Trouble in the Harbors

Personal watercraft are not just another kind of small boat

The East Hampton Town Board has tested the waters, so to speak, on allowing the operators of personal watercraft to launch them in several harbors where until now they had been prohibited. The East Hampton Town Trustees, who have an interest in some of the water bodies covered under the existing ban, are sure to weigh in, but the view in favor of allowing Jet Skis, WaveRunners, and the like to use town launching ramps centers on the observation that they are entitled to the same access afforded other small craft. This list might include kayaks, canoes, and increasingly popular stand-up paddleboards.

But personal watercraft are not just another kind of small boat. Rather, they are fast, loud, dangerous, smelly, and their operators too often push the limits. Consider that no matter where they are launched in East Hampton Town, they have to be held to five miles per hour until they are at least 500 feet from shore. Still, the drone they produce when being run flat-out even in the middle of a bay can be a nuisance, bringing to mind the annoyance rained down by the helicopters the town board is now trying to curtail.

For boaters, the sometimes inexperienced or thoughtless personal watercraft operators could add another hazard to already busy harbor channels. Add to that the question of increased trailer and vehicle parking at town launching ramps.

Right now just about the only place personal watercraft can be launched within East Hampton Town is at the open bay and sound beaches, where their trailers can be backed down to the water’s edge. During the late 1990s complaints about Jet Skis at Navy Beach in Montauk led to a summertime ban on four-wheel-drive vehicles there. If beach launches are now seen as a problem elsewhere, it is difficult to see how the solution would be to simply move them to the inner harbors.

There is a certain irony in the town’s entertaining adding more noise to the tranquil harbors at the same time that it is working on quieting the skies. East Hampton seems to be saying that it wants a quieter community in its support for limits at the airport and stronger quality-of-life enforcement. Promoting more noisemakers, ones that could create waterway traffic hazards at that, seems a big step in the wrong direction.