One year on, still no jet ski laws in Abu Dhabi

Jet ski regulations are coming, and residents want them soon.

A jet skier rides his machine near a beach in Abu Dhabi very close to a man who is trying to swim, a situation which many say is a danger and should be illegal. Sammy Dallal / The National
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ABU DHABI // Rules governing the use of jet skis have yet to be announced, more than a year after the Government revealed plans for firm regulations to safeguard the seas and beaches.

Jet ski riders, water sport rental firms, swimmers and authorities all agree that it is time for clear and specific guidelines.

"I love going out on the water. When I see the sea, I just want to go jet skiing," said Mohammed Matouk, 28, who rides at least once a week. "But without any rules, people are just coming and getting in accidents or splashing swimmers, which is very impolite, or they don't know what they are doing."

Shaikha Al Neaimi, a spokesman for the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA), which enforces maritime safety laws, said a committee is completing a study on what restrictions should be placed on jet skiers.

"We're dealing with jet skis a lot and teenagers who are driving too fast and getting in accidents," Ms Al Neaimi said. "We're just going to be implementing new regulations now. They're under process."

CNIA is teaming up with the Department of Transport (DoT) to develop laws.

Last year, the DoT announced its recommendations for laws on "personal watercraft" but no official regulations have been put in place. The recommendations included speed limits, compulsory licensing, registration and insurance for jet skis, and safety stickers.

In May 2010, officials announced the coastguard would begin regulating jet skis, but jet skiers, rental companies and swimmers say few changes have been made.

"There needs to be more education," Mr Matouk said. "I started riding about six years ago, and at that time, there were only a few people who rented jet skis. Now, there has been a very huge increase, and there are crowds of tourists on the water, and it's just not safe because these people have never had lessons."

Lifeguards on the Corniche said the waters off the Family Beach are often crowded with young men on jet skis "causing drama".

"They come out here, and ride right up to the buoys and try to show off for the ladies," one lifeguard said.

In the capital, it is unclear where jet skis are allowed.

Empros, a maritime leisure sport provider on the Corniche, said that they had not been informed about any new regulations, but that clarifying laws would help cut down on accidents and improve the customer experience. "It will be a win-win situation where everyone benefits," said Dina Gad, the company's development and marketing manager.

Ms Gad said Empros, which has operated in Abu Dhabi for 10 years, already has age restrictions for riders, and provides training for novices.

But increased awareness and proper signage on prohibited zones would be welcome.

"The clients should know where they should be in the water according to the weather, the tide, and the equipment," she said.

Meanwhile, in Dubai, regulations have been in place for more than two years, but residents say the Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) could do more to ensure the waters are safe.

Ziad Roz, 27, just bought his own jet ski in April, and last week received a Dh1,200 fine for offences he said he never committed.

"It's crazy, because I am safe, but others make up the rules as they go," Mr Roz said. "People just go out and do what they want."

Riders in Dubai must be at least 14 and should wear a life jacket. Jet skis are only allowed between sunrise and sunset, and in one designated area near Umm Suqeim Fishing Harbour.

All jet skis must be licensed and registered. Rental companies are not allowed to operate within the emirate.

In May, the DMCA said it would more strictly enforce jet ski laws after a teenage boy was killed in an accident near Dubai Marina. Anyone now found breaking the regulations will see their craft confiscated and registration suspended.

"I have not seen any sign of it getting safer," said Melanie Harper, a 35-year-old mother of two young daughters. "I am afraid for my girls when I see the kids with jet skis in the water. They come right up to the beach and don't even check for swimmers."

Both the DoT and CNIA in Abu Dhabi and the DMCA in Dubai have said they plan to launch public awareness campaigns to inform residents on what exactly is allowed on the waters.

"I think that's the only way to have a safe maritime experience out there, to get some publicity for these issues," Mr Roz said.

"The authorities need to come up with a plan and make sure it is followed."

* With additional reporting by Euna Park