Montana bans snowmobile 'water skipping' after man's death.
Bob Anez, Associated Press
Friday, August 3, 2001 ###
HELENA, Mont. -- The state approved emergency restrictions Thursday to ban ``water skipping,'' an increasingly popular summer sport in which snowmobilers speed across lakes and waterways.
Citing concerns for the safety of snowmobilers, boaters and swimmers, the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission enacted rules for 120 days that prohibit snowmobiles in no-wake zones within 200 feet of shore on most public lakes.
Also, snowmobilers must wear a lifejacket while ``water skipping,'' and anyone younger than 16 is banned from the activity.
Some commissioners said they still have lingering concerns over the unusual pastime.
``It's using a piece of equipment in a way it just wasn't intended,'' commissioner Tim Mulligan said. ``My gut instinct is to ban the suckers because it's going to be a big headache for us down the road. But maybe that wouldn't be fair.''
The practice involves gunning a snowmobile down a bank or boat ramp into the water at full speed and hydroplaning across the water. But the 500-pound machines aren't designed for water and don't float.
A snowmobile that runs out of gas, stalls or simply slows too much will sink.
``I'd like to see some type of regulation because it's unsafe in my point of view,'' said Beate Galda, the commission's head of enforcement. ``I'm concerned for the safety of the rider and any other recreationist who might be using the same area.''
The action was prompted in part by the death of Gary Hoyt on July 8. He drowned in a Montana reservoir after his snowmobile lost momentum and sank. He wasn't wearing a lifejacket and couldn't swim.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that each year about 110 snowmobilers die and 13,400 require hospitalization but the data aren't broken down by season.
Since snowmobiles were never intended to be used on water, they are not covered by boating laws, Galda said. Even laws prohibiting motor vehicles from being driven into most waterways don't apply to snow sleds, she said.
``Our laws are just not set up for summer use by snowmobilers,'' Galda said.
Galda said she surveyed 11 other states and only Nebraska bans water skipping. Michigan requires the machines be registered as boats and subject to boating laws if they are to be used on water.
In Montana, extending boating laws would require legislative action, Galda said.
The Montana Snowmobile Association had urged the commission to study the issue more before it acted.
``This activity, if handled appropriately, should have no more of a hazardous or dangerous element to it than riding a personalized watercraft or a high-performance race boat, providing the correct set of safety requirements are in place,'' Fay Lesmeister, the association president, wrote in a letter to the department.
Water skipping, or watercross, is not a new phenomenon. The annual world championships debuted in Grantsburg, Wis., in July 1977 and campgrounds from Michigan to New York advertise the sport.
Critics say the activity creates problems besides those posed to riders.
The machines cause wakes near shore, putting boaters, swimmers and water skiers at risk, said Montana Game Warden Capt. Terry Hill. And a sunken snowmobile can leak oil and gas into the water, he added.
Tom Hafer, owner of Anaconda Motor Sports, said he has tried water skipping and doesn't believe regulations are needed. While water skipping is popular, he said few people will risk losing their pricey machines.
``It's never going to amount to a big deal here because they don't float,'' he said. ``You'll have your extremists who want to try it, but most won't want to take their $7,000 to $8,000 machines out on the water.''
You can't legislate out stupidity. If you can't swim stay on the shore. I've seen the compitition on ESPN and it looked like a blast.I can't speak for how every place runs their event but the ones I saw had 2 other guys ready to help the rider,1 would help the rider support the machine after losing momentum the other person attached a cable from a winch and the sled was out in no time.
The gov't doesnt need to try to protect every person from every stupid thing people do.Thats what commom since is for.
I agree. ###Maybe we should ban skiing, look at how many injuries there are. ###How about driving if you are under 21 or over 60. ###Lots of mishaps there. ###Then we could outlaw work and all sit on our ......'s and become lawmakers & politicians and make more laaws.... ###Just 'cause you don't like to do something doesn't mean it's stupid!!!!.....hronk