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California Boating 

A Course for Safe Boating


Chapter 4


Personal Watercraft

Safety Mechanisms

Most personal watercraft are equipped with cut-off switches that must be

attached to the operator by a lanyard. If the rider falls off, the cutoff switch

engages and shuts off the engine. The PWC engine will stop, and the water-

craft will glide to a stop nearby.

Other personal watercraft have an automatic idle and self-circling device. If

the rider falls off, this will make the vessel circle slowly in the area until the

rider can reboard. Operating a PWC equipped with a self-circling device is

prohibited if the device has been altered.




Similar to powerboat operators, PWC operators have the primary

responsibility for preventing accidents, and must have the following safety




A Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher, good for gasoline and oil fires.



Sound signaling device—a whistle attached to your life jacket, or a stored

signal horn.



A backfire flame arrestor that is clean and well secured.



Ventilation of the engine compartment—in order to clear the compartment

of fumes, you should ventilate by opening storage spaces and seat for at

least four minutes before starting the engine, and after refueling.



Visual distress signals if your boat is 16 feet or longer (for coastal

waters only).

Every person on board a PWC and any person towed behind a vessel



a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in serviceable condition and of a type

and size appropriate for the conditions and the activity being engaged in.

Exceptions: a person aboard a personal watercraft or being towed behind a

vessel, if that person is a performer in a professional exhibition, or preparing

to participate in an official regatta, marine parade, tournament or exhibition.

Instead of wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, any person engaged in

slalom skiing on a marked course, or any person engaged in barefoot, jump,

or trick water skiing may choose to wear a wetsuit designed for the activity

and labeled by the manufacturer as a water ski wetsuit. A Coast Guard-

approved life jacket must be carried in the tow vessel for each skier choosing

to wear a wetsuit.


Jet pump action is similar to letting

go of an untied balloon. Imagine

blowing up a balloon and letting it

go. The air rushing out propels the

balloon. A jet pump operates in the

same fashion. Water, rushing through

the pump, propels the personal

watercraft forward.


To maintain good awareness and


Beware of natural things that can

cause stress, such as wind, sun,

noise and motion.

Do not drink alcohol and operate a


It is against the law for anyone

under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.

If you are convicted of being under

the influence and operating a PWC,

you can lose the privilege of getting

or keeping your driver’s license.