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Jet boat companies, residents both need an amicable solution to damaging wakes

All of Western New York benefits from tourism and, to a great extent, Niagara County relies on it. The area needs to be open to showing visitors a good time and giving them a reason to come back.

But that effort also needs to be respectful of the rights and property of residents, and along the Niagara River, a dispute over these two sometimes conflicting requirements has broken out. There ought to be a way to solve it amicably.

The problem has to do with the jet boats, which provide their riders with a thrilling trip into the rapids of the lower Niagara River. It’s loud, wet, exciting fun. But there’s a problem.

The wake caused by those boats is damaging the property of people who live along both sides of the river, in New York and in Ontario. Some residents report that their own boats have been damaged as the jet boats make their way past Lewiston toward the rapids. The turbulence is also causing damage to docks.

Lewiston’s mayor, Terry Collesano, said he was unaware of the severity of the situation until a boater showed him video of a Whirlpool Jet Boat about 50 feet from a dock, well within the 5 mph zone. The boat was doing 360-degree turns, he said, and, “You could see the wakes and you could see the boats along the dock going up and down and banging everywhere.”

It’s the kind of recklessness that, in some industries, would terminate your employment.

To their credit, owners of jet boat services say they have tried to work with other boat owners on the river and have met with members of the Lewiston Village Board to seek solutions.

Still, John Kinney, owner of Whirlpool Jet Boat, which sends eight watercraft onto the river, was missing the point when he asked a reporter, “Are we talking to the fun police here?” Only if homeowners are also talking to the fun police when they complain about trick-or-treaters whose good time turns into property damage.

Another company, Niagara Jet Adventures, started offering jet boat rides out of Youngstown this summer.

It makes a difference, of course, that the jet boat operators aren’t seeking to damage boats and docks, but if that’s what their business is doing, then something has to give. They’d get the point quickly enough if even-larger boats were routinely damaging their own craft and harming their ability to do business.

The jet boats are a great attraction for visitors, and there is no reason they shouldn’t continue to offer a fun ride for their customers. The boats and their passengers may be a little noisy, but for the most part, that’s simply a price of life along the river – something to learn to live with.

Still, the work of making that experience compatible with the reasonable expectations of other boaters and those who live and work along the Niagara River needs to be given a higher priority than it has been given thus far.

This is no undoable task. All it takes is an acknowledgment of a few facts – among them, that a boat’s wake can’t be allowed to cause damage – and the rest shouldn’t be all that hard.