Teenager's death propels jet-skis into safety row

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Calls for a ban on dangerous jet-ski riders are growing following a number of tragedies at home and abroad, the latest of which resulted in the death of a 17-year-old girl.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) yesterday added its voice to the demands for compulsory training after disturbing reports of dangerous driving - including an incident in which one jet- skier rode his machine underneath a catamaran ferry.

Last week, Faye Grundy became the latest victim of a jet-ski accident when she and her uncle, Tony Gee, 36, collided with a speedboat on Queenford lake in Berinsfield, Oxfordshire. There is no suggestion that Mr Gee was at fault, but experts are concerned that, like him, anyone can hire 50mph machines with only the most basic instruction.

"We would like to see some sort of national accreditation scheme so that people are trained before using these machines," said Richard Tibenham, a spokesman for RoSPA. "At the very least, we believe people should be taken out personally by an instructor, given tuition and then assessed for their competence and attitude, so that they won't go on the water and be foolhardy."

RoSPA wants to encourage more local authorities to introduce by-laws governing speed limits on the water and it wants those limits rigorously enforced.

"There should be very stiff fines for offenders," said Mr Tibenham.

The number of jet-ski accidents has increased in line with the popularity of the sport - there are an estimated 10,000 owners in Britain. Last August, Corporal Sandy McCauley, 26, died after being hit by a freak wave which flipped his machine on top of him during a holiday in Florida; two months later, Paul Byram, 24, was killed in a collision with a motor boat on Pickmere lake in Cheshire.

The last time voices were raised over tighter regulations was in 1994 when Philippa Baker, 21, and Paul Grundy, 28, from Manchester, were killed when they collided with other holidaymakers on a jet-ski while on holiday in Turkey.

The same rules governing the hire of jet-skis in Turkey applied at British holiday resorts - very few - but the Government took no action.

Responsible jet-skiers and importers have tried to keep the rogue element out of the sport and last year they introduced their own certificate of competence in association with the British Marine Industry Federation.

Mark Rowley, whose company Sowester is one of the biggest importers in the country, encourages all his customers to study for the certificate. "They learn about safety and maintenance and riding skills," he said. "We think the sport can police itself.

"We wouldn't like legislation but we do believe training is important."

In the United States, it took a tragic accident involving the singer Gloria Estefan to wake up the authorities to the dangers of jet-skis. The star was in her twin-engined powerboat off Miami Beach when a 29-year- old jet-skier ran into her boat and was killed. Both craft had been travelling at 40mph.

After she campaigned for controls on jet-skis, the state of Florida introduced laws banning under-21s on holiday from hiring the machines unless they pass a 20-point test. Local youngsters who regularly use boats and jet- skis must attend an eight-hour course on safety before being allowed on the water.

So far, there is no national legislation covering safety of jet-skis on Britain's waterways. Instead, individual resorts and authorities have introduced ad-hoc, irregular, by-laws. Some, such as Blackpool and Bournemouth, have introduced speed limits, while others, such as Newquay, have banned them on the grounds of noise pollution.