Recent History

Personal Water Craft (PWCs) have become a major force in boating over the last few years, now accounting for over 1/3 of new boat sales annually. There are about one MILLION PWCs in use today! That is a huge amount of boats, and unfortunately there is an equal amount of misunderstanding to go along with them. Did you know that a PWC was even considered a boat? Many people don’t, and think of them more as toys that require no training or knowledge of how they work. When PWCs first came on the market, they were generally designed for only one person and were designed for high maneuverability. Over the last several years two and three seat models have become the top sellers. These craft are much more substantial than earlier craft, and are even capable of pulling a water skier.

What they are

Personal Water Craft are considered by the Coast Guard to be Class A inboard motor vessels and as such must adhere to the same Coast Guard regulations and standards as any other powerboats in this category, such as they must have a fire extinguisher on board, and must have appropriate signaling devices. They are also subject to USCG manufacturing standards. They must be registered with the state, and must also obey the Nautical Rules of the Road. Even though PWCs are considered to be boats, there are a few differences that you need to know.

Virtually no PWCs have running lights as all manufacturers recommend that they only be used during daylight. In fact, many states ban the use of PWCs at night. Many states require that Personal Floatation Devices be worn at all times while on a PWC. Many states regulate the operation of personal watercraft within their borders by prohibiting them from specified lakes and boating areas, or by placing geographic restrictions on their use. Some states require an adult to be on board when a minor is operating the craft, or may require completion of a boating safety course before a minor can legally operate a PWC. States may also regulate speed limits, noise limits, hours of operation, and distance from other boats or objects that you may operate your PWC.


How they work

PWCs are operated by two-cycle inboard gasoline engines that drive a jet water pump. Water is taken in through a water pick up on the bottom of the PWC, drawn into an internal propeller (an impeller) that creates a jet of high pressure water which exits through a nozzle on the back of the PWC. There is also a moveable "gate" that can be dropped over the nozzle to provide reverse thrust on some models. Be careful, this is not designed to be used as a braking system!

PWCs are designed to be extremely maneuverable. They are built for quick, sharp turns, low-radius circling, and rapid acceleration. However, they are only maneuverable with the throttle engaged--TO MAINTAIN STEERAGE, YOU MUST APPLY THROTTLE!   For instance, the best way to avoid hitting an object is NOT to slow down, rather, you should apply throttle and steer away to avoid impact.

Most models have an automatic cut-off lanyard (which must be attached to the operator’s wrist or life jacket at all times) or self-circling feature to prevent a PWC from going far from a driver who has fallen off.  PWCs are self-righting if you fall off. Don’t abandon your vessel if it overturns, simply turn it over, climb on, start it up and continue on your trip.To re-board a jet ski, approach the rear of the craft, pull yourself up into a kneeling position and take your seat.   This sounds easier than it is--it is often quite difficult to re-board a PWC.   There are "ladders" available to help you climb back on--definitely a worthwhile investment!   Finally, don't forget to re-attach your cut-off lanyard!

When operating a PWC, keep clear of shallow water (less than two feet deep) or beds of sea grass or other vegetation.  Since a PWC sucks water in to power its water jet, it is best not to operate in these waters. This will help keep dirt and debris from fouling the impeller, which could lead to power loss or damage to your PWC.


Operational Requirements

As Personal Water Craft are considered to be type "A" motorcraft, they must adhere to certain Coast Guard requirements as follows:

  • Your PWC must be equipped with a marine rated fire extinguisher.
  • All PWC must be registered according to state regulations, and have a registration number displayed.  
    Follow state guidelines for specific regulations.
  • Personal Floatation Devices must be worn by all riders.  Chose a properly fitting, Coast Guard approved PFD and WEAR IT! Other gear you should consider ;

  • EYE PROTECTION--water spray can greatly affect your vision.  Goggles or wrap around glasses offer the best protection.

  • FOOT PROTECTION-- Shoes or sandles will protect your feet and give you added traction.

  • GLOVES--Gloves will allow you to keep a tight grip on wet controls.

  • WET SUITS--In colder water a wet suit will provide extra comfort by keeping you warm.  Nettle suits will protect you from stinging nettles in the summer.

  • HELMET--Many PWC accidents include head and neck injuries.  Wearing a helmet and a high impact PFD with a neck brace will greatly reduce the effects of a high speed impact.                                               


Pre-Ride Inspection

It is always a great idea to check your watercraft prior to every outing.  this will allow you to make sure that your watercraft is in top operating condition.  Some things to check are:


  • Battery--Make sure that your battery is fully charged, and all electrical wires are properly connected, tight, and not frayed.
  • Controls--   Make sure all operating controls are working properly--steering controls, stop button, lanyard cut-off, and throttle.
  • Drain Plug --drain your bilge--and be sure your plug is properly secured before launching.
  • Engine--Check your engine--fluid levels, hose connections, oil level/leaks, and finally make sure the engine compartment cover is properly secured. 
  • Fuel--Make sure that you don't have fuel leaks, and fill the tank.  Plan on using 1/3 of your gas to get there, 1/3 to get back, and keep 1/3 as a reserve.
  • Hull --Check the outside of your PWC--check for hull damage, jet pump cover and inlet for damage/fit, and secured seats.
  • Protection--A properly fitting life jacket, gloves, wetsuit, eye head and foot gear, and a helmet will all help protect you from injury.
  • Safety gear--Make sure you have the required safety equipment--a fire extinguisher, signaling device(s) and all other legally required equipment.   It's also  good idea to have an   anchor, extra line,a boarding ladder, drinking water, and suntan lotion.

PWC Etiquette

With the rapid rise in the number of personal water craft, there have been many complaints about their use and misuse. Many people would love to see them outlawed altogether, and there are currently many local jurisdictions that are attempting just that. With common sense and common courtesy, both PWC users and traditional boaters can coexist and enjoy their time on the water. Following some simple operating procedures can help eliminate the majority of complaints against PWCs.

Noise is probably the number one complaint about PWC use. Though manufacturers are constantly developing quieter motor and exhaust systems (PWC motors all operate within legal limits for noise) there are many complaints about noise. The best way to avoid noise complaints is to follow the Rules of the Road and also to avoid operating at high speed need the shoreline and other boaters. Riding through surf and boat wakes is not only dangerous, but in many states it is illegal to do either.

Be aware of what is around you. The leading cause of PWC accidents is striking an object. (usually another PWC) If you are operating your PWC in a congested area, slow down and look at what the boats around you are doing. Always look for other boats  before making sharp or sudden turns to avoid being struck. Because PWCs are so small and maneuverable it is best to always give the other boats the right of way. Larger boats may not see you, and may not be able to get out of your way in time to avoid contact. Keeping a proper lookout can save your life!

If you lend your PWC to a friend, make sure they know the rules of the road and how to operate your PWC. A large portion of PWC accidents occur with rental PWCs or when people other than the owner are operating the vessel. 

Don’t operate close to wildlife or aquatic vegetation. Even though PWCs probably have less of an impact on nature than many traditional boats, it is prudent to avoid boating in areas that could be harmful to the environment.  Avoiding vegetation and debris will also spare your delicate propulsion machinery from unnecessary damage.

Obey the law! If all PWC users faithfully obeyed the law, there would be far fewer complaints, and consequently far fewer usage restrictions.  PWC operators control their own destiny regarding new restrictions.

The PWC industry itself is a leader in responsible use of their products. The Personal Watercraft Industry Association has created a code of ethics for PWC users that really is valuable for all boaters.


Personal Watercraft Code of Ethics

I will respect the rights of all users of the recreational waterways, both on public waters and on adjacent private property.

I will be considerate at the launch ramps and docks. I will get on and off the ramps quickly   and not delay others.

I will follow the navigation rules of the road around all other vessels. I will learn and observe my state’s rules on wake jumping.

I will give all fishing, anchored, or drifting vessels plenty of room.

I will always operate at headway speed in "no wake" zones.

When approaching the shore, I will be especially aware of swimmers and other craft near the shore.

I will not disturb wildlife. I will avoid areas posted for the protection of wildlife.

I will not litter the shoreside and I will be careful with my fuel.

I realize that my travel speed should be determined by my equipment, ability, weather and wave conditions, and especially other vessel traffic. In case of emergency, I will volunteer assistance.
I will not interfere with or harass others. I realize that people judge all personal watercraft by my actions.
I will pay close attention to the noise my vessel may make and be aware of how others on boats and on shore react to that noise.