October 2007

Top 10 Tips For Safe Personal Watercraft Operation

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 US Coast Guard and National Marine Manufacturers Association show that PWCs (personal watercraft) represent 9 percent of all registered vessels in the United States, but account for a whopping 26 percent of reported boating accidents.

However, BoatUS recently looked at the issue and reviewed its members’ 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 BoatUS PWC insureds have significantly lower accident rates?

"More boating experience and boating-safety education is the answer," said BoatUS Marine Insurance Technical Director Bob Adriance and editor of BoatUS Marine Insurance's Seaworthy magazine, which recently featured the story Why Are There So Many PWC Accidents?”

Adriance said, "Compared to the general boating population, our members on average have more of both. But you don't need years of boating experience to understand the principles of safe PWC operation.”

Here are 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 BoatUS Foundation has an online PWC course available at http://www.BoatUS.org/onlinecourse/watercraftcourse.htm )
  3. BoatUS 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, that fuel lines and battery cables are secure, and that 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 PWC’s 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 just as every other vessel, must follow the basic boating rules.