Accidents are just around the bend

The timeline was unimaginably cruel.

On June 23, they got married. In early July, they purchased a JetSki personal watercraft to enjoy the summer weather together outdoors. On July 15, their JetSki veered into the path of a friend’s power boat at speed and a collision ensued in Port Orchard Narrows between Bainbridge and Brownsville.

She was killed instantly; two days later, her husband too succumbed to his injuries.

The tragedy that claimed the life off Jeanette Bayne and her husband Charles last weekend touched many islanders, and not just for its proximity to our western shores. The Bremerton woman was known and well-liked by the customers she served each day at the Starbucks outlet in the Bainbridge Safeway. She was described as an upbeat soul with an unfailingly positive outlook, and enjoying the happy prospects of a newlywed.

In an instant, that was over. In the wake of such tragedies, it follows that there will be some examination of the circumstances – a public inquest, if you will – to consider what might have been done toward prevention. Perhaps we just hope to restore order to the freak disruption of our own lives represented by the loss of others, or to bring some meaning to the senselessness of deaths like the Baynes’.

In this case, we probably needn’t look any farther than the notoriously squirrely personal watercraft itself; the machines account for less than 10 percent of marine vessels in use in a given year, but account for many times that in percentage of marine accidents nationwide. Statistics also abound as to the number of injuries and deaths incurred each year through their use. The victims are usually younger operators and those with little or no experience, who nonetheless find themselves astride machines that go 55 mph or more yet have no brakes and no steering mechanism once you let off the throttle.

Personal watercraft are designed for speed, and speed almost by definition entails a lack of control. So accidents will happen.

For those who choose to operate personal watercraft, the regulations are brief: You must be 14 years old to operate one under Washington state law – 16 in Kitsap County waters – and 16 to rent one from a dealer; you must wear a flotation device, and be tethered to an engine-cutoff switch in case you tumble off; the vessel must be licensed with the state, but there is no required certification for their use, and mandatory boater education is just now kicking in statewide; such craft are legal in island waters, but you must observe no-wake zones in harbors.

No injury statistics are likely to dissuade those inclined toward the thrill of the ride; more immediate tragedies like that seen off Bainbridge Island might. For whatever reason, there aren’t that many personal watercraft in these parts. Bainbridge Police Marine Officer Ben Sias reports that on a busy day, he’ll see just four to six of the machines zipping about island waters; for that, at least, we can be thankful. Those he does see are almost always traveling at high speeds; for that, we worry.

We’ve had enough cautionary tales for one summer.