About Jeff Hemmel

Jeff Hemmel writes for boats.com, Boating, PersonalWatercraft.com, and Powersports Business. The former Senior Editor at Watercraft World, Jeff is a multi-time award winner as well as a 2008 inductee into the IJSBA Hall of Fame. His first book, "The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon...and 101 Other Things For Young Mariners To Try, Do, & Build On the Water," received a bronze medal in the 2010 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. For more info, visit Jeff Hemmel's website.

Win A Boat, Motor, Trailer Combo

Those of you into video may want to check out a contest sponsored by Boats.com (the very website on which you might be reading this blog), BoatTrader.com, and the Brunswick Corporation. Dubbed “Tap Into Summer,” the idea of the contest is to produce a video showing what you can do with an aluminum boat, be it a pontoon boat, jon boat, or bass boat.

No, the grand prize isn’t your choice of PWC or wakeboard boat, but it is a Triton Storm 16 aluminum boat, with a Mercury 20 EL motor and trailer. I figure a good amount of you may actually own “other” boats as well, so why not share the news?

“Aluminum boats are a popular market segment, and we want to see what people do in their aluminum boats to encourage others to try them,” says Kim Rocco, brand manager, Boat Trader.com, in the official contest release. “Fishing, skiing and tubing are some of the popular activities that families enjoy on their aluminum boats, but there are lots of others as well. We want to see and share some of these fun activities.”

The contest runs until September 30, 2010. Videos should be between 30-45 seconds in length. For full contest details, check out www.tapintosummer.com.

A total of three finalists will be selected by judges from Boat Trader, Boats.com, and Brunswick Corporation. The videos will then be posted on YouTube, where the public will get their chance to decide the winner.

So get filming. There’s always room for another boat…

Vintage PWC Racing Action

Okay, two serious news stories in a row means one thing — it’s time for a little break in the action. And for that I’ve got some vintage PWC racing action from the RIVA Racing team during the 1993-1994 season.

Seems like just yesterday. I must be getting old…

Opponents Line Up Against Ethanol Increase In Fuel

There’s an interesting article about the potential ethanol increase in gasoline on the MasterResource energy blog today. Basically, it focuses on the proposal to increase the percentage of ethanol in fuels to 15% (you may have read about that one before), but even more so on the groups that are finally lining up to oppose the move.

According to the article, last week a coalition of 36 groups sent a letter to Senate leaders requesting they reject attempts to attach a ethanol-increase amendment during the Senate’s consideration of upcoming energy legislation.

According to the letter, “such an amendment would be bad for consumers, bad for safety, bad for the environment, and, by placing politics over sound science, bad public policy.”

The main focus of the article is on how wildly diverse the group is behind the letter, FollowTheScience.org. Here’s an organization that somehow manages to unite the American Petroleum Institute with the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, American Frozen Food Institute, Snack Food Association, Hispanic Institute, and yes, the PWIA, BoatU.S. and the American Watercraft Association. Tell me that wouldn’t be a funny board meeting to sit in on.

The Obama administration was expected to approve the increase in June, but delayed a decision till fall. That gives the group a little breathing room to fight the change, and though they may indeed be an eclectic bunch, a lot of organizations united together stand a far better chance than a lot of individual voices in my book.

Why be opposed to the change in the first place? Lots of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that “E15″ may void lots of engine warranties, and harm engines and fuel systems in ways that manufacturers have not prepared for, and won’t be in a position to warranty. There are many stories of damage resulting from E10 (10-percent ethanol) fuel use. It can affect fuel tanks, hoses, as well as lead to water contamination.

The article concludes by noting that several months back, the increase to 15% ethanol in fuel seemed like a given. At least now, the opposition — as weird a group as they may be — stand a fighting chance.

Judge Urges Reconsideration Of PWC Use In National Parks

Okay, enough with the cutesy YouTube videos…time to get back to some real news, like the potential for PWC bans once again in several of our country’s national parks.

You may, or may not, know the story behind the original bans. In 2000, the National Park Service banned PWC use in all national parks with the exception of 21 that were deemed to have “prior” PWC usage. Those 21 were given a grace period to research PWC use and come up with a workable plan for access, that led to some lawsuits between the NPS and several environmental groups, and ultimately the craft were banned from the 21 parks, until each and every one conducted the appropriate studies, formulated plans for access, and presented a solution.

The good news, of course, is that while the delays were lengthy, one-by-one the parks voted for continued PWC access. Helped in no small part by the introduction of much-cleaner, much-quieter four-stroke models, the industry declared victory, and the issue seemed to at last fade from the spotlight.

At least, until recently. In July, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of the District of Columbia ruled that both Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida) and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan) violated federal law by allowing PWC back into the parks. Specifically, she questions if the NPS really looked at the relevant data, and if it had, how it could have reached its conclusion.

“Why has NPS issued Rules allowing jetski use (sorry Kawasaki, the wording is hers, not mine) in two beautiful and pristine national parks, acknowledging that such use will impact, to varying degrees, water quality, air quality, wildlife, animal habitats, soundscapes, visitor use and safety, etc., when the users of jetskis are perfectly free to enjoy their vehicles in other, equally accessible areas, without threatening the serenity, the tranquility—indeed, the majesty—of these two national treasures?” asked Kessler. She then went on call PWC highly polluting and noisy.

Evidently she hasn’t checked out the industry in several years…

The judge’s ruling changes nothing in the short term, but what she’s asking — that the NPS reconsider whether to allow PWC within the parks — could once again open an issue that many had considered long closed.

Chris Manthos, Executive Director of the American Watercraft Association, is livid. ”We fought to restore fairness and equality to these public waterways and won based on science,” Manthos explained to me. “Now, the anti-access crowd put up a single individual in each park unit claiming they were ‘bothered’ by personal watercraft and that’s all it took? Every boater best sit up and take note; who’s next?

“The judge based her decision partly on the Yellowstone snowmobile case. (In 2008, a fellow judge criticized the NPS for allowing snowmobile access within Yellowstone). You can walk into Yellowstone, but you can’t walk into these parks. You need a watercraft.

“Tyranny by the minority, plain and simple.”

Manthos goes on to suggest that this is a perfect example of how a small environmental group can follow an agenda to drive the public away from public lands and waters.

“We complied with the original rules, and worked within the framework of the system like citizens are supposed to,” argues Manthos. “A large amount of taxpayer money was spent on an environmental assessment showing personal watercraft were no more of an impact than any other other powerboat, and now the government’s own assessments mean nothing?

“If you’re a boater, this is a wake up call. These people can’t be reasoned with, and they don’t care about you or your choice of recreation. They want all boaters out.”

Strong words for sure, but this is a guy who’s been fighting to keep PWC on the water for a loooong time. And if he’s this concerned, all of us should likely be, too.

What can you do? At the minimum, keep track of the issue and see where it heads. Better yet, write a few emails and make your opinion heard. You can also help the cause by joining the American Watercraft Association. This is a small operation of hard-working people who need all the help they can get.

Remember, they’re fighting so that we can all be out on the water…let’s help them out.

You And Your Johnson…Outboard

Check out this vintage Johnson outboard commercial. While totally unintentional at the time, today it’s filled with double entendre humor.

A good friend of mine named Joel Johnson actually sent it to me. Back in the day, Joel was the Editor of Water Scooter magazine. Yeah, the name was horrible, but Joel was a fantastic editor who guided the magazine through the days when monthly issues of 164 pages were the norm. He’s also the guy who gave me my first job – a test rider for Water Scooter’s (soon to become Watercraft World’s) Dream Demo. From there I landed a monthly freestyle instructional column with the magazine, which led to my position as the mag’s Editor-at-Large, which led to, well, a 20-plus year (and counting) career in both the personal watercraft and boating industries.

So in keeping with the commercial’s theme, I’d like to say thanks…and finally admit that I owe it all to my Johnson.

IJSBA World PWC Finals Commercial

There’s a pretty cool commercial making the rounds for the IJSBA’s upcoming 2010 World Finals. It was put together by Hypnotic Films, meaning the video, transitions, and overall quality are first rate.

Kind of makes you want to pack your bags…

2010 IJSBA World Finals Commercial !!! from Hypnotic Films on Vimeo.

PWC Docking Systems

PWC are without a doubt one of the most fun type of boats around, but they’re also one of the more challenging to store for the waterfront property owner. Unlike a boat, most manufacturers don’t recommend you leave them tied up to the dock overnight or at anchor. Most waterfront owners, however, don’t really appreciate the hassle of regularly hauling them out on a trailer.

One alternative is to invest in a PWC docking system. For sheer simplicity, I like the SportPort (and no, they’re not paying me to say that). Made of polyethylene and featuring a foam core, SportPorts are essentially unsinkable floating platforms, with the middle of the topside molded to roughly match the hull design of a PWC. The material won’t mar most hull finishes, and has no moving parts to keep lubed up or worry about rusting. It also stays cool underfoot.

Using a SportPort is simple. Get finished riding and you simply gently apply the gas to power your PWC up and onto the dock, where it stays put by weight and friction. When you need to launch, just lift and push the bow of the ski to slide it off into the water. I’ve even had good success just sitting aboard the craft and rocking, pulling on the handlebars as you do to slide the ski back off the platform and into the water.

The advantages to a pre-made docking system are many. First and foremost, they keep your craft out of the water. No worries about a boat tied up to the dock or at anchor taking on water or being battered by passing boat’s wakes or wind-driven waves; no concerns about the pump filling with debris; no pulling your ski out at the local ramp or pulling it up onto a shoreline. They also provide a stable platform to work on your boat. All feature nonskid surfaces to keep you from taking a slip on the deck even when really wet, and most can be combined with other dock components to create virtually any sort of design, whether it’s just a simple PWC dock tethered to an existing seawall, or an entire docking system for several craft.

The basic SportPort is essentially 5’ x 12’, and secured to any fixed structure via solidly mounted PWC pipe. The pipes simply run through openings at the end of the SportPort to allow it to float and rise and fall with a tide, or compensate for waves. Pipes can be fastened to a dock or seawall, or in some cases, even driven into the ground. Additional sections attach via a locking pin, making it easy to add on, modify, or disassemble when necessary.

Other similar alternatives? EZPort (www.ez-dock.com) uses a similar drive-on design, but adds rollers to lessen the resistance. Individual sections can then be added to create virtually any required dock space. JetDock (www.jetdock.com) opts for individual polymer cubes all around, combined to create the desired shape.

No, none of the above is cheap. Plan on spending upwards of $1500 even for the most basic system. But for the added peace of mind they provide, they make a great choice for those lucky enough to enjoy a waterfront view.

Sea-Doo Unveils 2011 Lineup August 30th

Sea-Doo has given notice to the public when they can see the company’s 2011 model line — August 30th at 12:00 noon. Not so coincidentally, that’s the exact moment I’m allowed to talk, or rather, to write about it.

And don’t worry, I’ll have the details up as soon as possible. But if anyone is looking for hints, I think I might be allowed to talk about my invitation to the Sea-Doo press event, several days before. The package contained a tape measure and a stopwatch. As to exactly what we’ll be measuring and timing I don’t know, but after the attacks on Sea-Doo’s braking technology in several YouTube videos this summer, I’m guessing one thing we might be looking at is braking performance.

By the way, while the video from the so-called “consulting company” is still up and running, the video from Yamaha that featured consumers evaluating the braking system has now been removed. Things that make you go hmmm…

REVIEW: Sea-Doo GTX 155

At Sea-Doo’s 2010 press introduction, my good friend and fellow boating writer Charles Plueddeman commented that the GTX 155 was the boat he had been waiting for Sea-Doo to make. The reason? It combined the solid new hull behind the GTX Limited iS suspension model, along with that boat’s “intelligent” braking system and forward-neutral-reverse capabilities, but packed it in a far-less-expensive boat that featured Sea-Doo’s base 155hp engine.

I’d have to say I agree. While the boat I was waiting for was basically a lot like the RXT-X, I can see the sales pitch for the GTX 155. It handles very well, it’s comfortable, it’s much more of a big-water ready machine thanks to that new hull, it’s got all those cool techy features, but it’s much more of a mainstream family model.

In short, add me to the list of those who think it’s a great boat. You can find my full review of the GTX 155 here at PersonalWatercraft.com.

Tampa Bay Jet Boat Show Aug. 14-15

Tampa Bay megadealer Barney’s Motorsports is putting on the Tampa Bay Jet Boat Show the weekend of August 14-15 at the Holiday Inn Sunspree in St. Petersburg. Interested consumers can check out the line of jet boats from both Yamaha and Sea-Doo, as well as get a free demo ride, enjoy free food and drinks, even participate in a Sunday poker run if they choose.

According to Barney’s, the dealership will be offering special dealer pricing on all display models during the show. Might be a good opportunity for anyone to get a late-season deal on the 2010 models, as 2011 announcements are just around the corner.

For information on the show go to www.barneys.net, or call 727/576-1148.