Personal Water Craft Evolution  –  For the last ten years, the BVI has had an outright ban on personal water crafts (PWCs), more commonly known as Jet Skis. With the arrival of modified engines in friendlier shapes, PWCs have, like most sports equipment, evolved. These new, gentler hybrids have arrived in the BVI presenting the question whether self-driven power toys are acceptable.

PWCs were banned for reasons that cast dubious assertions over the islands. The government conducted an analysis report in 2003 through the Town and Planning Department of the Chief Minister’s office listing the following strikes against PWCs: air pollution, potential for fatal accidents with swimmers if used in swimming beach areas, creating turbidity in shallow areas which can cause damage to seagrass beds, water pollution and the possibility for drug smuggling between USVI and BVI given small vessels are hard to track. The limited advantages of PWCs in the BVI included offering an alternative sport to attract more upscale tourists, notably those that might be travelling with PWCs on their megayachts.


Personally, as many of my colleagues and I are often in the water, I find the ban on PWCs justified, and the bad does outweigh the good. I have been at several beaches over the world where PWCs are in action, and I see them as nothing more than a menace and danger, mainly for the rider. But what If the PWC negatives were taken out, would there still be a case to have them?

Surfango are the manufacturers of two new motorized crafts, called powerboards, on the water, notably in the shape of a kayak and a surfboard. They are fun, fast and empowering. The turning bank on them does not cause an easy capsize, and speed can be controlled effectively. My only wonder was the stopping distance as you are dealing with perpetual motion on the water. They are, however, not intimidating, and it is easy to fully recognize that not everyone can kayak fast or over long distances, nor does anyone want the enduring learning curve of surfing. Kayaks and surfboards are hard to turn, and it is the strangest sensation turning them at ease with the joystick or handle throttle. 


The powerboards are not noisy, nor do they create masses of pollution or a large wake to disrupt nature. Neither would be suitable for drug smuggling though the thought of that creates a comical caper in my mind, which you’d understand if you saw these toys. Of all areas in the BVI, however, there is not one that is listed as not protected by the fisheries department, and rightly so.

When I spoke to the owners of Surfango at the BVI Water Sports Centre (BVIWSC), where the toys are slated to be distributed, the emphasis is on the non-Jet Ski aspects of the powerboards. Colin Bramble of the BVIWSC said, “I was approached because we have the facilities here and asked if we would mind keeping them here. I had a meeting with Wade Smith (Customs Comptroller) to bring them from St John to here for evaluation. Wade came down with four officers and they said they were fine, not classified as Jet Skis. Then the Dept of Fisheries and the lifeguards gave them their stamp of approval."

So, we have it—the gate’s open, and the toys are here, a lot tamer than our images of PWCs.  I have tried them, and they’re nothing like the power or feel of a personal water craft. There’s no jarring impact; if anything, I wanted more speed. Although great on flat water, the respect for the environment is there, "One of the things I've said is there ought to be some limitations of where they're used,” Bramble said. “There has to be restrictions in mooring fields. There's no propeller, nothing turning, so they're actually safer than dinghies in mooring fields."

As in all watersports, location and conditions are crucial for the craft, rider and optimum experience. Colin imagines the new product in certain areas. "Brandywine Bay is going to have a soft opening and would be a perfect location for them—shallow, no boats, a swim area. We could have races and rallies. Long Bay east would be another perfect location.” He added, “The boards are quiet. We've been running them in Manuel Reef, and Jenny can't hear them up at The Boat House." When asked if he would consider renting them out of the BVIWSC, he said, “No, I don't want to rent them from here because I don't want to interfere with the sailing program here.” But he also commented on the relevance of the powerboards at the BVIWSC, “We are a watersports centre, though. Kayaking is not RYA, but the kids still love to go kayaking.”


The concept has been around for years, as is anything we dabble in on the water, to go faster and have more thrills. Not surprisingly, Frank Jablonski, an executive of Surfango said, "We're not having problems selling them; we can't fill our orders.” After commenting on the ease of controlling the powerboards, he added, “We had a seven-year old on one who rode it like a pro."

I’m not going to argue with a seven-year-old’s smile any day. And I don’t think these powerboards are a gateway to the larger, noisier, more dangerous PWCs. The bigger question for BVI watersports enthusiasts is whether taking away the effort and origin diminishes the integrity of the journey. A kayak or a surfboard is neither if it is fitted with a four stroke engine. But that doesn’t make them any less fun.