Resource Management Issues: Motorized Personal Watercraft
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Regulations
Allow Motorized Personal Watercraft for Rescue at Mavericks
Because of their extraordinary speed and maneuverability, MPWCs have a unique capacity to endanger marine birds and mammals, so their recreational use is regulated within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The mere presence of MPWCs does not guarantee complete safety, as a surfing fatality at Mavericks in 2011 and another fatality at Ghost Trees in 2007 proved. In both cases, several MPWCs were operating on-site at the time the surfers went down, but the immediate presence of MPWCs did not prevent the fatalities from occurring.
The best safety insurance for those engaged in extreme water sports is the presence of professional lifeguards, who are trained, equipped and focused for ocean rescue and closely integrated with the local emergency medical services system. NOAA has deliberately crafted its regulations to allow public safety agencies unrestricted use of MPWCs for surf rescue and patrol. Lifeguards, fire fighters, sheriffs, harbor patrol officers and other public safety agency professionals are specifically authorized by NOAA to use MPWCs to train, patrol, and rescue surfers (or anyone else in distress) anywhere in sanctuary waters using agency staff or volunteers.
If a public safety agency decided to train, supervise, and oversee volunteer MPWC safety patrols at Mavericks, NOAA would cooperate with such a plan, since sanctuary regulations already allow such arrangements. For many years, the Pacific Grove Fire Department fielded and supervised an effective volunteer surf rescue team. Some marine sanctuary staff members participated as volunteers on that team.
NOAA regulations also currently allow use of MPWCs by anyone at Mavericks whenever High Surf Warnings are in effect from December through February, regardless of whether their objective is safety, photography, tow surfing, or any other activity. This time-window is deliberately set to avoid impacting seasonal marine mammal pupping and breeding activities at important wildlife areas immediately adjacent to Mavericks. Federally protected local species include harbor seals, sea otters, gray whales, and a variety of seabirds vulnerable to unrestricted use of MPWCs.
Each year, millions of people enjoy and interact with local national marine sanctuaries, engaging in a range of activities, including diving, fishing, boating, swimming and surfing. Some activities are inherently more dangerous than others, and unfortunately the ocean claims a number of lives each year in these sanctuaries. And while personal responsibility must guide everyone's decision to interact with the Pacific Ocean, NOAA will continue to support the activities of public safety agencies to reduce risk of injury and loss of life anywhere within sanctuary waters.