Centre for Maritime Safety


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PWC are unique in a number of ways when compared with conventional vessels such as runabouts. PWC are designed to be able to roll completely through 360 degrees, turn sharply and operate in extremely shallow water as they do not have a ‘skeg’ or engine that protrudes below the hull. While PWC riders must observe general rules that apply to safe navigation, there are also some specific safety tips to consider. This section provides a safety checklist as well as information around boarding and re-boarding and what to do if you fall off your PWC.



PWC safety tips

There are some key safety tips for you to remember when you hit the water on your PWC.

  • You should always wear your lifejacket.
  • You should always wear a safety lanyard attached to your wrist or lifejacket and to the PWC’s lanyard terminal so that it will stop the engine if you fall off.
  • Relax when you ride. Do not ride with your elbows locked. Bend your arms and knees slightly when you ride to allow for any swells and wakes.
  • Do not cut blind corners.
  • Use your mirror and check over your shoulder before turning.
  • You must travel on the right hand side particularly on narrow waterways and slow down.
  • If your PWC has a watertight compartment, it may be useful to carry items such as sunscreen, water, a torch and a mobile phone.
  • You must obey any speed limits and restrictions that may be in force. Be sure to follow the nautical rules.
  • Keep a lookout at all times and always look behind you before you turn. Be aware that swimmers may be obscured behind the swell, waves and wake.
  • You should always go easy on the drink – waves, wind and weather multiply the effects of alcohol. One third of all boating fatalities involve alcohol. Never ride your PWC under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • If you experience difficulty with your PWC, return to shore. If this isn’t possible then stay with your PWC and do not attempt to swim to shore. A PWC is easier for rescuers to see than a person in the water.
  • Make sure you exercise care, courtesy and common sense. Make your ride enjoyable for everyone.
  • Keep an eye on the weather for any change in conditions.
  • Make yourself a better and safer rider and familiarise yourself with the way your PWC handles.
  • Irregular riding carries a host of risks. You may forget to be aware of traffic in the vicinity of your vessel, or misjudge speed and distances off. Remember – care, courtesy and common sense on the water.
  • You should never allow anyone to place their hands, hair or feet near the jet pump intake and always keep clear of the jet nozzle and never allow jet thrust to enter any of your body cavities. It can cause you severe injury
  • Wake or wave jumping is not recommended by most PWC manufacturers because of the possibility of back injuries.

Boarding and re-boarding

When you’re boarding or re-boarding from the water, always make sure you approach your PWC from behind. Pull yourself carefully aboard, making sure to keep your weight centered on the boat. It’s a good idea to practice getting off and re-boarding in progressively deeper water. Do this close to the shore until you are always able to re-board when you can’t stand on the bottom.

Remember to reconnect the lanyard in order to start the engine.


Falling off

If you fall off a PWC, the lanyard will disconnect once you enter the water. This will shut down the PWC’s engine and make it stop. You’ll find some older PWC have an automatic idle and self-circling capacity. If you fall off, the PWC will circle slowly in the water until you can re-board. In either case, swim to your PWC, re-board carefully at the stern, reattach the lanyard and re-start your engine.

Remember: Keep a close eye on your surroundings and other vessel traffic that may be in the area.

If your PWC has stalled and won’t restart, don’t attempt to swim to shore. You should stay with your PWC as you’ll be easier to spot by rescuers.

If you have a passenger that falls off a PWC, it’s best you slow down immediately. Manoeuvre the PWC, taking care not to hit the person in the water. Warn oncoming vessels and approach the person in the water from downwind or in the current. When you’re trying to pick the person up, make sure you turn off the engine or place the it in neutral.