Jet Ski Rules & Regulations

Before buying a personal watercraft, or a Jet Ski by trademark, it might be wise to take a boating safety course to help prevent accidents. Jet skis manoeuvre more easily than larger boats, making it tempting to perform stunts on the water. Drivers and passengers should wear approved life jackets and adhere to speed limits and other rules and regulations made by federal, state and local authorities.

Safe Boating Decreases Accidents

You might be considering buying a personal watercraft, or the Kawasaki brand known as a Jet Ski, for summer fun. If you do, consider taking a safe boating course to learn regulations and rules for operating this vehicle, which is 16 feet or smaller and quite different from a motorboat.

Boat operators who take these courses have a far better chance of surviving accidents. In 2007, the most recent year studied, only 14 per cent of deaths occurred on vessels where the driver had taken a boating safety class, said the U.S. Coast Guard.

Personal watercraft ranked second as the most common kind of craft involved in reported accidents, with open motorboats being first. While deaths due to all boating accidents decreased in 2007, injuries and damages have increased.

Jet Ski injuries and deaths are commonly caused by careless or reckless driving, operator inattention, excessive speed, the driver's inexperience, not taking a proper lookout for other vessels and alcohol or drug use.

Where To Find Information

Only Alabama requires all boaters, including Jet Ski operators, to have a license. Florida and many other states require personal watercraft to be titled and registered with the state.

You can check out your state's requirements online, but it might take a few minutes to find them. Various state and local agencies have jurisdiction over lakes, rivers and oceans, but you can get guidance about federal waterways at the U.S. Coast Guard website.

Jet Skis Are Different

Although you might have driven a powerboat before, Jet Skis work differently than other boats, say the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

When the driver releases the throttle, he completely eliminates the ability to steer. Many new operators can forget this, particularly during potential collisions. Drivers should also remember that the jet drive propulsion system is extremely responsive to slight turns of the handlebars. This manoeuvring ease encourages drivers to try unusual stunts, sometimes causing accidents.

When driving or riding on personal watercraft, you should be able to reboard it in deep water after falling off. The best place to do that is the stern (rear) of the craft. If you're tired, weigh more than average or the model is not the most stable, it can be more challenging to hop back on.

The Environment

Many states and local areas have laws and regulations about driving and safety, including laws to preserve the environment. In Florida, for instance, all boaters have to pay attention to manatee zones. The sea cows are an endangered species, and signs will be posted to reduce your speed and look out for the mammals.

Before hitting the water, read your owner's manual, learn all parts of the vessel and practice driving with someone who's more experienced. Drivers and passengers should wear a life jacket and follow the rules of the water, just as they would when driving a car.

More Safety Tips

Wear the safety lanyard: Never drive the vessel without the safety lanyard attached to you; the lanyard will immediately cut the engine if you fall from the craft, preventing serious injury.

Observe the right of way: Larger boats, including commercial and fishing vessels, always have the right of way. When approaching an oncoming craft, stay to the right. If you're about to cross paths with another vessel, the craft that has the other on the starboard (right) side acts as the give-way vessel and must avoid crossing ahead of the other one.

Traffic awareness: Pay attention to other boats' locations and where they’re heading before you make a turn or cross a wake. Collisions are the most common accident when jet skiing.

Wave or wake jumping: If you're travelling across the wake of another craft, make sure the vessel doesn't block your visibility and your visibility to others. Larger boat drivers may not see you and may not be able to steer away to avoid a crash.

Observe the speed limits: Limits are usually set locally, so follow them, whether posted or not. The driver is responsible for knowing the speed limit, and failing to do so could result in a fine or collision.

Gear up for safety: Wear an approved life jacket and goggles to keep spray out of your eyes. Non-slippery shoes and gloves help you to control the craft, and a wet suit protects you from hypothermia and other elements. Attaching a whistle to your life jacket may be a lifesaver.

Be considerate about noise: You can avoid noise complaints by not driving at high speed near the shoreline, waterfront properties and other boaters. Always start the engine in the water and warm it up before you take off.

Respect the environment: Don't spill fuel, oil or leave litter in the water or on the sand. Keep your Jet Ski away from wildlife or aquatic plants.

Don't drive at night: Jets Skis don't have lights and aren't recommended by manufacturers for nighttime use. Many states and cities limit driving hours.

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