Friday, August 30, 2013

Michigan laws have age, safety requirements for jet ski, boat operators; DNR reminds boaters of safety precautions

By Michele Bourdieu

A jet ski (personal watercraft) approaches Hancock Beach, passing close to the buoy marking the swimming, no boats area. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Have you noticed that some young operators of jet skis (Personal Watercraft) come awfully close to Hancock Beach, sometimes checking to see who is on the beach rather than watching where their speeding "personal watercraft" is heading -- oblivious to whether they might be within the swimming area heading for a swimmer? I have. Two other swimmers and I were trying to swim laps one day this week when one of these careless jet skiers came dangerously close to wiping us out.

And it wasn't just one day that I've witnessed this sort of behavior near our beach. Luckily the children who sometimes swim out to the sand bar (farther out than we were swimming) were not doing so at that time. Unfortunately there is no lifeguard and no one to enforce rules at Hancock Beach.

The Department of Natural Resources sent a press release this week reminding the public in general about boat safety during the Labor Day weekend. Although they sent a press release on boater safety last March (well in advance of the boating season!) they did not include in this recent release the fact that state laws actually do require people of a certain age to pass a safety test and carry a safety card if they drive a jet ski -- facts I learned after reporting this incident to City Councilor John Slivon, who helped me find these laws.

Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson is now aware of the situation and has expressed concern.

Here is the Michigan law concerning age restrictions for operating a "Personal Watercraft" (jet ski):

Personal Watercraft (PWC)

Those less than 14 years of age may not legally operate a PWC.

Those 14 and 15 years of age may operate a PWC legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate and
  • He or she is accompanied on board by his or her parent or legal guardian or by a person at least 21 years of age who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian or
  • He or she is operating or riding the PWC at a distance of not more than 100 feet from his or her parent or legal guardian or from a person at least 21 years of age who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian.
Those at least 16 years of age and born after December 31,1978, may operate a PWC legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate.

Those born on or before December 31, 1978, may operate a PWC legally without restrictions. (Thus, they need to be 35 years old by the end of this year!)


Michigan law enforcement officers patrol the waterways to make your boating experience safe and pleasant. Cooperate with them by following the laws and guidelines.

Carry the Card: Vessel operators who are required to have a Boater Education Card must carry the card on board the vessel and have it available for inspection by an enforcement officer.

Penalty: Not carrying your Boater Education Card when one is required can result in a fine.

(According to the City of Hancock, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Houghton County Sheriff's Dept. are charged with enforcement in the local area.)

Click here for details about the boater education law, who is exempt from the education requirement, which courses are approved, the Online Course Exam, and the application for the Boater Education Card. (Click more for info about Personal Watercraft)

The following is information from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), sent Aug. 29, 2013:

Michigan conservation officers issue safe boating reminder for Labor Day weekend

LANSING -- As summer winds down in Michigan with the Labor Day holiday weekend, conservation officers at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) remind Michigan residents to practice safety when boating. The DNR encourages Michigan residents and visitors to:
  • Wear a life jacket. More than 80 percent of drowning accidents in the United States are due to people not wearing their life jackets.
  • Make sure your boat is properly equipped and your equipment is in good working order. In addition to all legally required equipment, such as life jackets and fire extinguishers, always carry a first-aid kit, nautical charts and an anchor. Make sure your navigation lights are working properly.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. Nearly half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. Studies show that passengers are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have consumed alcohol. Boating under the influence is against the law.
  • File a float plan. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the details of your trip – and when you are expected back. Give them phone numbers for the local sheriff (for inland waters) or U.S. Coast Guard (for Great Lakes waters) in the event you don’t return when expected.
  • Maintain a sharp lookout. Stay alert for other boats, swimmers, skiers and objects in the water. This is especially true when operating in crowded waterways, at night and during conditions of restricted visibility.
  • Carry a marine radio or cell phone. Be prepared to call for help in case you are involved in an accident, your boat becomes disabled or you otherwise need assistance. Program the phone numbers for the county sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in your cell phone. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, but be aware that there are often gaps in coverage on the water.
  • If you are pulling persons on water skis, tubes or rafts, have someone be a spotter on your vessel or personal watercraft (jet ski) to keep an eye out for hazards and other watercraft.
Lt. Andrew Turner, boating law administrator for the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division, emphasizes the use of life jackets.

"In most of the drowning accidents in the United States, people have life jackets on board their boats, but they just aren’t wearing them," he said. "Life jackets must be Coast Guard-approved, and must be in good and serviceable condition, and properly fitted to the person wearing it."

In Michigan, anyone younger than 6 years of age must wear a life jacket when on the open deck of any vessel. But wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) is recommended for everyone.

"Every study shows that using life jackets saves lives," said Turner. "Life jackets have been redesigned in recent years so that they come in styles that are comfortable and easy to wear. Having a life jacket on prevents the search for one during a boating emergency."

For more information on safe boating, visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center at

1 comment:

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