The term ‘Jet Ski’ is a trademark held by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, but is popularly used to refer to any brand of personal watercraft (the correct generic term) which allows a rider to cruise over the waves on the aquatic version of a really cool sports bike. This type of popularisation, if not checked the the company owning the trademark, can lead to a trademark becoming ‘genericised’, at which point it becomes extremely difficult for that company to defend its trademark from misuse.
That said, having one’s brand name become the metonym for a type of product, as with Jet Ski for personal watercraft or, in the USA, ‘Band Aid’ for plasters, can in itself be somewhat of a lucrative opportunity for a business, with people unconsciously associating their desire for a product with that specific brand. The most famously successful corporation in this world is Coca-Cola, who have enough mind-share that people will unthinkingly ask for ‘a Coke’ rather than ‘a cola’, but have defended their trademark vigorously enough that it is still, in the UK at least, an offence to serve someone a Pepsi if they ask for a Coke, without first correcting their order.
Vaseline, Hoover, Kerosine, Zipper, Asprin and even Heroin (the latter two once owned by Bayer AG) were all once strongly-held trademarks which have since become appellatives for their respective products, and no longer enjoy any legal protection. No court has yet decided on the Jet Ski brand, but a quick trawl of news sites and other literature suggests that Kawasaki would have a hard time defending their trademark should they choose to do so.
None of this, of course, changes the fact that Jet Skis – or personal watercraft – are amazing fun. Thanks to renowned thrill-seeker Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, Jet Skis are able to easily reach 70mph or so by pumping water through their impeller out of back of the vehicle at terrific pressure. In order to achieve this pressure, they need fantastically disproportionate engines, and the Jet Ski’s I saw for rent had an engine nearly as powerful as that in my first car, which was a hell of a lot larger, and came with seatbelts, windows and doors. With all that on offer, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to head on down to Far Rockaway a mere 8 hours after landing back in New York from my vacation in Florida to go and ride around on one.
Sailing is fun, with the wind in your hair and the rocking of a boat. Windsurfing – a favourite activity of mine back when I lived in London – is even more so, with much less protection from the elements and the ability to feel even the smallest wave beneath your feet. Jetskiing takes this raw experience, and adds to it the thrill of being able to speed up to 40mph on a whim, with precious little protection other than a cheap life-jacket and the knowledge that, if one were to fall off, the Jet Ski would be a safe 50 metres away before one even hits the sea.
Being able to accelerate and turn so quickly, Jet Skis are classed as ‘power boats’ in the informally titled Rules Of The Sea, more properly known as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and, as such, required to give way to sail boats, windsurfers, kayakers and the like, all of whom would have a harder time making a sudden turn.
I once had to learn the various, slightly complicated rules as to which of a pair of sail boats has right of way – a free-running boat has right over a close-hauled boat, for example, as they are much more manoeuvrable in general – but I had to quickly recap what happens when two power boats meet before I jumped on the Jet Ski. It seems there is no hard-and-fast rule for which boat has a right-of-way when two power boats meet, but on the rare occasion it came up whilst I was out there, I simply decided to turn to Starboard (one must never turn to Port to avoid a collision) and get the hell out of there, so I could resume concentrating on not falling off or flipping the Jet Ski.
The most important rule, whilst not explicitly present in the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, is one I was taught by a windsurfing instructor, and is one I hope I never forget: if it’s big enough to destroy your vessel without noticing, it has right of way, so move.