Undercover troopers find dangerous practices in South Jersey’s personal watercraft rental industry
Atlantic City , N.J. - New Jersey State troopers just finished making unwanted presentations to personal watercraft rental establishments along the South Jersey shore. Throughout last week, they handed out a total of 64 summonses for violations of Title 13 to company owners from Atlantic City to Cape May, and revoked the permit of one vendor to run a “rental operation area.”
The actions were the culmination of a month-long undercover operation run by the State Police Marine Services Bureau and the Auto Unit. Troopers performed surveillance in plain clothes from unmarked boats and posed as renters of personal watercraft (PWC) to see if companies complied with the laws. Troopers in uniforms and marked boats rarely observe violations because their mere presence prompts compliance from the staff of rental agencies.
Twelve vendors were checked by undercover troopers with nine of them receiving summonses. Lakeview Docks of Wildwood Crest was notified on Thursday that their permit had been revoked after they were cited for 18 violations including: failure to properly instruct renters; supervisors not remaining in designated area with rentals; supervisors overseeing more than the maximum of seven PWCs; and supervisors failing to escort rentals.
Rental companies that cater to vacationers without Boating Safety Certificates must operate within strict parameters to ensure the safety of those customers. Restrictions require companies to provide training in craft operation, right of way procedures and location of fire extinguishers. Renters must be at least 16 years of age and escorted in a marked area by qualified supervisors who watch over a maximum of seven PWCs. They must follow all speed restrictions in slow speed, no wake zones.
Since 1990, there have been 25 fatalities involving personal watercraft in New Jersey. Although there were no fatalities last year, there were 4 deaths in 2006 out of a total of 21 PWC crashes. Three of those were in the waters patrolled by the New Jersey State Police Marine Services Atlantic City Station.
PWCs can be very dangerous to new riders because they only turn when the throttle is applied. This is counterintuitive to riders of bicycles or motorcycles who are used to slowing down to execute a turn. If a PWC rider lets off the gas and turns the handlebars, the craft continues to go straight. Many crashes occur when inexperienced riders, in a moment of panic, revert to their bike experience and try to decelerate while attempting to turn away from danger.
“It’s only a matter of time before we experience another personal watercraft tragedy in Jersey waters,” said Major John Hunt, Commanding Officer of the Special Operation Section. “Putting an inexperienced rider on a PWC is the same as putting them on a high-powered racing motorcycle. We need to make sure that rental companies are keeping public safety concerns ahead of profits.”
Companies that have had their permits revoked may not rent PWCs to people without Boating Safety Certificates for the remainder of the year. Prior to year’s end, those vendors may set up a meeting with the State Police to prove their compliance with the laws. If approved, they will have their permits reinstated.
In support of the effectiveness of this enforcement activity, one of the vendors cited for multiple violations earlier this summer was re-checked by undercover troopers and found to have no violations this time around.
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There is some new information on a recent PWC crash that left a 17-year-old Mt. Laurel boy with a traumatic head injury. State Police are still seeking the identity of the second PWC that struck the youth. We now believe that craft may be a Yamaha Jet Ski (possibly an XLT), white with a blue stripe/marking on side with unknown NJ registration. The operator was described as a white male 18-25 years old, dark hair to his ears, tanned, wearing Oakley sunglasses with orange/amber lenses. There is believed to be a second Jet Ski riding with the suspect, but not involved in the accident. That PWC may be a white Yamaha Jet Ski with a red stripe/marking on side with unknown NJ registration. The operator was described as a white male, 30-35 years old, close cut hair or bald. There is a $5,000 reward being offered for information leading to the identification of the driver directly involved in the crash.
The accident occurred on Sunday, July 20 at 11:30 a.m. in the inter-coastal waterway near buoy 295 in Ocean City. The victim received a head injury, fractures and abrasions and was airlifted to Cooper Hospital in Camden. He spent one week in the intensive care unit of Cooper Hospital and continues to slowly recover. His parents have requested that we not release his name to protect his privacy.
A LIST OF PWC RENTAL COMPANIES CHECKED IN THIS OPERATION (PDF)