Chapter 3: Operating Your Boat—Safely
Operating a Personal Watercraft
Although a personal watercraft (PWC)– A small vessel that uses an inboard jet drive as its primary source of propulsion, and is designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than inside the vessel is considered an inboard vessel and operators must follow the same rules and requirements that apply to other vessels, there are additional, specific considerations for the PWC operator.
Before You Go Out On Your PWC
Operating a personal watercraft carries the same responsibilities as operating any other vessel. Before taking your PWC out on the water, you should:
- Read and understand the owner's manual.
- Take time to review the video most PWC manufacturers provide.
- Inspect your PWC periodically, and perform necessary maintenance to keep it in good operating condition.
- Be aware of all local, state, and federal laws that apply to PWCs. Chapter 4 has the legal requirements for your state.
- Do not forget that in addition to obeying all boating laws, the PWC operator must adhere to laws specific to personal watercraft.
and Stopping a PWC
- PWCs are propelled by a jet drive where water is drawn into a pump and then forced out under pressure through a steering nozzle at the back of the unit. This "jet" of pressurized water is directed by the steering control—when the steering control is turned, the steering nozzle turns in the same direction. For example, if the steering control is turned right, the nozzle turns right and the jet of water pushes the back of the vessel to the left, which causes the PWC to turn right.
- The most important thing to remember about steering most PWCs (and other jet-drive vessels) is that you always must have power in order to maintain control. If you allow the engine to return to idle or shut off during operation, you lose all steering control. The PWC will continue in the direction it was headed before the throttle was released or the engine was shut off, no matter which way the steering control is turned.
- Always allow plenty of room for stopping. Just because you release the throttle or shut off the engine does not mean you will stop immediately.
Courtesy On the Water
While these rules of courteous operation are especially important for PWC operators, they apply to all other vessel operators as well.
- Jumping the wake– Waves that a vessel leaves behind as it moves through the water of a passing boat, or
riding too close to another PWC or boat, creates risks and is restricted
or even prohibited in some states. Chapter 4 has the legal requirements for your state. Here's why.
- The boat making the wake may block the PWC operator's view of oncoming traffic and also conceal the PWC operator from approaching vessels.
- It can be very stressful for boat operators to have PWCs continually in close proximity to their boats.
- Wake jumping and riding too close to other vessels are common complaints others have against PWC operators.
- Do not attempt to spray others with the wake of your PWC. Not only is this discourteous, but it is also dangerous and reckless operation.
- Excessive noise from personal watercraft often makes them unwelcome with other vessel operators, as well as with people on shore. Here are some tips on how you can be a courteous PWC operator.
- Vary your operating area, and do not keep repeating the same maneuver.
- Avoid congregating with other PWC operators near shore, which increases annoying noise levels.
- Avoid making excessive noise near residential and camping areas, particularly early in the morning. Excessive use in one area can be an irritant to people who are there to enjoy a quiet and relaxing time.
- Avoid maneuvers that cause the engine exhaust to lift out of the water because that increases noise levels.
- Do not modify your engine exhaust system if it increases the noise. Improperly modified exhausts will not make your PWC faster and may raise the noise to an illegal level.
- Share the waterways responsibly with other boaters, fishermen, swimmers, surfers, or skiers. Respect their right to use the waterways safely and enjoyably.
When operating your personal watercraft, always consider the effect you may have on the environment.
- Make sure that the water you operate in is at least 30 inches deep.
Riding in shallow water can cause bottom sediments or aquatic vegetation
to be sucked into the pump, damaging your PWC and the environment.
- Avoid causing erosion by operating at slow speed and by not creating a wake– Waves that a vessel leaves behind as it moves through the water when operating near shore or in narrow streams or rivers.
- Do not dock or beach your PWC in reeds and grasses. This could damage fragile environments.
- Take extra care when fueling your PWC in or near the water. Oil and gasoline spills are very detrimental to the aquatic environment. Fuel on land if possible.
- Never use your PWC to disturb, chase, or harass wildlife.
Other PWC Considerations
- Regulations concerning PWCs can vary from state to state. Chapter 4 has the legal requirements for your state.
- A PWC is very maneuverable and responsive to slight turns of the steering control. At high speeds, a quick turn can make the PWC unstable, causing the operator and passengers to fall off. This is why most states require that everyone on board a PWC wear a personal flotation device (life jacket). Chapter 4 has the legal requirements for your state.
- Any passenger on a PWC should be able to hold on securely to the person in front of them or to the handholds, while keeping both feet firmly on the footrests. Children who are too small to be able to do this should not ride.
- A passenger on a PWC should never be seated in front of the operator.
- Keep hands, feet, loose clothing, and hair away from the pump intake area. Before cleaning debris from the pump intake, be sure to shut off the engine.
- The jet of water exiting the steering nozzle at the rear of the PWC can cause severe internal injuries. Anyone riding on a PWC should wear a wetsuit or other clothing that provides similar protection. Also, keep everyone clear of the steering nozzle unless the PWC is shut off.
- Frequently inspect your PWC's electrical systems (e.g., starter and engine gauge connections) to ensure there is no potential for electrical spark. This is important because gas fumes could collect in the engine compartment and an explosion could occur if a spark from the electrical system ignited the fumes. After fueling, sniff the engine compartment for any evidence of gas fumes.
- Never exceed the manufacturer's recommended capacity for your PWC.
- Know your limits, and ride according to your abilities.
Reboarding a Capsized PWC
PWCs are designed to turn over and that's part of what makes them fun, but it's also why it is very important that the ignition safety switch is attached to the operator. After a fall, the PWC could be overturned completely. You should know how to right the PWC and how to reboard from the rear of the craft.
- Most manufacturers have placed a decal at the rear or bottom of the craft that indicates the direction to roll your PWC to return it to an upright position. If no decal exists, check your owner's manual or ask the dealer. With this information, you should be able to roll the PWC over and reboard with little trouble. If you roll it over the wrong way, you could damage your PWC.
- It is a good idea to practice reboarding with someone else around to make sure you can handle it alone. Don't ride your PWC if you are very tired because reboarding would be difficult. Also, avoid riding where there are strong currents or winds, which could hamper your reboarding efforts.
Look for the decal on the rear of the PWC to determine the direction
to roll it to return it to an upright position.