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

& Links












Did You Know?

That there may be local operating restrictions that govern the waterway that you intend to use. Examples may include designated areas for PWC operation or restrictions on two-stroke types of engines. Check with local resources before you go!











Keep hands, feet, and hair away from the pump intake and the jet pump nozzle while the PWC motor is running.






Did You Know?

5 miles per hour is much slower than many people think and is also difficult to estimate when the PWC does not have speedometer. A good way to judge this speed is if your PWC has any whitewater in its wake, you're going too fast. Or, you should apply the minimum amount of throttle that will propel your craft forward.


When operating a PWC:

Take frequent breaks.

Avoid tunnel vision; constantly be aware of other boats, swimmers, and water skiers.

Drink water, juice, or soft drinks (non-caffeinated), not alcohol.


Take Note

PWC lack any means of stopping since they have no brakes. See the section on excessive speed, stopping distance and risk of collision.
















































Did You Know?

When fueling, be sure the fuel nozzle is in contact with the fuel pipe or tank. This prevents build-up of static electricity which could produce a dangerous spark.


Before you restart your PWC after fueling, it is very important to ventilate the engine compartment for at least four minutes to release any potentially explosive gasoline fumes that may have settled.




You will learn:

About traveling safely before you get to the water

Pre-operation checks to perform

Basics of casting off and returning to shore

What to look for while under way

Guidelines for towing a skier

Environmental issues

Operating A PWC

Before Leaving Home

Driving with your PWC on a trailer is subject to all of the laws outlined in the California vehicle code. In addition, driving with a trailer requires extra practice and caution. Be especially careful when going around sharp curves, when backing and when you are launching at a boat ramp.

Check that the trailer:

  • Is licensed with the Department of Motor Vehicles and you have the registration certificate in the towing vehicle.

  • Lights are working.

  • Hitch and safety chains are in good condition and properly attached.

  • Tires are in good condition and are properly inflated.

  • Tie-downs are in good condition and secure.

  • Has no loose bolts, cracks, or broken joints.

  • Bearings are lubricated and adjusted according to manufacturer's recommendations.

  • Fuel cock on the PWC is in the "off" position.

  • Fuel cans and other gear are secure.

Pre-Operation Check

Read and understand the owner's manual. Be familiar with the steering apparatus, and the mechanism that governs the PWC if the rider falls off. Read the warning stickers on the craft.

  • Check the weather and water conditions.

  • Check that you have filed a float plan with a friend or family member.

  • Check the engine, battery fluids, oil and fuel levels.

  • Check the required safety equipment:

    1. the U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher is charged and secure.
    2. the backfire flame arrestor is clean and secure.
    3. the cutoff switch is working.
    4. the start/stop button is working.
    5. a sound signaling device is onboard (whistle or horn).
    6. there is a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD for every person on board.
    7. visual distress signals for coastal waters are on board.

Check the recommended safety equipment:

  • There is a basic first aid kit.
  • There is an anchor and a tow line of the correct length.
  • There is an extra lanyard.
  • There is a phone or VHF radio.
  • There is a tool kit for simple repairs.

Check your personal equipment:

  • Wear suitable clothing: wetsuit, eye protection with a leash, gloves, helmet, booties, or boat shoes.

  • Life jackets are in good condition.

  • Whistle attached to life jacket.

Check the condition of the PWC:

  • Hull is not damaged.

  • Engine compartment is vented.

  • Gas and oil caps are secure.

  • Spark plug cables are secure.

  • Handlebar grips are not loose.

  • Hose connections are tight and not cracked or leaking.

  • Bilge is drained.

  • Drain plugs are in place and secure.

  • Jet pump is not fouled.

  • Throttle springs back after being pressed.

  • Steering mechanism moves easily.

  • Engine cover is secure.

  • Storage compartment covers, seat cushions, and footwell pads are secure.

Casting Off

  • Check that the lanyard is attached to your wrist or life jacket.

  • Check that the fuel cock is in the "on" position.

  • Check the steering and throttle as the PWC is eased away from the dock.

  • Check your surroundings. Watch for swimmers and other boats. Leave the dock or beach area slowly. Remember the 5 mph law within 200 feet of a beach and 100 feet of anyone in the water.

While Under Way

  • Check the water depth. Never operate the PWC in shallow water because materials may be sucked up from the bottom causing damage to the pump. The natural environment including plants, animals and soils can also be harmed. Manufacturers recommend 18 to 24 inches of water that is free of debris and weeds.

  • Check for other boats, swimmers, and water skiers. Be cautious when turning: look to both sides and aft.

  • Check and obey the speed laws, right of way, navigation markers, and signs.

  • Check your noise. Be courteous, limit noise by not boating in one place for too long.

  • Check and monitor weather and water conditions including: tides, river flows, wind, visibility, ocean swells and waves, storm conditions, and debris in the water.

  • Check the current or water flow. Avoid strong currents as they can be hazardous to riders trying to reach and reboard their watercraft.

  • Check the waterway. Avoid rocky areas and jetties because of unpredictable currents and a possible collision.

  • Check the fuel; conserve to make sure you can get back to shore. Remember the one-third rule: one-third of a tank out, one-third back in, and one-third for safety.

  • Check the time. Return before dark or before you are too tired.

To Tow a Water Skier Behind a PWC

  • Towing a person on water skis, an aquaplane or a similar device is not recommended with any PWC smaller than a three-person craft, in order to accommodate the operator, observer and skier.

  • In addition to the operator and skier, you must have an observer on board who is at least 12 years old.

  • The skier must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

  • The observer must display a red or orange signal flag (minimum 12" square) to indicate:

    1. a downed skier.
    2. a skier in the water preparing to ski.
    3. a ski line extended from the PWC.
    4. a ski or other gear in the water.

  • You should know the standard hand signals in order to be able to communicate between the skier and those on board. (See Diagrams)

  • Be aware that your PWC will handle differently when towing a skier.

  • You should always be: on the lookout for other vessels, aware of where the skier is in relation to the shoreline or other obstructions, and aware of towlines, skis and other items that may be in the water.

  • It is illegal to tow a skier between sunset and sunrise.

Returning to Shore

  • Check your speed. Slow to minimum speed as you approach the landing site.

  • Check the water depth. Be prepared to get off the watercraft and push it ashore or to its mooring site.

Environmental Issues

Fueling - It is preferable to fuel your PWC while it is on the trailer in the parking lot or at a gas station. However, if you need to add fuel to the PWC on the beach, it is important to take all necessary precautions to prevent spilling fuel. Pull the PWC up on the beach as far as possible so that accidentally spilled fuel will not go directly into the water. Wrap a rag around the opening to the gasoline tank and pour the gasoline in very slowly. When you hear or see that the tank is nearly full, stop pouring the gasoline. Do not overfill because gasoline expands as it warms. Never top off when fueling on a beach because this is the most common way spills occur. Replace the cap tightly when you are done. Air the rag until it is dry or store it in a covered metal container.

Habitat Damage - Shallow water in bays, lagoons and any other waterway are sensitive habitats. These shallows are critical areas for many plants, and are nurseries for fish and shellfish. Operating your PWC may harm these delicate ecosystems, which are often identifiable by floating plantlife. Avoid operating your PWC in any potentially fragile areas!

Wildlife Harassment - It is illegal to harass any wildlife including marine mammals and any birdlife. Harassment is defined as any action that changes the natural behavior of the animal. This may include simply causing a bird to fly away or a marine mammal, such as a seal, to leave the beach or rock. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 states that you must stay at least 1,000 feet away from any marine mammal.