Kevin Shaw: Under Constant Observation

[Let me preface this by saying that I don’t drink alcohol, and equally feel that it has never been my place to impose my personal reasons for not doing so on others. My values are mine and such decisions should be left to the individual to make. Nor is this the dais to evaluate whether alcohol consumption is ethical, moral or even sanitary. Rather, I will be commenting on the sensitive subject of appropriateness, particularly as I view it. This is an editorial, and therefore my opinion. So take it for you will.]

What today’s world of constant and generally unearned emotional affirmation has done for our youth has taught them that if everyone is “special,” then none of us are. Schools and self-described educators have done a fantastic job of distributing participation awards, gold stars for attendance and equally milquetoast accolades to the underachievers equally as the achievers, effectively dissuading any motivation for excellence. When each of us are extraordinary, we are all indeed ordinary.

Partial blame (or credit, depending how you view it) can be attributed to the various forms of social media we subscribe to. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Instagram and Tumblr accounts have converted its users into self-promoting marketers. We are our own press agents, publicizing the details of our lives in glorious splendor, using kitschy photo filters, bitstrips, pokes, updates and check-ins to detail our lives to the world.

This overt lack of privacy is self-inflicted, making the outrage over our own government’s intrusion on our lives so absurdly hypocritical. If privacy was truly such a treasured asset, why would you be publishing your life before billions of eyes? Whether we choose to believe it, we are being watched. Not just via the most sophisticated information-gathering algorithms on the planet, but to all of those whom we’ve allowed access, who follow us, “Like” our posts and hashtag our daily doings.

Over the course of this Memorial Day weekend, the few social media outlets that I follow have been adrift in blurred selfies and grainy candids of partying. Across the nation, persons are enjoying themselves on beaches and shorelines. Enjoying time off with a few libations is expected for most adults, particularly over the holiday, but it’s when drinking is being photographed in association with personal watercraft that I have a problem.

Fact: drinking while riding a PWC is a criminal offense. It’s called Boating Under the Influence (BUI) and penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and jail time. According to the USCG report, “In 2013, the Coast Guard counted 4,062 accidents that involved 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries, and approximately $39 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.”

Considering that personal watercraft accounted for 18-percent of these accidents, the report concludes stating that “Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 16% of deaths.”

Yet, many are in flagrant disregard of this, posting photos from behind the handlebars, on the beach, lounging around the sandbar and mingling around the launch ramp with drinks in hand. While drinking while riding is no less egregious whether there’s a photograph of it or not, it’s the popularization of it that is so abhorrent.

Even as intimate as it may be, many persons within this industry wield significant followings, many of them underage. When professional riders post pictures like these, what does it communicate to the budding youth rider who aspires to be a professional racer, freestylist or freerider? What behaviors are being advocated to an impressionable teenager?

Many of these riders are sponsored by companies; companies who have wagered quite a bit of money on them to properly and professionally represent their reputable brand. Is this how they want to be represented? A rider is accountable for not only their own actions but how they effect their sponsors, not just on the water, but in the pits and with everything they choose to publish online.

Remember what happened to Olympic medalist Michael Phelps in February 2009, when publication of a photograph of Phelps smoking marijuana got out? Phelps not only lost Kellogg as a major sponsor but was slapped with a fine and suspension from the USA Swimming team for three months.

In professional sports, actions have consequences. What would happen if photographs of Dale Earnhart Jr. drinking a beer behind the wheel were to surface? Whether he was at the track or not, Junior would be stripped of millions of dollars’ worth of sponsorships, not to mention suspension from racing competitively for several races (if not longer).

Yet, no such penalties are found in jet ski racing. Why not? If the sport wants to be taken seriously – and bring in significantly larger outside sponsorships, we need to be held to equal standards of professionalism.

But I fear we have a long way to go. Some of our own magazines go so far as to publicize heavy drinking as part of the typical and therefore desirable “lifestyle,” masquerading photos of partying and reports of fighting, destruction of private property and even arrests as “event coverage.” Not only is this woefully unprofessional for any industry periodical to publish, but a worse reflection of the companies who advertise with them, because their doing so condones such articles.

It is my stance that evidence of impaired boating should be grounds for immediate suspension from professional competition and the possible disqualification from the current national championship, not to mention the stripping of sponsorships. Boating Under the Influence isn’t like losing your temper and swearing at a course official. Drinking and driving anything motorized kills people.

I am wholly aware that this is a very unpopular position to take, and infractions and exceptions to this can be found throughout all of professional sporting. I don’t look forward to the nasty emails and posts this editorial will get, but that does not detract from the necessity to eliminate all forms of impaired boating. Keep your drinking in check and keep it away from the water and away from the throttle of anything.

Go get wet,

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.


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    Tom 25 May, 2015 at 16:29 Reply

    I agree 100% with you. It’s great to have fun. .but you need to draw a line and not cross it.
    Unfortunately boating and pwc’s are always going to draw drinking and partying.
    I would rather get high on life.

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