U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) today successfully pushed forward an effort to allow personal watercraft to transit the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterways between Biscayne Bay National Park and the Keys without having to navigate ocean currents.
"This is largely a matter of personal safety," said Martinez, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "Boats, ships, and tugs are allowed to use the Intracoastal, but since 2000, thousands of people using personal watercraft have been forced to go several miles out into the open ocean. This effort brings some common sense to the rules and safety to numerous recreational boaters."
Martinez's effort would allow personal watercraft equal access rights to the federally maintained and dredged Intracoastal Waterway; and it would create a review panel to assess any potential environmental or disproportionate impacts. In addition, it would direct the Coast Guard to complete an environmental assessment within 150 days to ensure that personal watercraft do not have any disparate impact on the environment compared to other vessels allowed to access the Intracoastal Waterway.
Since 2000, 15 separate national parks have conducted studies on the impact of personal watercraft and all have concluded that this type of craft presents no unique challenges or impacts on the economy.
Personal watercraft are allowed to access the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp State Park, but they have been arbitrarily excluded from using the Intracoastal Waterway and it has been deemed a boating safety risk by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Sen. Martinez successfully included the personal watercraft provision as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act with the support of Senator Bill Nelson- a measure reauthorizing the activities of the Coast Guard, its missions and authorities for the years 2010 and 2011.