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Water-jet Propelled Watercraft

A personal watercraft (PWC) is a small boat that uses an inboard water-jet motor as its primary source of propulsion. A PWC is operated by a person who sits, stands, or kneels on the boat rather than sits inside the boat.

Approximately 30% of all injuries sustained from boating accidents were attributed to the use of personal watercraft. If you understand the handling characteristics of PWCs, you will be better able to avoid injuries.

Operational Characteristics


The most important thing to remember when operating a PWC is that you can only maneuver the PWC when the throttle is open. A PWC has no rudder and is steered by turning the water jet. If it does not have a strong water jet coming out because the engine is idling, then you will not be able to steer it! Contrary to your experience with every other motor vehicle, slowing down to avoid an obstruction makes it far more difficult to steer around it. You actually have to maintain or even increase your speed while turning to avoid the hazard. If the PWC starts idling or stops during a turn, you will keep going in the same direction you were going before the power was lost, no matter how hard you turn the steering control. Too many injuries occur when trying to avoid a collision because the PWC driver takes his/her hand off the throttle, causing the PWC to coast very quickly and directly into a collision.


As with most any other watercraft, most PWCs have no brakes. The only way you can stop is to cut the throttle and coast, but when you cut the throttle, the steering won't work. The only thing that will stop the PWC is friction between your boat and the water...unless you hit something...and you definitely don't want to stop that way.

Emerging Braking/Reversing Technologies

Sea-Doo has developed new technology called Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR). This technology offers an on-the-water braking system with a hands-on-the-handlebars reverse. A lever on the left handlebar controls braking, similar to that on snowmobiles or ATVs. The braking system works by cutting engine power, deploying a reverse gate, and reapplying engine power in reverse within a fraction of a second of applying sufficient brake lever pressure. After applying the brake, the system will default to Neutral until the throttle is reapplied. You should practice cutting the throttle where you have a lot of room so you can learn how far the PWC will coast before it comes to a stop.


The best way to keep your PWC stable is for you and any passengers to stay low and avoid any sudden movements. Standing up raises the center of gravity, which makes the boat less stable. If you have any gear on the boat, be sure it is stowed low in the center and is balanced.

Load Capacities

The capacity plate on your PWC will tell you the safe load capacity. Do not exceed the manufacturer's recommendation. Not only is it illegal in some states, it is also unsafe. If you exceed the recommended capacity, the operating characteristics of the PWC will change, making it more difficult and dangerous to operate.

Lanyard/Cut-off Switch

One of the safety features of your PWC is the lanyard/cut-off switch. If you fall off, the lanyard will pull the key out of the start/stop switch, and the engine will stop, so you'll be able to swim back to the PWC. It also prevents the PWC from running into an area with swimmers or other watercraft.

As soon as you board the PWC, attach the lanyard to your body or your PFD before inserting it into the start/stop switch.

Re-boarding a PWC

You can assume you will need to re-board your PWC at some point, so before you leave the dock where other people can help you if you need it, practice re-boarding to be sure you can do it. If you have trouble re-boarding the PWC, don't take it out in an area with strong currents or high waves unless you will be with someone who will be able to help you. To re-board your PWC:

  1. Swim to the back of the PWC.
  2. Use your arms to pull yourself up onto your knees on the boarding platform.
  3. Pull yourself up onto the seat.
  4. Attach the lanyard/cut-off switch to the start/stop switch and to your PFD or your body.

If you fall off the PWC and it ends up upside down, look at the decal on the PWC that shows how to turn it over.

Fuel Reserve Tank

PWCs come with a reserve fuel tank. So if you run out of gas, you can switch to the reserve tank to make it back to shore. If you plan your outing so that you use one-third of the gas in the regular tank to get to where you're going, one-third of the tank to play while you're there, and one-third of the tank to get back, you'll never need to use the reserve tank.

Laws and Regulations

Over 10 years ago, there were so many accidents and fatalities involving PWCs that most states enacted laws to make PWCs and their operation safer. Since then a 2004 U.S. Coast Guard report stated that the number of reported injuries involving PWC use had continued along a downward trend and had decreased every year since 1996. Coast Guard data shows a 59 percent decrease in PWC accidents from 1996 to 2004. You don't want to be the one whose ignorance causes these statistics to worsen, so become familiar with the laws and regulations for operating a PWC in your state. These laws and regulations vary from state to state. Before operating a PWC, check the laws of the state where you will be using the PWC (see Chapter 7).

Accident Prevention

PWCs are the only recreational boats for which the leading cause of death is not drowning. Most PWC fatalities result from blunt trauma. In cases where the cause of death is drowning, most victims were not wearing a PFD. Most injuries occur when PWCs collide, either with other vessels (including other PWCs) or with fixed objects such as docks or rocks. Most of these accidents were caused by one or more of the following:

  • The operator wasn't experienced.
  • The operator wasn't paying attention.
  • The operator was going too fast.
  • The operator was reckless.

The green boats can't see each other!

To prevent an accident, remember the following:

  • Obey the capacity plate on your PWC, and don't exceed the limit.
  • Learn how to turn over a capsized PWC.
  • Learn how to properly re-board.
  • Avoid making any sharp or erratic turns.
  • Pay attention to what the other boats are doing.
  • Obey the Navigation Rules.
  • Stay out of shallow water, because the intake could pick up debris and clog the impeller.
  • Check the weather and water conditions before you leave and throughout the day.
  • Don't drink alcohol or take any drugs that could impair your ability to operate the PWC.
  • Follow correct refueling procedures, and know how to use your fire extinguisher.

Noise Control

The following considerations will help avoid annoying others who may be on the water for some peace and quiet:

  • Keep a safe distance from other vessels on the water.
  • Avoid excessive noise near camping and residential areas, especially early in the morning.
  • Ride over a larger area instead of staying in the same small space.
  • Avoid congregating with other PWC operators, especially near the shore where the sound carries farther.
  • Avoid maneuvers that lift the engine out of the water.

Hours of Operation

Most states do not allow the use of PWCs between sunset and sunrise, regardless of whether or not your PWC has navigation lights.


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