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[whitespace] Water Rights

Lobbying for the God-given right of every American to life, liberty and the pursuit of high speeds across open water

By Corinne Asturias and Kara Chalmers

DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO RIDE personal watercraft is a full-time job for Stephan Andranian, government affairs manager for the International Jet Sports Boating Association. Andranian's job consists of handling media inquiries, talking on radio programs (he recently participated in an NPR segment about jet skis) and traveling to lobby legislators when issues affecting personal watercraft arise.

Today's organized industry effort, he agrees, is a far cry from the early, renegade days of jet skiing. "When they first came out there was no dealing at all on the government level. Just a few folks out on the water," he says. "And the bad apples are always going to stand out. You had nobody talking about the good side of personal watercraft, but now you do."

And Andranian knows the drill in countering attacks on jet skis.

In response to criticism that jet skis destroy shoreline habitats, he is quick to note that California law mandates that personal watercraft not be operated at speeds above five miles per hour within 200 feet of the shore. So anyone in that range is breaking the law. Also, manufacturers do not recommend operating jet skis in less than 2 feet of water, for fear of damaging the craft.

The industry, he says, also recognizes the problems with the gasoline additive and water-soluble MTBE, which doesn't evaporate off the surface of the water like most of the other chemicals in the gas tank.

"We're trying to fight this stuff wherever it goes," he says. "MTBE is put in everyone's gas. It's a possible carcinogen that doesn't belong in gas."

Andranian points out that Lake Tahoe has banned only "old-technology" two-stroke engines, or older models of jet skis. He is hopeful about the future of "new-technology" personal watercraft, ones that are fuel injected or have a catalytic converter. And there are currently five new technology models on the market: The Sea-Doo GSXRFI and GTXRFI, the Polaris Genesis FFI, Arctic Cat's Tiger Shark 1100LI and the Yamaha XL1200.

With regard to user safety, Andranian has lobbied for IJSBA in support of California bill AB 1287, which would require all boaters to pass a written test.

"In states with more education there are a lot less accidents," he says.

All personal watercraft sold in California and in the U.S. meet every Environmental Protection Agency regulation, Andranian says. In addition, between now and the year 2008, the EPA will require a 95 percent reduction in the emissions and noise of two-stroke engines, at least for new models.

The future of personal watercraft, according to Andranian, is bigger. According to a jet-ski dealer publication, Ehlert's Power Sports Business, sales of stand-ups and one- and two-seaters are actually down 20 percent this year while sales of three- to four-seaters account for more than 60 percent of sales. Yamaha has introduced a family-sized four-person model called the SUV. And Sea-Doo is right behind them, introducing a four-person boat for next year. "They're just getting bigger," he says, "because that's where the sales are."

Currently there are five manufacturers of personal watercraft (jet skis): Kawasaki, Yamaha, Polaris, Arctic Cat and Bombardier. The vehicles range in price from $5,000 to $10,000.

"The industry has stepped up their workings with government," he says, adding that in addition to lobbying legislators, the industry donates thousands of personal watercraft to law enforcement and rescue outfits every year. The Marin County sheriff's department uses donated personal watercraft to patrol the bay. Police on Donner Lake also use donated craft.

"They [government agencies] have been reasonable with us, and I think our industry has been reasonable, too," he says.

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From the September 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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