Are personal watercraft destroying the planet?

Other Personal Watercraft Problems

PWC also pose a threat to marine life such as manatees and dolphins.
PWC also pose a threat to marine life such as manatees and dolphins.
Image courtesy of NOAA

Environmental issues that aren't pollution related have always plagued personal watercraft.

The very nature of the PWC experience calls for eco-concern. Unlike regular boats, PWC are small enough to maneuver into narrow and shallow areas. This maneuverability is part of what makes them so exciting -- they're tiny, fast and you can speed them around spaces other watercraft can't go, like along coast lines and in small, typically undisturbed places. This means PWC riders are disturbing more wildlife than any other craft. Fish, birds, dolphins and even whales have been disturbed or displaced by increasing PWC use in once-protected spaces.

In Florida, there have been numerous cases of PWC running over engendered manatees, causing injury or death. Reports in Britain reveal PWC riders purposely harassing and even ramming dolphins at alarming rates [source: Independent]. (Admittedly, this behavior on PWC is related more to the specific sadists riding them and not to the device itself -- most PWC riders would never commit such an act -- but the maneuverability of the craft does make it easier for ill-willed people to act on their instincts.)

Other PWC environmental problems include extreme noise pollution from engines, as well as pollution from the gasoline additive MTBE. When the craft leak fuel into the water, MTBE tends to collect in shallow, shoreline areas, killing plankton and other tiny sea life that is the basis for many water ecosystems.

So are PWC environmentally doomed? It's hard to say. Manufacturers have made changes to the engines that make the craft less damaging to the environment. That, along with changes to levels of engine noise, could eventually get them back into some recreation areas from which they've been banned. But wildlife and PWC may never go hand-in-hand, and parks concerned for their sea life may never give the craft another chance.

For more information on PWC and related topics, look over the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Jet Ski Ban Is Approved for National Parks. The New York Times. April 14, 2001.
  • Minimizing the Impacts of Personal Watercraft. Making Waves/Surfrider Foundation. August/September 1998.
  • "Personal Watercraft: Safety and Environmental Impact." Vermont Legislative Research Shop. University of Vermont. April 9, 1999.
  • Wolf, Alexis. "PWC and Two Stroke Engine Issue Summary." Colorado State Parks. May 23, 2001.