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PA Boating Handbook
Personal Watercraft (PWC)
PWCs are defined as vessels less than 16 feet in length that use an inboard engine powering a water jet pump as their primary source of propulsion, designed to be operated by a person sitting, kneeling or standing in other than the conventional manner of boat operation. Other vessels may use jet propulsion, however they are not considered a PWC.

PWCThese boats are fast and maneuverable and can be operated in relatively shallow water. PWC operators are involved in a disproportionate number of boating accidents. Collisions are the most common type of accident reported, and they are usually caused by the operator not keeping a proper lookout or operating the boat in a reckless manner. Many of these accidents are caused by people new to PWC operation, and nearly all of these accidents are avoidable.

PWC operators must follow the same laws and regulations as other boaters.

Pennsylvania regulations require that PWC operators must:

  • Wear life jackets at all times. All passengers must also wear life jackets. Inflatable life jackets are not acceptable.
  • Carry a fully charged fire extinguisher on board. (see fire extinguisher section)
  • Carry a sound-producing device on board.
  • Cut-off switchAttach the cut-off switch safety lanyard to clothing, body or life jacket. The purpose of the switch is to stop the engine in case the operator falls off.

Furthermore, it is illegal:

  • For anyone to operate a PWC without having in one’s possession a Boating Safety Education Certificate. How to obtain a certificate.
  • To rent a PWC to anyone 15 years of age or younger. No one under 16 years of age may operate a rented PWC.
  • To operate a PWC from sunset to sunrise. See timetable.
  • To tow a water skier behind a PWC with a capacity of two people or fewer and to tow more than one skier.
  • For anyone 11 years of age or younger to operate a PWC.
  • For anyone 12 through 15 years of age to operate a PWC with any passengers on board 15 years of age or younger.


  • Jet pump propulsionJet pump propulsion, which eliminates a rudder or exposed propeller.
  • A steerable nozzle is located at the stern of the boat.
  • A cut-off switch and safety lanyard, which stops the engine when the operator falls off the PWC.
  • PWCs are highly maneuverable. Releasing the throttle (or slowing the engine) usually eliminates the ability to steer the craft.

PWC operators should be responsible and considerate of others around them. Noise is the most common complaint against PWC operators. A PWC must be equipped with an efficient muffling system in good working order, which cannot be bypassed or altered. Courteous PWC operators will vary their areas of operation to reduce repetitive course tracking, stay away from shorelines and be aware of all boats and people in the area of operation.

Everyone who operates a PWC should read the owner’s manual and become familiar with the craft before going out on the water. Practice is essential for safe PWC operation. PWC operators must connect the safety lanyard to both the cut-off switch on the PWC and their life jacket, body or clothing. If the operator falls off, he should re-board the craft from the rear. PWCs have both “main” and “reserve” fuel tanks. Switch the fuel selector on your craft to “reserve” when the “main” tank has been used and head to shore to refuel. Safety gear, including gloves, eye protection, footwear and wetsuit or dry suit for protection against cold water is not required by law but advisable for PWC operators.

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