Personal watercraft: A safe ride is a fun ride

By Ed Killer (Contact)
Friday, April 18, 2008
Photo provided
Personal watercraft are a popular and fun way to enjoy time on the water. Observing a few simple safety rules will you avoid potentially dangerous situations.

The Treasure Coast is a boater's paradise and one of the most exciting ways to enjoy the waterways is aboard a personal watercraft — or a PWC.
But before jumping on one of these speedy vessels, there are a few things you need to know.
So, here's a few helpful tips/stats if you are going to rent or buy a PWC.
PWC: The Law
• In Florida, each person operating, riding on, or being towed behind a personal watercraft must wear an approved non-inflatable Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device. Inflatable personal flotation devices are prohibited.
• The operator of a personal watercraft must attach the engine cutoff switch lanyard (if equipped by the manufacturer) to his/her person, clothing, or PFD.
• Personal watercraft may not be operated from half-hour after sunset to half-hour before sunrise.
• Maneuvering a personal watercraft by weaving through congested vessel traffic, jumping the wake of another vessel unreasonably close or when visibility around the vessel is obstructed, or swerving at the last possible moment to avoid collision is classified as reckless operation of a vessel (a first-degree misdemeanor).
• A person must be at least 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft in this state.
• A person must be at least 18 years of age to rent a personal watercraft in this state.
• It is unlawful for a person to knowingly allow a person under 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft (2nd-degree misdemeanor).
• Anyone 21 years of age or younger, is required to either have successfully completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved boating education course or have passed a course equivalency or temporary certificate examination and have in their possession a boating education ID card and a photo identification card before operating a vessel with a motor of 10 HP or more in Florida. Identification cards for persons completing the course or the equivalency exam are good for a life time. Temporary Certificate exams are made available to the public through contractors. The temporary certificate is valid for a period of 12 months from the issue date.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Obey Speed Zones
"Personal watercraft operators must honor the same speed zone requirements as all other boaters," said FWC Officer Jorge Pino.
Therefore, "Idle Speed — No Wake" means the boater or PWC rider must operate at the minimum speed that will maintain steerageway. "Slow Down — Minimum Wake" means boat must operate fully off plane and completely settled in water.
Jet propulsion instead of propeller
PWC operate via an engine-driven jet pump. Water is pulled in through an intake and expelled through an exhaust that powers the PWC. The jet is mounted on a swivel serving as the vessel's steerage.
Riding gear
In addition to wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) mandatory by law, riders might enjoy a more comfortable ride with eye protection, foot protection, gloves and a wet suit.
Pre-ride inspection
Riders should go through a checklist to ensure everything on the PWC is working properly. Items to check include steering, throttle, jet pump cover, ventilate engine compartment, fuel leaks, oil leaks, hose connections, drain bilge, fuel level, engine oil level, battery, hull damage and cracks, engine cover, fire extinguisher and kill switch.
Operator's duties while underway
• Carefully watch for other boat traffic
• An operator is responsible for his or her own safety, the safety of passengers, the PWC and the damage the PWC's wake may cause
• Know stopping distance and turning radius
• Keep an eye on the weather
• Exercise courtesy and common sense
• If pulling a skier, must have a wide-angler mirror or on-board observer
Falling off, reboarding
PWCs are designed wit the knowledge that the operator will occasionally fall off. Some models circle, some cut-off with the kill switch. Read owner's manual before running. Never allow anyone to put hair, hands or feet near the jet pump intake. Serious injury or drowning can occur.
Social points
A PWC's "use pattern"carries an environmental impact. Concentrated riding in one area can upset people on the beach or anglers fishing in an area. As with all powerboats, noise can be an issue. Remember that noise carries farther on water. Early morning and late afternoons are times when people particularly enjoy peace and quiet. Avoid residential and camping areas and places where people usually go for solitude. When operating a PWC, don't stay in one place — keep moving.
Vessels and PWCs may not operate at a sound level that exceeds 90 DBA measured at 50 feet from the vessel
Outboard Emissions
Many boats and nearly all older PWC are equipped with two-stroke engines. Conventional two-stroke engines produce roughly 14 times as much ozone-forming pollution as four-stroke engines. Also, 25-30-percent of the fuel and oil of two-stroke engines is discharged unburned with a portion lingering in the water column for a period of time.
New federal emission standards for marine engines are in place. Many manufacturers are already meeting these requirements with clean-burning engines already available. The new technology provides easier starting, faster acceleration, quicker throttle response, improved fuel economy and a reduction in fumes.
Even though boat engines currently in use are not affected by the phase-in, boaters are encouraged to retire them.
Source: PWC Safety School —
Other helpful Web sites
Personal Watercraft Industry Association —
Personal Watercraft Illustrated magazine —
Florida PWC Accident and Fatality statistics
Year, Accidents, Injuries, Fatalities
1998: 431, 327, 11
1999: 397, 308, 8
2000: 382, 302, 9
2001: 309, 219, 10
2002: 303, 259, 11
2003: 241, 187, 10
2004: 169, 142, 8
2005: 148, 125, 11
2006: 174, 146, 11
Treasure Coast PWC Accidents and Registrations in 2006
(Most recent year available)
County: Total Registrations, Rentals, Accidents, Injuries, Fatalities, Accident rate
Indian River: 751, 4, 6, 2, 0, 1:124
St. Lucie: 1,252, 4, 0, 0, 0, 0
Martin: 1,259, 12, 0, 0, 0, 0
Okeechobee: 260, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0
Florida: 117,438, 2,131, 174, 146, 11, 1:675
Top Three Counties
Palm Beach: 20 accidents; 0 fatalities; 6,591 registrations; Rate 1:325
Pinellas:18 accidents; 1 fatality; 8,060 registrations; Rate 1:433
Monroe:12 accidents; 1 fatality; 1,913 registrations; Rate 1:133
Top Three Types of Accidents
Collision with vessel — 92
Collision with fixed object — 25
Fall on PWC — 22
• PWC fatalities in 2006 accounted for 16 percent of all boating fatalities and 35 percent of all injuries
• 35 percent of PWC accidents in 2006 involved riders with less than 10 hours of experience
• 22 percent of PWC accidents occurred within a restricted area