The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has imposed new rules and regulations on water jet pack businesses in Ocean City to keep thrill-seekers safe.
The jet packs — which propel pressurized streams of water to lift riders up to 30 feet above the water's surface — left Ocean City police officers "unsure of how to handle them and what to do" after they were introduced last summer, said Julie Brown, a boating education coordinator with the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
No accidents or injuries have been reported to date in Maryland, according to Brown, who said the DNR wanted to "be proactive with the regulations … to possibly prevent the accidents that may occur."
After organizing a May safety demonstration of the technology in Sandy Point — attended by the DNR, Coast Guard officials and the operators — Brown helped draft temporary 180-day DNR regulations for the industry that took effect last month.
Under the new rules, the watercraft can't be operated within 100 feet of any object — including other people. The jet packs must be operated in at least six feet of water, and are prohibited from launching riders — who are required to don life vests and helmets — more than 10 feet above the surface.
The jetpack and other involved vessels — usually a personal watercraft for propulsion and a safety boat — must fly orange warning flags when operating.
"It very much was a safety concern," Brown said. "Part of the regulations is if you're flying and go vertical, you have to be 100 feet away from everything, and that's purely to protect if you went up and lost control and came down headfirst onto a pier, onto a beach."
The rules affect three Ocean City businesses: Chesapeake Flyboarding, OC Jetovator and Relentless Watersports. Each offers a different take on the water jetpack: Chesapeake's Flyboard resembles a wakeboard with foot straps; the Jetovator favors a strapless motorcycle look; Relentless's Jet Lev straps riders into a flying chair.
Sean Crosariol, 30, co-owner of OC Jetovator, said he's worked with the DNR to develop regulations, but he's frustrated by a lack of understanding of the technology's nuances.
"At the end of the day, there's really been nobody on the legislative side that really understands what's going on with this stuff," said Crosariol, adding that his Jetovator can operate safely in shallower water because riders can kill the craft's power themselves.
Alex VonBussenius, co-owner of the Relentless Jet Lev operation, proposed regulation to the DNR last year, after he grew concerned that questions about safety might give his business a bad reputation.
"I wanted to create a way for me to separate myself from that, so when somebody gets hurt on that machine, my company's not getting banned," said VonBussenius, 26.
Justin Wood, co-owner of Chesapeake Flyboarding, said safety is his No. 1 priority, starting with CPR- and first-aid-trained operators. He requires first-time riders to start on a "bunny hill" only a couple of feet above the water.
"DNR, I completely understand what they're doing," said Wood, 26. "This is a brand new sport. There's nothing wrong with regulation."
Ricky Amend, 25, who co-owns Relentless with VonBussenius, said the new regulations have come at a cost to their best form of advertising — shows close to the shore near bars and restaurants.
Relentless operates out of the back of De Lazy Lizard on 1st Street. Their landlord has asked Relentless to put on shows, but they can't because the new regulations prevent the jetpack operators from getting close enough to customers.
"I know there's a need for regulation — just your average guy can't just set up shop," Amend said. "I'm looking forward to having a procedure where we get permits. Give us a permit where we can do shows at our home base and get a crowd excited."