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Report: Half of boating accidents involve personal watercraft

people riding
The NTSB says most personal watercraft accidents and deaths involve operators with no boat-safety education  

NTSB calls for new safety standards

May 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:06 p.m. EDT (2206 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal safety officials say half of all boating accidents involve people using personal watercraft such as Jet Skis. The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for new safety regulations.

A new NTSB survey released Tuesday notes that while boating fatalities have dropped overall in the past decade, those involving personal watercraft have jumped dramatically. In 1993, the safety board recorded 26 such deaths, while preliminary 1997 numbers indicate 83 people died in personal watercraft accidents.

Board members, at a meeting Tuesday in Washington, also noted that the main cause of death in the category of personal watercraft is not drowning but blunt trauma.

Philip Martinez knows the dangers of the sport.

"I was about 20 feet out of the water (six meters) when I came down and hit my head on the front end and cracked my skull," Martinez says of the accident that put him in a coma for three weeks.

jet skis
Personal watercraft account for one-third of all new boat sales  

Users receive no training

NTSB Chairman Jim Hall called the industry's rapid growth "an American success story" but said personal watercraft can also be dangerous.

"They are designed to capsize ... and many operators you encounter have no training."

Investigators found that only 16 percent of users ever received any instruction on how to pilot the powerful, highly-maneuverable machines. The NTSB says an overwhelming number of accidents involve inexperienced users; 48 percent were riding for only the first or second time.

The report says a common mistake is letting up on the throttle when attempting to avoid an obstacle, not realizing that doing so diminished their vessel's steering ability.

Watercraft manufacturers questioned the survey's validity, and noted that 97 percent of users involved in accidents were wearing life jackets, and that only a small percentage of accidents involved alcohol.

In response to the increase in accidents and fatalities, the NTSB is recommending a mandatory minimum age for users and a mandatory safety course.

About one-third of all boat sales are for personal watercraft with brand names such as Jet Ski and WaveRunner.


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