Personal watercraft (PWC) are a type of recreational boat that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Manufacturers estimate that about 200,000 PWC are sold each year and that more than 1 million are in current operation. PWC now account for more than one-third of the new recreational boat sales in the United States.
Although the overall number of recreational boating fatalities has been declining in recent years, the number of personal watercraft-related fatalities has been increasing. At the time of the National Transportation Safety Board's 1993 recreational boating safety study, there were only 26 personal watercraft fatalities a year, and the Safety Board did not believe that separate consideration of PWC was warranted. However, in 1994, the number of PWC fatalities began to increase noticeably because the number of PWC in op-eration increased. Preliminary numbers for 1997 indicate 83 PWC fatalities. PWC are the only type of recreational vessel for which the leading cause of fatalities is not drowning; in PWC fatalities, more persons die from blunt force trauma than from drowning. The increase in fatalities and the distinctive way in which fatalities occur prompted the Safety Board to examine the nature of PWC accidents.
The Safety Board initiated the current study to more closely examine fatalities and injury in addition to accident characteristics associated with PWC accidents. The study was not designed to estimate how often PWC accidents occur. For PWC accidents that occurred between January and June 1997, the Safety Board requested that State marine accident investigators provide the Safety Board with copies of their accident reports and complete a supplemental questionnaire prepared by the Safety Board specifically for this study. The goal of the supplemental questionnaire was to obtain additional information concerning the accident characteristics and details concerning personal injury that have not previously been available from State boating accident reports. State accident reports and supplemental information were the sources of the Safety Board's accident information.
The Safety Board also reviewed State reports of PWC accidents that occurred in 1996. A total of 49 States and Territories provided either copies of their boating accident report forms, automated boating accident report database files, or summary information for 1996 and/or 1997.
Because the States voluntarily provided the Safety Board with accident reports and supplemental questionnaire information, and because of the incomplete nature of much of the information, the Safety Board does not claim that the results of the study are representative of all PWC accidents. The Safety Board analyzed 814 (one-third) of the 1997 reported accidents and examined all of the data for the 1996 reported accidents. Consequently, the Board believes that a substantial number of accidents was available to identify the most important safety issues associated with PWC accidents. Further, the Safety Board's analysis did not show any biases in the types of accidents in the half-year of 1997 accidents compared to the full year of 1996 accidents. The Safety Board's interest in truncating the 1997 data collection period to 6 months was based on a goal of providing the results of this study prior to the 1998 summer boating season.
Based on the analysis of the data reviewed, the safety issues discussed in this report include the following:
- protecting personal watercraft riders from injury,
- operator experience and training, and
- boating safety standards.
The study also addressed the need for recreational boating exposure data.
As a result of this study, recommendations were issued to the manufacturers of personal watercraft, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, BOAT/U.S., the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, and the States and Territories. The recommendations focus on the safe operation of personal watercraft.
As a result of this safety study, the National Transportation Safety Board made the following safety recommendations:
To the Manufacturers of Personal Watercraft (Kawasaki, Yamaha, Polaris, Bombardier, and Arctic Cat, Inc./Tiger Shark):
Evaluate personal watercraft designs and make changes to improve operator control and to help prevent personal injuries. Consider items such as off-throttle steering, braking, and padded handlebars, and operator equipment such as personal flotation devices and helmets. (M-98-85)
Develop, with the U.S. Coast Guard, comprehensive standards that are specific to the safety risks of personal watercraft. (M-98-86)
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
Eliminate the existing process of exempting personal watercraft from standards that were defined for conventional boats and develop, with the personal watercraft manufacturers, comprehensive standards that are specific to the safety risks of personal watercraft. (M-98-87)
Determine within 2 years, through research, the feasibility of providing personal watercraft operators more control in an off-throttle steering situation. (M-98-88)
Work with the Personal Watercraft Industry Association to use the results of off-throttle steering research described in Safety Recommendation M-98-88 to develop appropriate standards for steering on jet-pump propelled vessels. (M-98-89)
Develop, in conjunction with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, a checklist for boat rental businesses to use for evaluating a person's ability to operate a personal watercraft. (M-98-90)
Collect recreational boating exposure data such as "operational use time" or "vessel running time" and update this information on an annual basis or conduct periodic surveys. (M-98-91)
To the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary:
Include information on the safe operation of personal watercraft in all recreational boating courses. (M-98-92)
To the U.S. Power Squadrons:
Include information on the safe operation of personal watercraft in all recreational boating courses. (M-98-93)
Include information on the safe operation of personal watercraft in all recreational boating courses. (M-98-94)
To the National Association of State Boating Law Administratorsâ€”Include information on the safe operation of personal watercraft in all recreational boating courses. (M-98-95)
Develop, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, a checklist for boat rental businesses to use for evaluating a person's ability to operate a personal watercraft. (M-98-96)
Examine the effects of special provisions on the operator minimum age requirement for personal watercraft. (M-98-97)
To the Personal Watercraft Industry Association:
Develop, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, a checklist for boat rental businesses to use for evaluating a person's ability to operate a personal watercraft. (M-98-98)
Work with the U.S. Coast Guard to use the results of off-throttle steering research described in Safety Recommendation M-98-88 to the Coast Guard to develop appropriate standards for steering on jet-pump propelled vessels. (M-98-99)
To all States and Territories:
Include information on the safe operation of personal watercraft in all recreational boating courses. (M-98-100)
Enact or revise your recreational boating laws, as necessary, to require rental businesses to provide safety instruction training to all persons who operate rented personal watercraft; all the operators should be required to demonstrate their ability to operate and control personal watercraft. (M-98-101)
To California, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico:
Enact legislation to require the use of a personal flotation device while operating personal watercraft. (M-98-102)
Also as a result of this safety study, the Safety Board reiterated the following recommendation to 42 States and Territories for which the recommendation is in an "Open" status (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands):
Implement minimum recreational boating safety standards to reduce the number and severity of accidents; consider requirements such as mandatory use of personal flotation devices for children, demonstration of operator knowledge of safety boating rules and skills, and operator licensing. (M-93-1)