Collision Course

Drop in Enforcement Leaves Kayaks Vulnerable to Jet Skis


And then there's the pastime of harbor tag, says Brown. "They come up alongside large vessels, and besides trying to jump wakes, they try to touch the sides of large ships. They get points for the bravest or most insane attempt."

NY Waterway confirmed that two jet skiers raced up behind one of its ferries docked at West 38th Street in July, and each thumped its stern. The reckless behavior spawns rumors of egregious jet ski violations: A jet ski zoomed right between the hulls of a ferry catamaran; jet skis were surfing the bow wake of the Queen Elizabeth II.

Illustration by Peter Horvath

But those fish tales didn't pan out, and indeed, the rising menace to kayakers comes at a time when other complaints against jet skis are down, reports Coast Guard law enforcement liaison Lieutenant Alma Certa. And most jet skiers aren't out to terrorize. Diaz remembers one who helped bring a kayaker to shore quickly when she was having chest pains, and one helped this reporter find a friend who'd wandered off in the marshes as sunset neared.

A spokesman for New York State Parks says that unlike last year, none of the 16 boating fatalities it has tabulated have involved the 40,000 jet skis registered in the state. But while these craft make up less than 10 percent of registered boats in New York, they account for 30 percent of all accidents. New York and New Jersey forbid riding jet skis at night and are ramping up training requirements.

That's the correct response to the problem, says a spokesman for Kawasaki Motors, maker of Jet Skis. The company even donates vehicles to police units specializing in personal watercraft patrols.

The city's harbor patrol has a jet ski unit, but it's spread thin, and the Coast Guard has undergone successive rounds of budget cuts. The gutting of law enforcement is a key factor in the recent explosion of incidents, Brown says.

Glass and Diaz both praised the responsiveness of the municipal harbor patrol, which invited the two for a ride along after Glass contacted officials. "They really are making an attempt, but they are hampered by not enough resources and not enough funding," Glass observes.

Meanwhile, kayakers are certainly in no position to defend themselves against the attacks. They fantasize on listservs about mounting sidewinder missiles and other heavy weapons to their bows. One National Rifle Association member from Brooklyn encouraged participants to bear arms in their kayaks. Even macho outrigger canoe athletes are made to feel like 90-pound weaklings, says Roger Meyer, president of New York Outrigger. "It's a bit terrifying because you're on the verge of getting a deathly collision, and it's such a helpless feeling. You're in a boat with six athletic, strong young guys and there's nothing you can do about it."

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