Operating a Personal Watercraft

Before Leaving Home

Check that the trailer:

^ Is licensed with the Department

Has no loose bolts, cracks, or

of Motor Vehicles.

broken joints.

^ Lights and hitch are working.

Bearings are lubricated and adjusted

^ Tires are in good condition and

according to the manufacturer's

are properly inflated.


^ Tie-downs are in good condition

Gas cock on the personal water-

and secure.

craft is in the "off" position.

Pre-Operation Check

Read and understand the owner's manual. Be familiar with the steering controls, and the mechanism that controls the personal watercraft if the rider falls off. Read the warning stickers on the craft.

^ Check the regulations that apply to powerboating and to personal watercraft. Ignorance is not an excuse.

^ Check out your skills. Be a competent swimmer.

^ Check the weather and file a float plan with a friend or family member.

^ Check the engine, battery fluids, oil and fuel levels.

^ Check the required safety equipment to make sure:

♦ A U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher is charged and secure.

♦ The backfire flame arrestor is clean and secure.

♦ The cutoff switch works.

♦ The start/stop button works.

♦ You have a sound signaling device (such as a whistle or horn).

♦ You have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD for every person on board.

♦ You have visual distress signals for coastal waters if your boat is 16 feet or longer.

Check the recommended safety equipment:

^ You have a basic First Aid kit.

^ You have an anchor and a tow line.

^ You have an extra lanyard.

^ You have a phone or VHF radio.

^ You have a tool kit for simple repairs.

Check your personal equipment:

^ Wear suitable clothing—wet suit, eye protection with a leash, gloves, booties or boat shoes.

^ Make sure life jackets are in good condition.

^ Make sure a whistle is attached to each life jacket.

Check the condition of the personal watercraft to make sure the:

Hull is not damaged.

Hose connections are tight and

Engine cover latch is secure.

not cracked or leaking.

Storage compartment cover is

Bilge is drained.


Drain plugs are in place and secure.

Engine compartment is vented.

Jet pump is not fouled or clogged.

Gas and oil caps are secure.

Throttle springs back after being

Spark plug cables are secure.


Throttle grips are not loose.

Steering mechanism moves easily.

Casting Off

^ Check that the lanyard is attached to your left wrist or life jacket. ^ Check that the fuel cock is in the "on" position.

^ Check the steering and throttle as you ease the personal watercraft away from the dock.

^ Check your surroundings. Watch for swimmers and other boats. Leave the dock or beach area slowly.

While Under Way

Check the water depth. Never operate the personal watercraft in shallow water, because the watercraft may suck materials up from the bottom, damaging the pump. Manufacturers recommend operating in at least 18 to 24 inches of water that is free of debris and weeds.

Check for other boats, swimmers, and water skiers. Be careful when turning—look to both sides and aft.

Check the speed laws, right-of-way, navigation markers, and signs.

Check your noise. Be polite, and limit noise by not boating in one place for too long.

Check the current or water flow. Avoid strong currents, because they can be dangerous to riders trying to reach and climb aboard their watercraft.

Check the waterway. Avoid rocky areas and jetties (barriers built to protect harbors) because of unexpected currents and a possible collision.

Check the fuel—conserve to make sure you can get back to shore. Remember the one-third rule—one-third of a tank out, one-third back in, and one-third for safety. If you have to switch to the reserve tank, head for the shore immediately.

Check the time. Return before dark or before you are too tired.


Keep hands, feet, and hair away from the pump intake and the jet pump nozzle while the personal watercraft motor is running.


You must maintain power to steer a personal watercraft. If you don't maintain power, your personal water-craft will continue in the original direction even if the operator turns the handlebars. Without power, the operator will

When you turn the handlebars to the right, the steering nozzle also turns to the right and the water stream pushes the back of the boat to the left, causing the personal watercraft to turn right.

Risk of Collision and Stopping Distance

Personal watercraft don't have a way to stop quickly because they don't have brakes. Depending on how fast you're going, you will keep moving forward for several seconds after you let go of the throttle. It's important to know that it will take time and distance for you to come to a complete stop.

It's especially important to be careful when another boat is coming straight at you. If two boats are traveling straight at each other, the distance between them will close very quickly!

PWC Jet Pump Impeller

lose steering control of the personal watercraft. This is a common cause of personal watercraft accidents. So it's important to be alert and always be ready to steer away from a person, vessel, or object.

Things you should know:

♦ Do not follow or operate too closely to other watercraft.

♦ Do not jump the wake of another boat within 100 feet of that boat.

♦ Do not operate a personal watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

♦ Do not pollute the waterways.

To Tow a Water Skier Behind a Personal Watercraft


When operating a personal watercraft:

• Take frequent breaks.

• Avoid tunnel vision— look around for other boats, swimmers, and water skiers, not just straight ahead.

• Drink water or soft drinks, not alcohol.

^ You should not tow a skier with any personal watercraft smaller than a three-person model, which can hold the operator, the observer and a skier.

^ You must have an observer on board who is at least 12 years old.

^ The skier and all persons on board must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD.

^ The observer must display a red or orange signal flag (at least 12 inches on each side) to indicate:

♦ a skier in the water preparing to ski

♦ a ski line extended from the personal watercraft

♦ a ski in the water near the personal watercraft

^ You should know the standard hand signals in order to communicate with the skier and those on board.

^ Be aware that your personal watercraft will handle differently when towing a skier.

^ It's against the law to operate a personal watercraft or tow a skier between sunset and sunrise.

For more detailed information on water skiing, see Chapter 3.


Returning to Shore

^ Check your speed. Slow to the lowest possible speed as you approach the landing site.

^ Check the water depth. Be ready to get off the watercraft and push it ashore or to its mooring site.


Before you restart your personal watercraft, it's very important to ventilate the engine compartment for at least four minutes, to release any gas fumes that may have settled and may explode.



You should fuel your personal watercraft while it's on the trailer in the parking lot, or at a gas station. If you need to add fuel to the personal watercraft on the beach, it's important to take all necessary precautions to prevent spilling fuel. Pull the personal watercraft up on the beach as far as possible so that accidentally spilled fuel will not go directly into the water. Wrap a rag around the opening to the gas pipe and pour the gas in very slowly. When you hear or see that the tank is nearly full, stop pouring the gas. Do not overfill, because gasoline expands as it warms. Never top off when fueling on a beach, because this is the most common way spills occur. Replace the cap tightly when you're done. Air the rag until it is dry or store it in a covered metal container.

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