Chapter 4: The Legal Requirements of Boating
Requirements Specific to Personal Watercraft (PWCs)
In addition to adhering to all boating laws, personal watercraft
(PWC) operators have requirements specific to their vessel.
- You must have a Boating Safety
Education Certificate to operate a PWC legally.
- Everyone on board a PWC must wear a U.S.
Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation
device (PFD) at all times. Inflatable PFDs are not acceptable
on a PWC. Type III PFDs are recommended.
- An operator of a PWC equipped with a lanyard-type ignition
safety switch must attach the lanyard to
his or her person, clothing, or PFD.
- PWC operators must carry on board a fully charged fire extinguisher
and a sound-producing device.
- PWCs may be operated during daylight hours only (sunrise to
- PWCs must be operated in a responsible manner. It is illegal to:
- Weave your PWC through congested waterway traffic or swerve
at the last possible moment in order to avoid collision.
- Operate a PWC at greater than “slow,
no wake speed” if within 100 feet of a shoreline,
docks, or launch ramps; swimmers, downed skiers, or persons
wading in the water; or anchored, moored, or drifting vessels
- Cause a PWC to become airborne while crossing another
vessel’s wake when within 100 feet of the vessel creating
- Operate at faster than “slow, no wake speed” within 100 feet to the rear of or 50 feet to the side of
another vessel that is underway (unless in a narrow channel).
- Operate within 100 feet of anyone being towed behind another
Towing a Person With a Vessel
Vessel operators towing a person(s) on water skis, aquaplanes,
surfboards, inner tubes, or any similar devices must obey these
- All persons being towed behind a vessel on water skis or any
other device must wear a U.S.
Coast Guard–approved PFD.
- A USCG–approved PFD must be carried in the vessel for
each skier electing to wear a special water-skiing wetsuit.
- Inflatable PFDs are not acceptable for anyone being towed
behind a vessel.
- In addition to the operator, a competent observer must be
on board the vessel and seated in a position to observe the progress
of the person being towed. A competent observer is a person who
can assess when a skier is in trouble, knows and
understands the water-skiing hand signals, and is capable of
helping a skier.
- Persons may be towed behind a vessel on water skis or any
other device during daylight hours only (sunrise to sunset).
- If vessel traffic permits, skiers may start from the shore
or dock. Skiers may not be returned to the shore or dock under
- If towing a person behind a personal watercraft, these rules
- The PWC must be rated for at least three people—the
operator, the observer, and the retrieved skier.
- You may not tow more than one skier.
Ski Tow Ropes
Ski tow ropes may not exceed the following lengths:
- Conventional water-skiing—80 feet
- Parasailing—300 feet
- Nonreleasable kite-skiing—150 feet
- Releasable kite-skiing—500 feet