Read San Juan County's Reply
Board of County Commissioners
350 Court St. #1
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Section 5. There is hereby added a new section to San Juan County Code chapter 10.28 as follows:
Restrictions on the Use of Personal Watercraft on the Marine Waters of San Juan
Personal watercraft shall not be operated on the marine waters of San Juan County.
The provisions of this section shall not apply to:
a. A personal watercraft engaged principally in commercial operations constituting an
act of interstate or foreign commerce and so long as during such use the personal
watercraft is operated along the most direct route practicable;
b. A personal watercraft operating under a permit issued by the United States Coast
c. A personal watercraft operating under a permit issued by San Juan County;
d. For emergency purposes when there is a reasonable belief that such use is
necessary to protect or preserve persons, animals or property.
We have recently become aware of San Juan County’s ban on jet skis. Rather than to point out that many vessels far exceed the speed of jet skis and are still legal in San Juan County, and rather than point out that many inflatable boats which sport “straddle-seats” and are fitted with jet-drives (both of which make them expressly illegal according to the ban) are daily being operated in San Juan County with impunity, I want to inquire of the above “exceptions”.
I am a commercial diver of some small repute (industrial, not harvest), having raised 131 vessels from the bottom, and having published marine safety, commercial diving and boating how-to articles in national magazines from coast to coast for over twenty years.
In the course of my work I sometimes need to travel to job sites and potential job sites to evaluate or bid on contracts. I might travel by tugboat, by seaplane, or by jet ski. It sometimes happens that a job might require a bid in San Juan County. Or it may be that a job lies north of the county, but the quickest and safest route of travel is through the inner channels of San Juan county, depending on weather conditions.
(1) I will not jeopardize my personal safety by skirting the boundaries of San Juan county to appease some cockamamie ordinance your county has instituted.
(2) I will not refuse work, especially in this economy, simply because I am not allowed to travel to the jobsite because of some cockamamie ordinance your county has instituted.
The data above (San Juan County Code chapter 10.28) states that a pwc may traverse the county waterways (the navigable waters of the United States) if it is:
“…engaged principally in commercial operations constituting an act of interstate or foreign commerce and so long as during such use the personal watercraft is operated along the most direct route practicable”
You are also mandated by the court decision to offer a permitting application process, though we can find no evidence that you have yet done that.
In any case, we were herewith requesting a written interpretation of your own ordinance, such as to clarify whether or not the above-referenced activities (traveling to points in the county to evaluate jobsites or potential jobsites, and traveling through the county en route other destinations) are excluded from your ban. If said activities are not automatically excluded, we ask that you direct us to the permitting application as stipulated in the ruling.
On a personal note, we do rarely travel through San Juan county on these missions---probably not more than half a dozen times per year. Sometimes we are merely passing through between Seattle and Ketchikan. The state of pwc technology is now sufficient as to make these passage possible in reasonable comfort. We use pwc because we can get from point-a to point-b quickly, and efficiently, and are not bothered with horrendous moorage costs when we do arrive. We also find pwcs safer than many traditional boat designs, and significantly more seaworthy. They also allow us to move in close proximity to the shore and in shallow, obstructed waters, where casualties have a habit of coming to rest. We do not travel TO San Juan County as a destination aboard ANY craft because, bluntly, you folks have ruined the place with tourism over the past 30 years.
But no matter how infrequent our need to travel through your county, the fact remains that sometimes we must do so, and at times, pwcs are our transportation of choice.
We do not use them recreationally at all. We DO understand the obnoxiousness of many, if not most pwc riders and, frankly, we’d sometimes like to knock them off their jet skis with a baseball bat.
We do feel your ordinance is probably illegal, and probably will someday be overturned. If you have a problem with obnoxious riders, you should devise a law enforcement means of dealing with them (we would endorse the baseball bat method). In that Holy endeavor you would have our undying support. But your ban is causing us grief, and we do not believe we deserve such grief. Our safety is important to us, as is our livelihood, as is our normal freedom of movement throughout our country and upon the navigable waters of the United States.
Please, either tell us (in writing) that we have the county’s permission to traverse the county’s waterways TO AND FROM a jobsite or potential jobsite, and/or as a means of transiting from Puget Sound into Canadian waters en route Ketchikan, by the most direct route feasible, using a pwc, or direct us to the permitting process.. We also need to know that we are allowed to stop for fuel, if needed, without ending up fined or jailed.
We await your reply. Here’s hoping we do not need to begin a legal process in order to extract this permission. We will do so if necessary, and we will make the process as public as possible.
Sorry if you don’t appreciate our tone---we don’t appreciate your county government either. We require a response within 30 days. This document is sent with Delivery Confirmation.
Read San Juan County's Reply