Story by Pamela A. Keene
Zipping over the waves on a jet ski on Lake Lanier creates a certain sense of freedom. Jet skis, or personal watercraft, are fun, close to the water and suitable for all ages. And with new technology and additional safety features, they’re a perfect way to take to the water.
“Jet skis are a fun way for people to enjoy the lake,” says Rick Albrecht with Port Royale Marina and Park Marine on Browns Bridge Road. “They’re great for family time and they’re a low-cost way to get into boating.”
For less than $10,000, you can purchase a new jet ski and trailer from most area dealers.
The most popular brands are SeaDoo and Yamaha’s Wave Runner. Used PWCs are sold through local dealers and privately in classified ads. They come typically in two- and three-seater models so riders can share the experience, though it may be easier to find a used single-seater.
“A lot of people like the three-seaters because they can have an operator, a spotter and the third person can either tube or wakeboard behind,” Albrecht says. “They’ve been made a lot safer with the addition of mirrors and other equipment, and if you’re towing someone you should always have a spotter.”
Many of today’s personal watercraft are powerful enough to tow an adult, and some can tow a water skier. Advances in design, including the change to cleaner-burning 4-stroke motors that do not require mixing gas and oil, have made them safer and more environmentally friendly.
Newer models use a closed loop cooling system to keep engines from overheating; older models recirculated water pulled from the lake.
“Jet skis can go into many places where a boat can’t, and that’s another reason people like them,” says Jimmy Westray, owner of Gainesville Motorsports on Browns Bridge Road. His company sells SeaDoos, motorcycles, ATVs and other recreational vehicles. “You can explore coves, plus they run clean and they’re pretty quiet.”
One of the newest advances allows riders to slow the watercraft using a dual-throttle system. Yamaha calls it the RiDE system; pulling the right handlebar throttle is forward and pulling the left slows the boat and puts it in reverse. SeaDoo calls it an intelligent brake and reverse. The goal is the same: to reverse the thrust of the water moving through the pump to quickly slow the craft’s forward movement.
It’s not difficult to learn to drive a PWC. In Georgia, the minimum age for an operator not accompanied by a competent adult is 16; if an adult is on board, teens ages 12 to 15 can drive. Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1998, is required by state law to take and pass an approved boating safety course, which can be taken online or through organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard. For those ages 12 to 15, passing the safe boating course eliminates the need for an adult on board.
Albrecht suggests people considering the purchase of a jet ski try them out first by renting one. Rentals are available at many of Lake Lanier’s marinas, including Paradise Rental Boats at Port Royale. Renters receive instruction about how to operate the jet ski and an overview of safety requirements.
“Renting a PWC is the perfect way to see if riding is for you,” Albrecht says. “Try it out to see if you like it before you buy. Chances are, you’ll love it.”
Safety First: Know the rules
Be sure you know and follow the laws when boating, whether you’re operating a personal watercraft or a houseboat. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources enforces Georgia laws on the water, and rider safety is top of mind.
“The two personal watercraft violations that cause the most injuries and fatalities every year are riding too close to people and objects at a high rate of speed and riding while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so be sure to follow the 100-foot rule and leave the alcohol at home,” DNR Public Affairs Officer Mark McKinnon says.
The 100-foot rule applies to all boating, not just personal watercraft. Boaters are required to slow to idle speed when they come within 100 feet of other boats, docks, piers, the shoreline or other people in the water. McKinnon explains that riders should not jump other boats’ wakes or maneuver to splash people on docks, other boats or the shoreline.
Here’s a summary of legal and safety guidelines:
- Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (required)
- Don’t drink and boat
- Take a boater education course (mandatory for anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998)
- Obey Navigation Rules and Laws, including the 100-foot law
- Parents, set an example for kids and make water safety a high priority
- Never start the engine if you smell gas fumes
- Properly maintain your vessel and have required equipment aboard
- Use common sense and courtesy at all times
“The law says you must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while operating a PWC,” McKinnon says. “Even the best swimmers could be knocked unconscious if they are ejected during an accident and unconscious riders without life jackets are the ones our rangers too often have to recover from the bottom of the lake.”