National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. - A safety study conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board has determined that Personal Watercraft (PWC) such as "Jet Skis," "Sea-Doos," or "Waverunners," can be dangerous without proper operator training and experience. The Board recommended better operator training and education along with design changes to reduce the number of accidents and injuries.
Personal watercraft are a type of recreational boat that has become increasingly popular in recent years. They account for more than one-third of new recreational boat sales in the U.S., and comprise about a million of the 12 million recreational boats in this country.
The Safety Board initiated the study to more closely examine fatalities, injuries and accidents. This study follows the Board's 1993 recreational boating safety study. At the time the 1993 study was conducted, there were 26 PWC fatalities a year and the Board believed that a separate study was not warranted. Since that study, the number of fatal accidents has more than tripled. In addition to this increase, the Safety Board noted that PWC are different from other recreational boats because the leading cause of death is not drowning but blunt force trauma.
Collisions between two PWC are the most frequent type of accident. Head, neck and facial injuries were suffered by one of every four persons involved in the PWC accidents examined in the study. The study was intended to identify the major issues involved in PWC accidents, not to estimate accident rates.
The Safety Board noted that operators of rented PWC had less experience than operators of privately-owned personal watercraft. This lack of experience is important because PWC have unique operating characteristics, such as the loss of control during off-throttle steering. The Board concluded that some of the operator control problems may be attributed to the operating design of PWC.
As a result of this safety study, the Safety Board issued recommendations to the manufacturers of personal watercraft, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the PWC Industry Association and the States and Territories.
The recommendations included:
• Evaluating PWC designs and making changes to improve operator control to help prevent personal injuries;
• Developing comprehensive safety standards that are specific to the risks of personal watercraft;
• Including information on the safe operation of a PWC in all recreational boating courses;
• Enacting or revising recreational boating laws to require rental businesses to provide safety instruction training to all persons who operate rented PWC; and
• Enacting legislation to require the use of personal flotation devices while operating personal watercraft.
The Safety Board's complete report is available on the NTSB Web site; printed copies (order #PB-98-917002), will be available from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161. The NTIS telephone number is (703) 487-4650.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.