Chapter 4: The Legal Requirements of Boating
Requirements Specific to Personal Watercraft
In addition to adhering to all boating laws, personal watercraft
(PWC) operators have requirements specific to their vessel.
- Each person on board a PWC must wear a properly secured U.
S. Coast Guard-approved PFD.
- PWCs must either be equipped with an ignition
safety switch or have a self-circling feature if the operator
falls off. If the PWC is equipped with an ignition safety switch,
the lanyard must be attached to the person, clothing, or PFD
of the operator.
- PWC operators are subject to the same age
restrictions and education requirements as any other vessel operator in Alabama.
- PWCs must be operated in a reasonable and prudent manner. It
is illegal to operate a PWC in a way that endangers the life,
limb, or property of others. Specifically, it is against the
- Weave your PWC through congested waterway traffic at
- Follow closely behind and within the wake of a vessel
towing a person on water skis or other similar devices.
- Cut between a vessel and the person(s) being towed by
- Jump the wake of another vessel unnecessarily close to
- Encircle or buzz another vessel or person in the water.
- Cross the path of another vessel at right angles while
close to the stern of the other vessel or when visibility
around the other vessel is obstructed.
- Swerve at the last possible moment to avoid collision.
- Chase, harass, or disturb wildlife or birds with your
- It is strongly recommended that PWCs be operated
during daylight hours only. If a PWC is operated at night, it
must display the required navigation lights.
Towing a Person With
a Vessel Legally
Vessel operators towing a person(s) on water skis, aquaplanes,
surfboards, inner tubes, or any similar devices must obey these
- It is illegal for vessels to tow person(s) on water skis, an
aquaplane, or a similar device between one hour after sunset
and one hour before sunrise.
- Each person being towed behind a vessel on water skis or similar
devices must wear a properly secured U.S.
Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD. Ski belts are not U.S. Coast
Guard–approved. It is the legal responsibility of the owner
of the towing vessel to enforce this requirement.
- Every vessel (except personal watercraft) towing a person(s)
on water skis or a similar device must:
- Have on board a capable observer, other than the operator
who is at least 12 years old
- Be equipped with a wide-angle rearview mirror. The size
of the mirror must be at least 500 square centimeters (78
square inches) and have a field of vision of at least 170
- Every PWC towing a person(s) on water skis or a similar device
must have mirrors mounted on both the right and left sides of
the PWC (but not attached to the steering control) and the mirrors
must be at least 2 ½ inches high x 4 inches wide.
- The vessel operator must maintain reasonable distance from
other vessels, people, and property to avoid endangering life
or property. It is illegal to tow a person on water skis or a
similar device behind your vessel, or to manipulate the water
skis or a similar devices, in a manner that causes the towed
person to collide with another person or object.