Jet ski renter says awareness critical

The head of a jet ski rental operation said Sunday situational awareness makes the difference between a fun afternoon and a tragic one.

Iguana Watersports rental operations director Austin French said anyone operating a personal watercraft, or jet ski, needs to continually check their surroundings and designate a sober captain if they plan to drink. Highway Patrol reports show alcohol was involved in Friday's crash that killed a Chillicothe man. In addition, French said riders planning on jumping a wake need to know exactly what is on the other side of the wake.

Coast Guard statistics show personal watercraft were involved in 1,111 accidents nationwide last year, about a fifth of all accidents and second only to open motorboats, which were involved in 2,771 accidents. Personal watercraft were also second to open motorboats in injuries (721 vs. 1,556) and deaths from causes other than drowning (35 vs. 75).

This means personal watercraft accounted for about 24 percent of injuries and 18 percent of non-drowning deaths involving vessels of all types last year. For comparison, open motorboats accounted for almost 52 percent of injuries and 39 percent of non-drowning deaths during the same period.

French said anyone operating a personal watercraft needs to allow at least 100 feet of following distance and preferably more.

"You never know when someone's gonna turn or someone's gonna be coming up behind you," he said.

French noted personal watercraft need ample room if the rider needs to stop because the only thing the rider can do to slow down is reduce or cut power to the engine.

He said every such vessel comes with a kill switch, but riders need to make sure they attach the lanyard running to that switch to either their wrist or their life jacket. If a rider is involved in a crash, French said every rider should wear a properly-fitting life vest that can hold their head above the water.