Today is one of those late spring days when one can feel summer right around the corner: the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the weather person tells us our thermometers will likely reach 75! On days like these, it is hard not to daydream about all the blissful summer days ahead. Many of us will spend those days enjoying the great outdoors – and for some of us, that includes venturing out onto the waterways.
If you participate in any type of watersport, it may not surprise you to learn that over the course of the past three years, the use of personal watercrafts (PWCs) has exhibited steady, sustainable growth. The United States Coast Guard classifies personal watercrafts as Class A vessels: they are not toys. Although they may only measure about 10 feet in length, these machines come with a large amount of responsibility.
With more PWCs than ever before on our lakes and in our oceans, it is important to know the laws and requirements:
- The same operation and safety equipment laws for boats under 16 feet in length also apply to PWCs.
- In many states, the laws for operating PWCs are stricter than the requirements for operators of recreational vessels.
- In most states, there are education and operation requirements for drivers of Class A vessels. Anyone who buys a PWC should be aware of these requirements and comply before heading out onto the water. Click here for Pennsylvania requirements
- For individual state operation requirements, BoatUS.org provides more resources about individual state operation requirements (simply click on the applicable state to see updated requirements).
- Always check individual state laws before allowing a teenager to operate a PWC. In most states, the minimum operating age is 16.
- The owner of a PWC is responsible for its use and for its misuse. When loaning out a watercraft, it is the owner’s responsibility to make sure that the person borrowing the PWC knows the applicable laws and to observe the borrower when operating the vessel.
These are some important tips to remember while using a PWC:
- Be sure to have all required equipment aboard your PWC:
- A Coast Guard-approved B-1 fire extinguisher
- One life jacket for each person on the vessel – to be worn at all times
- A whistle, horn, or other sound signal
- A backfire flame arrestor and proper ventilation system
- All registration documents
- A lanyard attached to the operator for emergency engine cutoff
- Be sure registration numbers and validation decals are clearly and properly displayed.
- Adhere to additional safety equipment recommendations. Be sure to have:
- A first aid-kit, including burn cream and sunscreen
- A small VHF radio, and a cell phone as a backup for that radio
- A bilge pump, or hand-operated dewatering device
- An anchor with enough line to allow for proper use
- A daytime distress signal for operation on inland waters – orange flags, large signal mirrors, or flares are suitable
- For skiers: a skier-down flag, rear-view mirrors, and other required accessories
- Check the functionality of the PWC prior to each use.
- Never drink before or during use of a PWC.
- Memorize navigation signs and marks; and know all applicable laws.
- Do not carry more than the recommended number of passengers.
- Always watch the water carefully to avoid collisions:
- Keep clear while passing other vessels (note: when approaching another vessel traveling in the same direction, the vessel on the right must alter its speed to pass).
- Steer to the right when meeting vessels head-on.
- Always yield to larger vessels.
- Respect ecological sanctuaries.
With summer right around the corner, this may be the best time for PWC owners to take a boating safety course. These courses are a requirement here in Pennsylvania, helping to ensure PWC operators learn, practice, and remember important safety information. This vital information may not only save PWC owners from serious trouble by keeping them from inadvertently breaking operating laws, but it may also help to save lives on the water. To learn more about PWC safety or to discuss your concerns with an agent, please do not hesitate to call us!