Top Ten Tips for Safe Personal Watercraft Operation

Published online: Aug 31, 2007 News
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Are PWCs dangerous? According to Boat Owners Association of The United States, the answer to that question depends on who is driving. The most recent figures from the U.S. Coast Guard and National Marine Manufacturers Association show that PWCs (personal watercraft) represent 9 percent of all registered vessels in the U.S., but account for a whopping 26 percent of reported boating accidents.

However, BoatU.S. recently looked at the issue and reviewed its member's insurance claims files. Interestingly, it found that while PWCs represent 4.3 percent of all insured vessels, they account for just 3.8 percent of all reported accident claims. So what explains the fact that BoatU.S. PWC insureds have significantly lower accident rates?

"More boating experience and boating safety education is the answer," said Bob Adriance, editor of BoatU.S. Marine Insurance's
magazine. "Our members, on average, have more experience and education compared to the general boating population," said Adriance. "But you don't need years of boating experience to understand the principles of safe PWC operation."

Adriance offers the following 10 tips that can help PWC operators stay safe:

1. Know your state's age and education requirements. PWC manufacturers recommend a minimum operator age of 16 years old.

2. Even if your state doesn't require it, PWC operators should take a boating safety course, one that includes the unique handling and operational characteristics of PWCs. (The BoatU.S. Foundation has an online PWC course available at )

3. BoatU.S. claims files show that 70 percent of PWC collisions are with another vessel, the majority of which are other PWCs. Try to gain on-the-water PWC experience in an area away from busy waterways - and other PWCs - where there is plenty of room.

4. Always wear a personal floatation device, attach the engine shut off cord (lanyard) to your wrist, and remove the cord when not riding to avoid unauthorized use. Never ride after consuming alcohol.

5. Loaning out your PWC can be risky business. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report indicates that roughly 84 percent of PWC accidents involved operators who had no boating safety education or instruction. If you choose to loan out your PWC, be fully confident that your friend or family member is of legal age, has completed a boating safety course, and has the operational ability and knowledge to operate a PWC.

6. If possible, gain some experience as a passenger on other PWCs before going out alone. The insights you gain from fellow PWC operators, such as handling, rules of the road and good boating etiquette, are invaluable.

7. Before heading out, do a thorough check of your PWC, ensuring that the throttle, switches and steering work properly, fuel lines and battery cables are secure, and there is no fuel in the bilge.

8. Always operate defensively: keep a safe distance from people, objects or other PWCs (PWCs can take up to 300 feet to stop from 60 mph); understand a PWCs handling characteristics and loss of steering when off-throttle; and avoid maneuvers that make it hard for other boaters to understand where you are going.

9. Never carry more than the maximum passenger load, and never place a passenger in front of the driver.

10. Remember that a PWC is a boat, and like every other vessel must follow basic boating rules.

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