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State Lawmakers May Sink Watercraft Fun for Kids

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RALEIGH — New rules may soon govern summer fun on the lake. State lawmakers are discussing legislation designed to make riding personal watercraft, like Jet Skis orWaveRunners, safer for everyone.

"Just the quick acceleration is unbelievable. It's just a thrill," says Chris Hendricks, who enjoys the exhilaration and speed of his Jet Ski. However, he has seen several close calls out on the water, and supports efforts to make personal watercraft safer.

"Jet Skis can be dangerous," Hendricks said. "If you're not paying attention, you can have a collision with another boat or another Jet Ski."

Legislation pending in theGeneral Assemblyaims to reduce collisions and accidents by targeting children. The bill would make it illegal for anyone under 13 years old to operate a personal watercraft.

Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 would be required to take a safety course, or be accompanied by an adult.

"I look at the water as I do the highways. We wouldn't dare let anyone under 16 without a permit and an adult accompanying them drive a vehicle on the highways," says Rep. Jean Preston. "And I think we need to give that water out there the same respect we give our busy highways."

Preston says local jurisdictions, the medical community and even personal watercraft manufacturers support age restrictions. So does Keith Weatherly, the manager of Triangle Motorsports -- who sells about 200 personal watercraft a year -- many to parents who buy them for their kids.

"Some people are buying them for 10, 12-year-old kids and just letting them go into the lake, which is not a safe thing," Weatherly said. "They don't have a responsible attitude enough to handle that."

Katie Cooper, 16, has a responsible attitude. Her parents made her read the safety manual and tested her after she read it. Even though she began riding a Jet Ski at the age of 12 -- she thinks age restrictions are a good idea.

"A lot of kids get pretty crazy out here," Cooper said. "I'm a 16-year-old and I think so."

The bill has been approved by theHouse, and is now in theSenate. There is no word yet when they will consider it.

The Personal Watercraft Industry Association has a list of safety tips including wearing safety gear such as life vests, glasses to protect the eyes, gloves and sneakers. They also suggest keeping a safe distance from other boats, not driving at night, and never driving after drinking alcohol.

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Laurie Clowers, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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