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Fish and Boat commission addresses pair of boating issues

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 8:24 p.m.

HAWLEY — Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioners addressed two kinds issues at their meeting Tuesday.

Board members took the first step to banning the use of “hydro-flying devices” — jetpacks powered by water that let boaters soar as much as 30 feet above or below the water at speeds of up to 30 mph — and clarified the rules regarding standup paddleboards.

The hydro devices, marketed under a variety of brand names, like Jetlev and Flyboard, sometimes work while connected to personal watercraft.

Others operate while hooked up to an unmanned, remote-controlled “umbilical” craft. They work by sucking in water and forcing it back out through hoses under high pressure, elevating boaters in a sort of Ironman-like fashion.

The U.S. Coast Guard hasn't taken a stance on them, leaving it up to individual state agencies to regulate their use, said Laurel Anders, director of the commission's bureau of boating and outreach. Those states are moving to ban the devices for safety reasons, she pointed out.

The commission is doing the same.

Board members gave preliminary approval to regulations banning their use on state waters. Public comment will be accepted between now and July, when the board meets again. Final approval of the ban could come then.

At the same time, commissioners changed the wording of their regulations to make it clear that users of standup paddleboards — which look like oversized surfboards that users paddle or pole — must have a wearable personal flotation device on board when paddling.

That's “nothing new” for paddleboarders, Anders said.

“It just makes it loud and clear,” she said.

What remains a little less clear, perhaps, is the other equipment paddleboarders are required to have when on the water.

If paddleboards are considered non-powered boats, commissioner Norm Gavlick of Luzerne County asked whether their operators need to have a light and sound-producing device, like a whistle, while on the water, just like operators of a canoe or kayak. The regulation doesn't make that clear, he said.

The answer is yes, Anders said.

Paddleboards also must have a launch permit issued by the commission or by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to use a commission- or state park-owned lake, she added.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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