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

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Did You Know?

The stand-on vessel in the diagrams is the privileged vessel and has the "right of way." It must hold its course and speed unless it is necessary to change in order to avoid a collision. The give-way vessel must yield to the stand-on vessel and pass using the rules above.



You will learn:

Basic navigational "rules of the road"

Navigational aids

Navigational Rules and Aids

Navigational Rules

Driving a PWC in some ways is similar to driving a vehicle because there are rules of the road on the water and signs to obey. Operating a PWC is different from driving a car or motorcycle because there are no familar lane lines on the water or brakes on your PWC to aid in maneuvering. Crossing and right of way rules, basic rules of the road and navigational aids are all important parts of safely navigating on the water.

Navigational Rules

Meeting head-on

When two boats meet head-on, each must keep to the right (starboard).


When crossing, the boat to the right has the right-of-way, just like a car at an intersection, and is the stand-on vessel. The stand-on vessel continues on a consistent course and speed. The give-way vessel should slow and turn to starboard if necessary, and carefully pass the stand-on vessel astern.

Overtaking another boat

When you overtake another boat from behind (the stern), you are the give-way vessel. The boat being overtaken should hold course and speed. Pass with care on the right or left of the stand-on vessel.


Other boats, such as commercial fishing boats, deep-draft ships, sailboats, or other non-motorized vessels have less maneuverability and, therefore, have the right-of-way over PWC.

PWC Rules of the Road

Follow the basic rules of the road except when it is necessary to depart from them to avoid a collision.

  • Avoid ship channels when possible. Cross quickly when it is unavoidable.

  • Always watch for other boat traffic. Realize that you are smaller than most boats on the water and may be difficult to see.

  • Know that five or more whistle blasts mean danger or emergency.

  • Know the potential hazards and high traffic areas where you are operating the PWC. Referring to a chart or using other local resources can help you learn about your area.

  • Keep a safe distance between your PWC and other boats.

  • Sailboats not under power and other boats such as paddle craft have the right-of-way.

Navigational Aids

Buoys, the primary waterway marking system, have distinctive shapes, numbers, lights, and sounds to guide boaters on a safe course. There may be other signs and markers showing rules and regulations that are set by local authorities.

Signs also control speed. When operating a PWC, the most important signs to recognize are the ones that read "NO WAKE" and "5 MPH." These signs must be obeyed by ALL boaters.

Lateral markers and safe water aids also mark channels. When returning to dock, solid green marks the left side of the channel, red the right side, and red-striped the middle.