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Special rules apply to personal watercraft in Arkansas

Thursday, June 16, 2005

It's the season in Arkansas for personal watercraft -- those fun machines on the state's lakes and rivers. Jet skis, some people call them, and others use trade names for the fast, maneuverable vessels.

But personal watercraft can be dangerous, even lethal if not handled properly. Arkansas law addresses this with several regulations aimed at reducing problems for personal watercraft users and others around them. These laws are administered on lakes and rivers by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officers and by sheriffs' deputies in areas with water patrols.

Here's a summary of the personal watercraft laws:

* Operators must be at least 14 years old to operate a personal watercraft without supervision. Persons 12 and 13 years old may operate with someone at least 18 years on board. Persons under 12 must have someone at least 21 years old on board in a position to take immediate control of the personal watercraft.

* Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1986, and of legal age to operate a personal watercraft, must have successfully completed an approved Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Boating Education Course and carry proof while operating the vessel on Arkansas waters.

* Personal watercraft operators must have an observer 12 years of age or older to tow a skier. Mirrors are not allowed for skiing on personal watercraft. Also, the personal watercraft must be able to accommodate the operator, observer and person being towed. Personal watercraft must be designed for a minimum of three persons in order to tow skiers.

* Personal watercraft cannot be operated from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise. Running lights do not exempt personal watercraft from this.

* The personal watercraft operator is required to wear the engine cut-off lanyard (kill switch) securely attached to his/her person, clothing or personal flotation device at all times while operating.

* Becoming airborne while jumping the wake of another vessel while operating a personal watercraft within 100 feet of that vessel is prohibited.

* Operators cannot exceed 10 miles per hour within 100 feet of the rear of another boat or personal watercraft and within 50 feet of either side of another boat or personal watercraft.

* Operating at a greater than no-wake speed within 100 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, shoreline, dock pier, swim float, marked swim area, swimmer, surfer, person engaged in angling or any manually propelled vessel is prohibited.

* No person who owns a personal watercraft or who has charge over or control of a personal watercraft may authorize or knowingly permit the personal watercraft to be operated in violation of the personal watercraft law. This applies to a renter, too.

* Marinas are required to have renters view a state-approved personal watercraft video prior to operating a personal watercraft.

* All boats with motors over 50 horsepower and all personal watercraft must have a minimum of $50,000 liability insurance before operating on the waters of Arkansas.

* Proof of insurance is required in order to register a boat or renew a registration.

* Boat marinas must carry a minimum $500,000 in liability coverage.

* Each person onboard a personal watercraft must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III or V life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are not approved for use on personal watercraft.



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