Unfortunately operator behavior has given the name 'nuisance' to PWC's worldwide....the only way that can change is if operators understand how they impact others.... Shawn

Power skis on harbor's horizon?

By Bo Petersen (Contact)
The Post and Courier
Monday, March 31, 2008

File/Robin Cornetet/Staff A power ski cuts a corner in the Folly River.

They're back the buzzing, touristy thrill rides that gave city officials the heebie-jeebies a decade ago. One man has asked for a dock permit to run a power ski rental business around the peninsula and another wants slots for them up the Ashley River.
Power skis are the motorbikes of the sea, better known by trade names like Jet Ski or Sea-Doo. They have become ubiquitous in Charleston Harbor and at vacation resorts where tourists like to mix with water. The same quality that makes them a hot ticket that noisy, spill-a-minute speed has made their novice riders the bane of other boaters and more passive beachgoers, and trouble for law enforcement.
Since a power ski business opened and operated briefly from City Marina in the 1990s, they have been derided as one nuisance too many in the recreational harbor of a residential city trying to hold on to living in its historical village and draw in tourists while not become part of a rides-and-all Colonial Charleston attraction.
After that 1990s power ski business opened, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley pushed for a law banning the skis from running at more than 10 mph within 200 yards of the city shore, rather than rile ambience-seeking strollers along Waterfront Park and the Battery.
"Not only are they dangerous, but they're loud. I mean, we've got the motorcycles already that nobody can do anything about," said Betty Geer, an East Battery resident.
"They're all over the place. Everybody wants to go out and jump the biggest waves, and the biggest waves are behind boats," said Sgt. David Ventry of the Charleston Police Department's marine patrol unit.
"A ship can't stop. If people make a game of seeing how close they can get to a large ship, it's akin to riding go-karts on the interstate," said Bob Bennett, Charleston Branch (Harbor) Pilots Association administrator.
And Mark Ayers has heard the complaints. Ayers has been struggling since 2002 to move Mark's Jetski Adventures out of the trailer that now runs exhausting trips to and from Florida and into a Charleston home base. He backed away from a site near the South Carolina Aquarium because of concerns over the proximity to the port and cruise ship docking.
Ayers seized on the current dock site off Lockwood Boulevard between the James Island Connector and Ashley River bridges so he could be downtown and still be out of the way, he said. He plans to run a line of buoys under the Ashley River bridge to guide riders upstream, away from the Historic District.
He plans to install GPS locators and take the skis away from violators while charging full fees to keep them out of the harbor proper unless they are on a staffed tour.
"We're going to have to keep an eye on that. In our experience, if you let them go, they go crazy," he said. "Believe me, we've tried to get it right."
If the permit is approved, the skis would join any number of other tourist boats and a slew of privately owned power skis that already cut wakes in the harbor. Ventry estimated more than 200 power skis are on the water during a busy weekend.
They're not going away and can be found upriver, too. State regulators also are reviewing a permit application from the Governors Pointe Homeowners Association to re-outfit the community's Ashley River dock off Cosgrove Avenue at the North Bridge for 16 power ski slots.
"They have became an issue that's been going for the past four or five years," Ventry said. "There's no training involved. Anybody can go out on a Jet Ski. They get out on the water and they get into trouble and they don't know what to do."
Ventry could recall offhand five power ski deaths in the past three years.
But he and others said that's no reason to shut down a business. A responsible power skier is no different than any other boater and is subject to the same laws, such as keeping a distance from piers and other boats and respecting no-wake zones.
"Even on a 'crowded' day there's a lot of room out there. The water is there to be used by people," said L.J. Wallace, a radio personality and partner in Shem Creek Boat Rentals. "Enough with the downtown carriage rides, the most beautiful part of our Lowcountry is the water."
But a profusion of tourist riders in the harbor would add to some people's longtime concern that has been aggravated by the arrival of cruise ships and the growing throngs of visitors that can swarm downtown tourist areas.
"At some point you reach a saturation. Tourism begins to overwhelm a community and it loses its soul," said Steve Litvin, College of Charleston hospitality and tourism management professor. He points to how Key West, Fla., has lost its "Papa Hemingway" backwater charm now that cruise ships pull in six slots at a time.
"When you walk around downtown (Key West) it's become a tourist destination, and I think the livability has gone down considerably," he said. "Charleston has done a good job so far" managing that balance, Litvin said. "But with every carriage you add, it gets closer to that point. I can see (power skis) becoming a real issue."
Still, there's no denying the thrill.
"Most boaters probably don't like Jet Skis," said Bennett, the harbor pilot administrator. "But they look like they'd be a lot of fun."
Reach Bo Petersen at bpetersen@postandcourier.com or 745-5852.