HONOLULU — Want to fly like George Jetson or Iron Man?
Thrill-seekers eager to try the next new watersport are rushing to strap on jetpacks that propel people into the air with the help of pumped water. But the devices are meeting calls for regulation in Hawaii, where fishermen, scientists and state officials are questioning their safety and how they may affect fish and coral in the state’s heavily trafficked tropical waters.
A device called the Jetlev can lift a person 30 feet high by pumping water from a backpack through a hose connected to a small, unmanned boat. Another contraption called the Flyboard, which looks like a small snowboard attached to a hose, can propel riders 45 feet in the air. Promotional videos racking up millions of YouTube views show riders shooting out of the ocean into the sky, then diving back in the water like dolphins.
The devices are starting to show up for recreational rental in San Diego, Key West, Fla., and Cancun, Mexico.
But some in the Aloha State are far less enthusiastic about the machines. Complaints from fishermen and other ocean enthusiasts prompted the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to call a public meeting about the devices last month. The department’s top enforcement officer, Randy Awo, expressed alarm about unsafe maneuvers, such as riders dive-bombing into the water next to moving boats.
University of Hawaii coral scientist Bob Richmond told officials he was concerned about the noise the devices make, as fish avoid areas that are too loud. He’s also worried fish and coral larvae could get pumped through some of the equipment the watercraft use and die.
Fisherman Carl Jellings said watercraft already scare fish away from Oahu’s bays, and he worries these new machines will just add to the problem.