Jet skis are to motorboats what motorcycles are to cars: light, powerful, single-occupant vessels that are more maneuverable than traditional boats and capable of blazing speeds. (In fact, Jet Ski is the registered trademark of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, but the term is now commonly used to refer to all such vessels, which should properly be called “stand-up personal watercraft.”) Jet skis have become increasingly popular over the last two decades, and are now a common sight (and often a real nuisance) along the nation’s beaches. [Jet Ski and PWC Regulations in Hawaii]
Because they’re mostly used by younger people, sometimes in competitive races, jet ski injuries can be especially serious. According to Ride Technology, 70 percent of all jet ski accidents involve collisions with other watercraft, and 70 percent of these collisions are with other jet skis. Ride Technology also maintains that jet skis account for more than one-third of all boating accidents in the U.S., even though they account for only seven percent of registered vessels. (Bear in mind that these statistics date from a decade ago; with the explosion of jet ski popularity, the situation today is likely to be even worse.)
As a rule, innocent third parties are less likely to be injured, or killed, in jet ski accidents than are the operators of these vessels (or of competing vessels involved in jet-ski races.) But just as the injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents tend to be more lethal and gruesome than those sustained in car accidents, the crash of a high-speed jet ski tends to have more serious repercussions for its operator than for, say, for the pilot of a small sailboat. Lacerations, internal injuries, concussions and even amputations are not unheard of on the jet-ski circuit.
As with motorboats, Hawaiian Laws do not require the operators of jet skis to acquire licenses or boating insurance, but (in response to popular demand) Hawaii has passed additional regulations concerning the operation of personal watercraft. Hawaii takes a slightly tougher stance than some other states on jet skis, classifying these vehicles as “thrill craft” and therefore subject to additional regulation.
Hawaiian law requires jet ski users to take a certification class before they can operate their vessels, and mandates a minimum age of 15 years to operate a jet ski. Violators of Hawaiian jet ski laws are subject to fines ranging from $50 to $1,000, as well as a 30-days in jail.
If you have been injured, or if your property has been damaged, by a person improperly or recklessly operating a jet ski or other personal watercraft, you may have grounds to sue the driver or owner of the boat for damages—and if the personal watercraft (PWC) was operated by an unsupervised minor, you may be able to sue their parents as well. If the operator of the PWC was inebriated, you can potentially collect damages from the bar, restaurant or liquor store that sold the alcohol. On a slightly different tack, if you have been injured while operating your PWC, it may be possible to hold the boat’s manufacturer liable for known defects, or to collect damages from other boat operators who contributed to the accident. It will be necessary, however, to demonstrate that you were not driving your jet ski recklessly or negligently, which is why you need the advice of an experienced maritime lawyer.