Personal Safety
Anatomy of
Legal Requirements
Operating A PWC
Navigational Rules
Accident Prevention & Rescue
PWC Exam

& Links















Did You Know?

If you loan your PWC to a friend or family member you can be cited for their illegal or improper actions? Encourage them to participate in a safe boating course before they get on the water!

In addition, a high percentage of accidents are caused by inexperienced riders. Take responsibility not only for your craft but also those who may be riding it!















Operating a PWC after dark is illegal. As a general rule, never ride a PWC between sunset and sunrise or at other times of reduced visibility. The law excludes persons engaged in professional exhibitions, regattas, races, parades and other sanctioned activities.



You will learn:

Laws that appply to all boats with an emphasis on PWC

Required and recommended safety gear

Legal Requirements

Similar to powerboat operators, PWC operators are required to have the following safety equipment:

  • Each person on board must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved, properly fitted life jacket.

  • Sound signaling device -- a whistle attached to your PFD and/or a stored signal horn.

  • A U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type B fire extinguisher, good for gasoline and oil fires.

  • A backfire flame arrestor that is clean, functional and well secured, where applicable.

  • Visual distress signals such as flares (required for coastal waters and recommended for inland waters).

For personal safety, a PWC operator should also have:

  • A whistle attached to your life jacket, one that works even when wet.

  • Eye protection, to protect from the sun, spray, and bugs. It is recommended that you have a leash on your sunglasses to ensure you don't lose them if you enter the water.

  • Boat shoes/booties, to improve traction and protect your feet from underwater hazards.

  • Gloves may improve your grip and comfort.

  • Wet suit to protect you against sun, wind, abrasion, and hypothermia. Manufacturers recommend wearing wetsuits to prevent injury.

  • Helmet, to protect your head from injury. The type of helmet varies with the type of water activity. Properly fitted helmet is mandatory for racers during competition.
  • Sunscreen and lip protection.

  • Water and snacks.

  • Communication devices such as a VHF radio or a cell phone.

Remember to maintain good awareness and judgment

  • Beware of natural stressors such as wind, sun, noise, and motion.

  • Do not drink alcohol or use drugs and operate a PWC.

  • It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.

  • If you are convicted of operating a PWC while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can lose the privilege of obtaining or keeping your driver's license.

Age of Operator

To operate a PWC designed for one person, the operator must be 16 years of age or older. A person 12-15 years of age may operate a PWC designed to carry two or more persons if the operator is supervised on board by a person 18 years or older.

Hull Identification Numbers (HIN)

A HIN is a 12-digit number/letter combination that is stamped into the hull of the vessel. A HIN is required for registration and is useful in identifying a stolen PWC.


PWC must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The registration numbers must be applied left to right on the forward sides of the bow using 3" block letters of a contrasting color. The state decal must be placed 3" aft (towards the back) of the numbers. Letters are separated from the numbers by hyphens or spaces equal to the width of the numbers. The registration numbers should be placed above the water line for easy identification.

The registration certificate must be carried on the PWC when under way. It is best to keep the registration certificate in a waterproof container.

Restrictions Applying to PWC

It is important to know that personal watercraft are subject to the same boat operating and navigation rules as other powerboats. Furthermore, many waterways in California may have unique local regulations and it is your responsibility to know what these rules are. Ignorance of the rules does not exempt the operator from the law. To help make PWC a safer form of boating, the law prohibits the operator of a PWC from:

  • Undertaking unsafe or reckless practices.

  • Jumping another vessel's wake within 100 ft. of the vessel creating the wake.

  • Operating at a speed in excess of 5 mph within 200 feet of a beach or within 100 feet of swimmers, surfers or anyone else in the water.

  • Operating at a rate of speed and proximity to another vessel causing either operator to swerve at the last minute to avoid a collision.

  • Operating a PWC toward any person or vessel in the water and turning sharply at close range so as to spray that vessel or person.

  • Altering the self-circling device on a PWC equipped with such a device.

  • Operating a PWC without a properly attached lanyard that runs from the cutoff or "kill" switch to his or her person.

  • Operating a PWC between the hours from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.