Personal Watercraft and other Jet Propelled Watercraft

Personal Watercraft and other Jet Propelled Watercraft

Personal watercrafts, or PWC, are popular on U.S. waters because they are speedy and easy to operate. Because they share the waterways with boats and other larger watercraft and can be very dangerous, many laws and regulations have been created that are specific to PWC safety and proper operation. Recreational boaters share waterways with personal watercraft or may themselves be operators of personal watercraft. It is imperative that boaters and PWC operators understand the special characteristics of these special craft and follow all regulations to ensure safety.

Safe Personal Watercraft Operation

Personal Watercraft are available in three main styles, including the stand-up model with room for only one passenger, sit-down sport for one to two passengers, and the sit-down for three to four passengers.

Because PWC operators often go too fast and have little experience, PWC are often involved in boating accidents in the U.S. PWC should be treated just as a boat, applying appropriate skill and attention to ensure that fun is had safely. This section will help PWC operators to better understand safe boating practices, operational characteristics and special accident risks unique to personal watercraft.

Safe Boating Practices for PWC

The safe and proper management and handling of a PWC requires a bit of practice. New operators should spend time with an experienced operator to practice their skills and gain guidance on controlling the watercraft and making safe operating decisions.

To ensure the safety of everyone around, PWC operators should not:

  • Drive recklessly or in any unsafe manner
  • Operate at a higher rate of speed when close to a beach or swimmers
  • Operate the PWC after dark or before sunrise
  • Drive towards a person or vessel and cut quickly to spray them
  • Operate too closely to another vessel
  • Drive the PWC while using alcohol or drugs

Many of the above provisions are regulated by state and local laws. PWC operators should be fully aware of what is and is not legal with regards to the operation of their watercraft. Ignorance to the law is never an excuse.

Operational Characteristics of PWC

Diferent parts of a Personal Watercraft (PWC)

PWC operate very differently from other boats. Because each PWC model has its own distinctive characteristics, the owner’s manual should be consulted and understood so that the operator has full knowledge of the special handling instructions specific to their watercraft.

The general components of PWC include the:

  • Hull– The hull is simply the body of the watercraft.
  • Throttle– The throttle is used to control the speed and has the handlebars attached to it.
  • Deck– The deck of the PWC refers to any flat surfaces of the vessel, including the compartment covers, the seat and the foot wells.
  • Power or “Kill” Switch– This switch is used to turn on/off the PWC. It often has a safety lanyard attached.

Because the jet drive propulsion system in PWCs is very responsive to even the slightest steering turns, PWC are highly maneuverable. PWC operators often attempt dangerous maneuvers that are beyond safe operation of their watercraft. See the sticker on the stern of the vessel for the direction to righting the PWC if capsized.  These risky maneuvers, and even safe PWC maneuvers, often result in a fall overboard. For this reason, PWC operators must be able to re-board the craft from the water. This is most easily done from the rear, or stern, of the watercraft. A re-boarding device helps a person get into the PWC from the water. Examples of this include a built-in transom ladder, swim platform, and lifting harness.

Transom ladder on rear of PWC

For instances where the operator is thrown from the vessel, most PWC are equipped with cut-off switches that are tethered to the operator by a lanyard. Such switches automatically shut off the engine when the operator falls overboard. A differing PWC feature may be an automatic idle and self-circling device, which makes the PWC circle slowly in the area if the operator falls off.

Special Accident Risks for PWC

U.S. Coast Guard boating accident reports reveal that personal watercraft is more frequently involved in collisions with other vessels or hazards than any other type of accident. To avoid such accidents, PWC operators should always:

  • Maintain a proper lookout– Boaters should use sight, sounds and all available means appropriate to make a full evaluation of their situation and any risk of collision. When turning, operators should look all around the vessel and behind it before turning.
  • Maintain a proper distance from other boats and hazards– Driving too closely to another vessel can put PWC at high risk due to their small size. Oftentimes, operators of larger boats and vessels may not be able to spot the PWC as quickly. PWC operators should also not follow boats too closely in order to ride or jump the wake. A distance of 100 feet should be kept from the rear of the boat at all times.
  • Maintain a proper knowledge and skill– PWC operators should ensure that they are fully practiced and have a clear understanding of the unique handling abilities and features of their watercraft. All operators on board should be fully prepared, not just the owner of the craft.