Jet Ski, Sea-Doo or WaveRunner. They are all personal watercraft (PWCs) and they are a lot of fun. I know because I own one. However, just like any other boat, they can also be dangerous if not treated with respect and used in the proper manner. It seems like over the past couple of years, the number of PWCs on the lake has grown tremendously. Unfortunately, this can also bring about an increased number of accidents. If you own a PWC or you are thinking about getting one, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Wear a Life Jacket – You are required by law to wear a life jacket when riding a personal watercraft, no matter your age. Just having one on board the watercraft is not good enough. Also, know that not all life jackets meet the requirements for riding a PWC. Make sure the ones you use are the right type. My PWC is pretty fast so the only one I will wear is a high-quality neoprene jacket type with a zipper and double clasps. Proper clothing is important too.
- Sniff Test – How many people have you observed removing the seat to do a sniff test prior to starting their PWC? You should. PWCs do not have blowers but you still want to make sure there are no fumes in the engine compartment prior to starting it. Sniff testing only takes a few seconds and it could save your life. Make it a priority.
- Know Your Skill Level – Riding a PWC may look easy to someone that has never ridden but it is not always that way. It is important to know what your limits are. If you are a newbie, it’s probably not wise to try to keep up with a group that rides fast and have been riding for years. Also riding in high traffic areas or in less-than-ideal conditions can be a bit tough for new riders. Get to know your limits and your machine’s capabilities prior to taking on more challenging rides.
- Know Your Machine – Different PWCs have different controls and capabilities. Make sure you know how yours works and its features. Many accidents have occurred simply because the rider did not know that their machine did not have brakes or that their machine had no directional control unless the throttle was applied. Don’t let an accident be the way you learn how your machine is controlled.
- Ride Smart – Your PWC may be one of the most agile vessels on the water but that is no excuse for taking risks. Riding too close to other vessels, especially those underway, can lead to dangerous situations. At a minimum, it may lead to flaring tempers. Jumping waves can be fun but if done while others are in the area, it can lead to injuries or even death. Don’t forget that you have absolutely no directional or speed control once your machine goes airborne. Use a little common sense and be sure to ride your PWC in a safe manner.
- Practice Getting on Your PWC – If you do happen to fall off of your PWC while riding, can you get back on while in deep water? Make sure you can. Practice it. Also, make sure your riders can do it too. Don’t forget, if you have a passenger aboard your PWC, you are responsible for them. You are the captain of your vessel.
- Watch Your Lines – Be cautious with dock lines and tow lines. If you are not careful, they can get sucked into the machine’s intake and leave you stranded. Consider using polypropylene lines which float and are less likely to cause issues.
- Safety Equipment – Some safety equipment, such as a fire extinguisher, are required by law. Other equipment, like a hand-held radio is just a good idea to have. Dock lines, extra rope for towing, etc., are also things that you should have aboard your PWC while out riding. Make a list of things that you need for your ride and then be sure they are aboard.
- Ride in Numbers – Riding with friends is always more fun than riding alone in my opinion. In addition, should one of you have an issue, someone is there to help. If you are riding in a large group, keep your head on a swivel. Keep a watch out for your riding partners and don’t get too close when you are above idle speeds.
Taking the time to prepare for a safe ride can make the difference between a great day on the water and a day cut short by setbacks.