The Jet Ski debate



Jet Skis — officially called PWCs — are regarded much like Washington politicians, or a serving of Brussels sprouts: people either love ’em or hate ’em.

In Maine, the Jet Ski debate rages on.

This fall, during a meeting of the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council, a public petition from camp owners on Notched Pond was considered that would, if passed, impose a horsepower limit on that particular pond. The small pond near Gray is a 77-acre, narrow body of water. Some view horsepower limitations as a default method of outlawing Jet Skis on any given body of water.

During the council discussions, Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso expressed her reluctance to restrict horsepower on any body of water, unless there was a clear and demonstrable public safety issue. That did not seem to be the case with Notched Pond. A reading of the council minutes suggests that the camp owners were really trying to ban Jet Skis on the small pond by using a horsepower restriction.

The council voted to reject the camp owners’ petition by a vote of 5-2. Council members Al Cowperthwaite of Houlton and Brian Smith of East Machias supported the horsepower restriction. 

DIF&W has the authority to impose horsepower restrictions on Maine waters, but it takes a legislative action or municipal ordinance to ban Jet Skis. In 2008, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that municipalities may, indeed, ban PWCs (Jet Skis) on local waters.

Currently in Maine, Jet Skis are prohibited on 33 lakes and ponds. Given the ever-growing popularity of Jet Skis and assorted other variations of personal watercraft, this user-conflict issue is likely to continue and, perhaps, grow in intensity.

The irony is that it is the very attraction of PWCs to recreational users that make them prone to misuse or even abuse. Unlike the traditional boat and outboard, the Jet Ski is highly maneuverable, quick to respond to the throttle and increasingly loaded with horsepower. Translation: the PWC in the wrong hands can be hazardous, not only to the user but to others as well.

When it comes to lawful operation of a PWC, the law is clear in some respects and fuzzy or ambiguous in other regards. Operating a PWC while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense subject to imprisonment. It is also a violation of the law for youngsters between 16 and 18 to operate a PWC without having successfully passed a boater education course.

As to what constitutes “reckless” or “imprudent” operation, there is an element of subjectivity that may discourage game wardens from issuing summonses and bringing bad actors before a judge. PWC operators need to know that jumping another vessel’s wake, operating after sunset, carrying an extra passenger (on a one-person craft) and maneuvering in a manner that can endanger the operator or others are all against the law.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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