Tips for Operating a Personal Water Craft

Ensure your thrill ride is a safe one.

People ride personal water crafts (PWCs) across with a gleeful sense of abandon. Made popular with models such as Jet Ski, WaveRunner and Sea-Doo, PWCs now remain as much a part of the aquatic life as sailboats, fishing vessels and other recreational sea-worthy vehicles. But these waterbugs with motors, which can virtually fly at up to 70 mph, are not toys.

PWCs accounted for one-fifth of the nearly 4,600 boating accidents reported in 2011, according to the latest annual report from the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. This resulted in a total of 44 deaths and more than 760 injuries.

That means PWC enthusiasts should also practice the following safety guidelines. They’re compiled from the American Boating Association, Boat-Ed.com and boat safety/legal expert Joan Wenner, J.D., who writes the monthly “Waterway Law” page for Heartland Boating magazine:

Go to school. A class presents the best opportunity to get a complete overview of what the local laws are, as well as user safety tips. “Some states, such as Virginia, offer a special operations course specifically for PWCs,” Wenner says. To find one near you, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary maintains a searchable directory of public-education courses here. The U.S. Power Squadrons, a non-profit boating educational organization, also offers a searchable directory at usps.org.

Know your PWC. Take the time to read and comprehend the owner’s manual. Review the video that many manufacturers will provide with the purchase. Inspect your PWC routinely and follow through on all recommended maintenance. Most particularly, verify that the kill switch works before going out. This way, if you fall off, the PWC stops and makes a circle so you can reboard safely.

Strap it on. Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD) that’s Coast Guard approved.

Understand the basics. Meaning: Don’t invite reckless behavior. Keep in mind that your vehicle is likely faster and more agile than anything else on the water, and operator courtesy and common sense apply here. “Don’t jump wakes of other boats, or weave through other waterway traffic,” Wenner says. “Don’t operate at night. In fact, most states prohibit PWC use after sunset. Significantly reduce speed near docks, piers, boat ramps, swimmer and other boats—particularly in designated no-wake zones.”

Don’t cut it off. Keep your power running to maintain control. If you shift the engine to “idle” or shut it off while operating, you lose all steering control.

Sober minded. Never get on a PWC if you’ve been drinking. Report any operator under the influence that you see on the water.

Share the water. Remember that you’re enjoying a great natural resource with others. Allow plenty of space and room to stop. Don’t generate excessive noise near camping/fishing areas. Avoid “tricks” that cause the engine exhaust to elevate above the water because that makes for a noisier ride.

Insure your personal water craft and ask your agent how you can combine that policy with your existing ones.