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Water ski safety change would lift observer rule for official slalom course

Sat., Feb. 12, 2011

BOISE – Two North Idaho legislators say there’s nothing wrong with the state law that requires water ski boats to have an observer aboard in addition to the driver – except when the ski boat is in a legal, regulation slalom course.

So Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, have introduced legislation – with the backing of the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association – to lift that requirement on competition courses and replace it there with a requirement for a rear-view mirror.

“These boats are designed to have great big mirrors,” said Anderson, who competed in water skiing when he was younger.

There’s only one permitted water ski slalom course in Idaho now, on the Pend Oreille River south of Sandpoint, across from Dover.

“I’ve never been on it – I haven’t water skied for 40 years,” Eskridge said.

But the two were glad to respond when the operator of the local course requested the law change, HB 142, which is now pending in the House Resources Committee. According to the USA Water Ski Association, at least 17 states have provisions allowing rear-view mirrors to sub for observers in certain circumstances.

When the Pend Oreille River course is operating, it’s noticeable for its 26 colored buoys set in a specific pattern. Only one boat at a time uses the course; Anderson said the next boat waits until the water calms before entering.

“When you’re in competition, you’re trying to generate the smallest wake possible,” Anderson said. The problem with carrying an observer: The extra body adds weight, which increases the boat’s wake.

The observer, who raises a flag to warn other boaters when a skier is down in the water, is a must for recreational water skiing, both lawmakers said.

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