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Change in personal water craft regulations delayed | TribLIVE.com
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Change in personal water craft regulations delayed

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has shelved — at least until January — a proposal to raise the minimum age at which a person can operate a personal water craft.

Under current regulations, anyone 12 or older can drive a personal water craft, provided he has passed a boating safety course.

At the PF&BC’s meeting last week, agency staff recommended a plan that would have raised the minimum age to 16 over the course of two years.

Dennis Guise, deputy executive director of the PF&BC, said the 16-year-old minimum was a reflection of the thinking of PWC manufacturers.

Chris Gullott, manager of state affairs for the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, in Washington, D.C., said manufacturers feel PWCs can be too powerful for children who are still maturing physically and mentally. Some PWCs can reach speeds of 80 miles per hour.

“PWCs are Class A vessels. They are not toys,” Gullott said.

About 20 states require PWC operators to be at least 16, Gullott added.

There’s been no cry among Pennsylvania’s boaters to raise the minimum age, however.

Tim Miller, a boating safety instructor and manager of Miller’s Marine Inc. in Delmont, said he would prefer the PF&BC promote safety by making boaters take their safety course in person, rather than on-line.

“That might be more effective,” he said. “Otherwise, I don’t really see a need for change.”

Eric Thomas, manager of Bob Thomas Honda-Kawasaki, a PWC retailer in North Huntingdon, agreed. While he would be open to limiting children to driving the least-powerful PWCs on the market, he said it’s ultimately up to parents to make sure their children can handle their water craft.

“If you’re going to put your kid on a PWC, you had better make sure he’s responsible enough to drive it,” he said.

Pennsylvania has never had a fatality resulting from a collision involving a PWC driven by someone younger than 16, said Dan Martin, director of boating safety education with the PF&BC. Still, he said he is a proponent of the higher age.

“While I don’t think there are going to be a flood of accidents, there will be one eventually, and this may prevent it,” Martin said.

The PF&BC’s boating committee agreed to go along with the proposal for the sake of putting it out for public comment. The full board opted to table it, however, citing concerns that it did not apply to motor boats, which children 12 and older can also operate.

PF&BC staff will revise the proposal to include motor boats, and present it to the board when it meets in January, Guise said.

Article by Bob Frye,
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