By Robert Boop
Personal watercraft (PWCs) are targets for new laws and restrictions. The best way to change the PWC image is to respect other boaters around you by following the laws. Start by knowing the PWC Rules of the Road a code that every boater is legally required to follow. Not only are there safety requirements, but the rules also extend into the realm of boating etiquette. They tell you how to signal and pass other vessels, which boat has the right of way, and how to read aids to navigation. Chances are your state has its own set of PWC rules. For instance, Rhode Island requires state residents to have a PWC license in order to promote safe, courteous riding. There are also local rules concerning PWC operation.
Know Your Machine.
Depending on how much noise and smoke they emit, some watercraft are considered ruder than others old carbureted 2-strokes are considered the height of rudeness. If you're one of the majority of riders using a carbureted 2-stroke PWC, the key is to keep your watercraft well-maintained for minimal smoke emission (there's probably not much you can do about noise). Manufacturers have been addressing both smoke and noise pollution with a new breed of low-decibel 4-strokes. The good news is that within a few years, carbureted technology will be a thing of the past, so many of the big complaints against PWCs will go up in smoke.
You also need to develop your own riding skills to promote safety and courtesy. They include learning to use the throttle and steering properly (many beginners let go of the throttle when they're heading at another boat or obstacle, thus losing steerage), practicing high-speed stopping and steering maneuvers, and scanning the horizon constantly for other boats. This includes common-sense maneuvers like slowing down or avoiding anchored boats, not waking or splashing other boaters, and not doing hour-long doughnuts in front of other boats or waterfront homes. The key is to be aware of others while on the water. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.
Know The Area.
Besides being polite to other boaters, there are real and perceived problems associated with PWC and habitat destruction. In fact, that was one of the main arguments for PWC bans in national parks last summer. A little awareness for environmental concerns can go a long way. So, stay clear of nesting grounds and fragile ecosystems. Also, keep your eyes posted for swimmers. Areas around coves and docks can fill up quickly with people who might want to take a dip, so before you decide to gun it, scan the area for potential problems. As far as the wakes go, just apply the golden rule of PWCs a splash unto others as you would like them to splash unto you.
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