Hawaii considers regulating water jet packs

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Associated Press

Posted on July 19, 2013 at 2:30 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — The state will consider possible new regulations for water-powered jet packs and boards that appear to make people fly over water, an official said Thursday.

People use the packs, which involve relatively new technology and are just beginning to appear in Hawaii and other states, to lift themselves up to 30 feet in the air at speeds up to 32 mph.

Jet pack users strap the devices to their backs like backpacks and are elevated when a tube connected to a small boat sends pressurized water to the packs.

A similar device called a flyboard can be strapped to a user's feet like a snowboard for a similar effect.

A company in Hawaii Kai, H20 Sports Hawaii SeaBreeze, has operated jet pack tours with technology called JetLev for the past two years with a permit. Another company on the Big Island also has a commercial operation while a third company on Maui is currently seeking a permit from the Board of Land and Natural Resources to offer a similar service.

The department held a public meeting on Thursday to learn more about the devices after its officers who enforce rules on the ocean and members of the public said they were concerned about the equipment being used safely and how the devices are affecting fishing and the environment.

Board Chairman William Aila said the department took an initial step two weeks ago toward regulation by classifying the devices as thrill craft, subjecting them to the same rules as personal watercraft.

It will also consider whether additional rules are needed, he said. The department will also consider possible new regulations for Jet Skis and other personal watercraft as testimony from the meeting indicated their use may similarly harm fishing and reefs, he said.

Some spoke in favor of banning jet packs and flyboards. Others said only commercial operators who are properly trained should be allowed to use them.

Bob Richmond, a University of Hawaii coral reef expert, told department officials the devices could propel fish and coral larvae through the tubes, killing the organisms.

The packs and flyboards may also disrupt reef with noise, scaring away fish, he said. People using the devices in shallow areas may also crash into the reef.

Carl Jellings, an akule fisherman from Waianae, said personal watercraft are already making the ocean a noisy place, which is making it harder to fish.

"As a Hawaiian and as a fishermen, we don't go and bother things unless we have a purpose or reason to do so," Jellings said.

He said he didn't want to criticize others, but "we don't go flying in the air and running up and down the coastline at 30 knots just for the hell of it."

Kevin Delaney, who is making a product similar to flyboards, compared the new activity to other sports like kitesurfing and snowboarding that generated waves when they first emerged. Delaney said their use needs "guidance" but they shouldn't be banned.

"There's no other craft that lets you go under, make a few turns, look around and come out and go up. It's amazing, it's really catching on. It's super fun, super easy to learn," Delaney said.

Jeffrey Krantz, owner of H20 Sports Hawaii SeaBreeze, stressed his company uses the devices safely and no one has been hurt in the two years the company has operated JetLev in Hawaii Kai. The company's instructors control the power and thrust of the pack, while the customer may only move it right or left.

Krantz said he's concerned about possible environmental effects of the device and is open to suggestions for its operations.

"There's a workable solution for all of us," he said.

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