Personal watercraft can be thrilling, but caution is crucial

Personal watercraft can be thrilling, but caution is crucial

Whether they are called wave runners, jet skis, sea-doo's or some other name, personal watercraft (PWC) are popular recreational options, but because of additional safety concerns, they have different rules.

One question that often arises is why there are so many PWC accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard says PWCs are involved in more collisions than any other type of boat. BoatUS, the Boat Owners Association of the United States, compiled information about why these types of watercraft are involved in accidents so often and lists two major reasons.

The first is inexperience. 

Insurance claims and Coast Guard statistics indicate that the majority of PWC accidents involve riders between the ages of 11 and 20. Vehicle owners themselves were only involved in 18% of the accidents. This means that those involved in the majority of PWC accidents were not the vehicle’s owners. Rather, the statistics show that an owner’s younger family members were involved in 29% of PWC collisions and that friends using the PWC accounted for 53% of accidents. Also, statistics show that 84% of PWC accidents involved operators who had not received any boating education, and 73% had been riding less than one hour when the accident occurred.

A second reason for the high number of PWC accidents involves the way the boats handle.

Records show almost 70% of PWC collisions were with another watercraft, most of which were other personal watercraft. Combined with inexperience, operators often had difficulty judging how fast they were traveling over a certain distance. Steering is greatly impaired when a PWC isn’t shooting water from the stern. There is limited maneuverability when traveling at slow speeds and virtually no maneuverability if the throttle is closed. When an inexperienced rider releases the throttle to avoid a collision, they lose steering. Tapping the throttle will regain steering but increases speed, which can be difficult for an inexperienced rider to handle safely. PWCs also can make much sharper turns, which can also cause the operator to lose control.

There are special rules for PWCs in Texas, as listed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and detailed in the Texas Water Safety Act, including:

PWCs cannot legally operate at night (between sunset and sunrise) even if its been modified with navigation lights.
They should not be operated within 50 feet of another PWC, boat, shore, person or another object except at slow speeds (fast enough only to maintain steering ability).

  • It is illegal for a PWC operator to jump the wake of another boat.
  • Everyone who rides a PWC must have a life jacket. 
  • To legally operate a PWC in Texas, a person must be at least 13 years old. Those born after Sept. 1, 1993, must have successfully completed a boater education course. 
  • If PWCs have a kill-switch or cut-off, it must be attached to the operator or their clothes.
  • One US Coast Guard-approved type B-1 marine-grade fire extinguisher is required. The fire extinguisher must be readily accessible. It also must always be in condition for immediate and effective use.
  • One whistle, horn or other sound-producing device is required. The device must be capable of producing an efficient sound that can signal intentions and position in periods of reduced visibility.

It is important to remember the following things when operating a PWC:

  • They steer differently than a boat,
  • They have no brakes,
  • Maintain 50 feet of distance between watercraft unless idle,
  • Don’t exceed the recommended capacity for the number of people riding on the PWC,
  • Know how to operate the PWC before leaving the dock, 
  • Stay sober,
  • Do not jump the wake of another vessel, 
  • Avoid going into fishing areas and shallow water.

Rules and regulations which apply to regular motorboats also apply to PWCs, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. More information on operating PWCs is available at http://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/boat/laws/pwc/.