate a "reverse" feature. Essentially, a thrust reversing clamp is lowered over the water-jet and water is thrust forward allowing the PWC to move in reverse. That feature could be the forerunner to actual brakes which a driver could engage to avoid a hazard. To date, the PWC industry has not mass produced a craft that incorporates a braking mechanism.
The single greatest contributing factor in most PWC accidents is speed. As stated previously, PWC are currently being produced with as much as 100 h.p. These craft can move across the water at speeds in excess of 60 m.p.h. Clearly, these speeds are dangerous and life threatening. Few would even consider traveling across land at 60 m.p.h. without any protection.
Yet, PWC are designed for exactly that purpose. The inherent design nature of PWC does not allow for any occupant protection. At some speeds, the water alone will cushion a driver's fall. At high speeds, however, water is much less forgiving.
Injuries Caused by Design Defects
Most injuries caused by PWC design defects are in the form of blunt-force trauma. Injuries to the arms and legs of PWC operators are common. Unsuspecting bystanders also suffer injuries caused by a runaway PWC as a result of off-throttle steering problems.
High-speed instability of PWC's are another cause of serious injuries. Increases in PWC horsepower sacrifices stability for speed. These accidents will often be described as a hooking of the craft or a sudden, sharp turn. Injuries caused by this phenomena can vary from minor cuts and bruises to broken bones and death. Typically, the occupant is violently thrown from the PWC and may suffer injuries impacting the water, another PWC, or an object.
PWC can be made more safe and easier to control by equipping them with some type of braking mechanism. The current reverse-thrust mechanism, in use today on Bombardier's racing models, could be a prototype for a brake. Of course, the industry would need to focus on the development of a braking mechanism to integrate braking controls with the throttle. Ability to brake would make these vehicles more user friendly and safer.
Off-Throttle Steering Solutions
Currently, at least one after-market manufacturer has designed a rudder that can be attached to PWC. With the addition of a rudder, PWC operators retain some directional control even though the throttle is not engaged. Another possible solution to this problem would be to integrate the throttle with a braking mechanism so that once the throttle is disengaged, the PWC would slow down rapidly, while retaining a sufficient degree of thrust to control the direction of the craft.
PWC owners' manuals warn the driver that releasing the throttle eliminates the ability to steer. That warning, however, is inadequate to prevent novice operators from attempting the intuitive maneuver when faced with danger. Moreover, a warning is never preferable to eliminating the danger altogether. As technology improves and the industry is forced to explore alternative designs, this dangerous defect should be eliminated.
One of the easiest ways for PWC manufacturers to improve the safety of PWC use is to improve the warnings accompanying the products. The warnings should integrate pictures depicting the dangers and should be prominently displayed. Further, the warnings should be included both in the product manual and on the product itself. For example, a warning that the operator loses the ability to steer once the throttle is released, buried inside a manual is not nearly as effective as a warning with pictures located on the steering mechanism. Until the industry develops an integrated solution to many of the current design problems, more prominent warnings should be incorporated.
State Regulatory Requirements
An important step in the evolution of PWC safety is the implementation of regulations and statutes requiring safety training and minimum age requirements for operators. Clearly, any craft that can travel at 60 m.p.h. requires experience and training to operate safely. Yet, only recently have states begun to enact training and age requirements. Inexplicably, however, many states have opted to set the bar rather low. Arizona, for example, only requires that operators be 12 years old.
State legislatures throughout the nation are beginning to realize the importance of training and experience for consumers to operate PWC safely. Consumer advocacy organizations and trial lawyers should continue to lobby their respective legislative bodies to enact these life saving measures. Our society has long recognized the importance of training for drivers of automobiles and some similar program should be implemented to educate PWC operators on the unique handling characteristics and dangers associated with PWC use. Even one hour of mandatory training would likely prevent hundreds of injuries and save many lives.
The utility derived from PWC in their current design configuration is the enjoyment and thrill their operators enjoy and the profits the industry makes from their sales. That enjoyment, however, must be balanced against the tremendous toll PWC are extracting from society in the form of injury and death. As technology advances and manufacturers become more aware of the causes of injury and death and the alternative designs that can prevent them, the Courts must strike this balance.
Products liability law has been at the forefront of insuring that products placed in the stream of commerce are continually developed and refined to adopt the safest, feasible design. While no single design change or legislative action will prevent all injuries or deaths, an integrated effort to design safer PWC will no doubt prevent many injuries and save lives. (12/08/99)
02-28-2010, 04:25 PM #2
- Join Date
- Jul 2007
- near Toronto, Canada
When you post articles like this, please include the source information. Web site/publication, author, original date published, etc.
Sometimes old info is still valid, and sometimes it is just old info, and newer material reflects changes since the article was originally released.
In some cases, the original article may have been written or published by an organization with an agenda, either pro or con regarding PWC.
02-28-2010, 04:31 PM #3
03-01-2010, 02:26 PM #4
- Join Date
- May 2008
- Elephant Butte New Mexico
fishing is dangerous too....
let's see how many eyes have been lost due to careless casting....
Motor sports of all types are dangerous, crikey, 50,000+ people are killed every year in car accidents..and that's not even sport...
One of the reasons you can't get a scuba tank filled unless you show a certification card.
Chinese atv's built for 6 years olds..
STOP THE INSANITY
03-01-2010, 04:37 PM #5
03-01-2010, 05:32 PM #6
I just posted this info for people that are clueless about jetsking. Maybe the info here will prevent someone hitting YOU!. by accident. I know the info is older than newer but the basic info here was to help people understand thier skis and how to operate them safely..
Knowing how the ski propels itself thru the water is totally new to some people and with no brakes or reverse function, it makes it even more dangerous for the uninformed.
I wasnt trying to burst any bubbles on jetskiing! I love the sport and have been safe doing it. I'll post the url next time
I found the article interesting and learned a little myself. never hurts to put the info out there for everyone.
Obviously, the people who race and have many years exp have read or probably are very familiar with jetskis in general.
I thought the part about a rudder on the ski was interesting.. wonder if that would work? Would hate to get clipped by that. ouch!
03-01-2010, 11:44 PM #7
- Join Date
- Feb 2010
We need to stop expecting the government to protect us from ourselves. Take some personal responsibility. If I get on a PWC and drive recklessly with no experience and kill myself, that's totally my fault and my fault alone.
I really don't understand the current attitude about requiring things to be made "safer" (aka dumbed down) when simply common sense (including educating one's self about the vehicle they're operating and it's procedures) is really all that's required to be safe. (More safety features are always a good thing, braking and power off steering is nice, and might lead to a better selling product - but should not be required by law, especially on things that do not by default carry uninvolved passengers.) Anyone who gets on a PWC or leaves their house for that matter is accepting the risks involved with their activity. Evaluate the risks, educate yourself, and decide if it's right for you.
I don't see at all why the manufactures should be required to limit the power of their vehicles etc (as has happened with some ATVs).. it's the owners responsibility to operate their vehicle within their skill level and if they fail to do that, it's their fault alone.
Unless the vehicle is prone to blowing up randomly, or emitting radiation or something, I just don't get it.
Oh, and in my opinion it should be the parents responsibility to determine whether their child can operate the PWC at a given age. I would opt for a lower powered model if I was a parent and not let them ride in congested areas. Probably wouldn't go for the 260HP seadoo being driven thru a major port.. lol. But I started riding ATVs when I was about 9, and have never crashed or been injured in the years I operated ATVs. I rode that thing extremely carefully when I was learning. I was scared of damaging it. Ha, I guess that trait doesn't appear in children now though.
03-01-2010, 11:47 PM #8
- Join Date
- Feb 2010
BTW, bowsniper, I wasn't directing that at you.. it was interesting info, and info is always good.
It just got me thinking about this whole regulatory situation, from required seat belts to trying to regulate McDonald fat content.
03-02-2010, 12:17 AM #9
I hear ya.. they want to run it all. I will be getting a UHEV sticker for my ski! lol Smell that! lol
I totally agree...ya get a car, ya learn, ya practice, guess what? 30 years later, your still doing it good! duh...lol same on a ski...
Honestly, I have never ever came close to an accident of any sort on my ski ever..It did take a few times out to get the no brake thing figured out.
Actually if your good...you can spin it 180 to the dock and almost stop without hitting the dock. Just like a boat. same thing. different prop.lol boats dont have brakes either!.
It's funny too they say its safer inside a boat,,,lol hahahahahaahahaha what about a scarab doing 75 and hitting something hard and coming to an instant stop? and.....
Your teeth are on a precision course to the windshield frame
Or on top of a house boat and u get hit and tossed off the bridge from 20 feet up? into whatever....
Or down below sleeping as your buddy falls asleep at the wheel and slams into the docks?
Go ahead, and tell me how safe they are, MORE so than a ski.. yeah whatever.....
Jetskis have the abilty to dodge any danger instantly where as a boat just runs over it..
I own both types. they are the same.. Ask anyone who has bitten the windshield. they will tell ya.lol
03-02-2010, 08:49 AM #10
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