Watercraft Safety

Watercraft SafetyA personal watercraft (PWC) is a small vessel, which uses an internal combustion engine powering a jet pump or a propeller. It is designed to carry from one to three persons, and to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel. Its use is subject to all state, local and federal regulations governing the operation of powerboats of similar size.

Familiarize yourself with your vessel before operating it on the water. Preparation should include these steps:

  • Read the owner's manual. If available, take advantage of the dealer's educational program on vessel operation.
  • Practice starting and stopping the engine safety.
  • Learn the local rules governing boating and the "rules of the road" before climbing aboard your watercraft.

Free Boating Safety Classes, explaining required and recommended equipment for small boats and offering training in good seamanship, are offered throughout California by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, the US Power Squadrons and certain chapters of the American Red Cross. Boating and Waterways offers a free home study course, California Boating Safety Course. Study the booklet, fill in the answers on the exam card and send it to Department of Boating and Waterways, 1629 S Street, Sacramento, CA 95814-7291. A passing grade will net you a certificate that may qualify you for a boat insurance discount. To order the course, or other free boating safety pamphlets, including The ABCs of California Boating Law, call 1-916-263-1331.

Safety Tips

  • Check your equipment, fuel level and weather conditions before you start.
  • Let someone on shore know where you will be heading and when you will return.
  • Watch for hazards, floating and submerged obstructions, tidal conditions and observe local boating regulations.
  • Go slowly near shore and drive defensively in congested areas where collisions most frequently occur.
  • Always look around for other traffic before beginning turns.
  • Avoid sudden course changes near other boaters or swimmers.
  • Never operate between a skier and the ski boat; a moving towline can cut like a knife. The display of a red flag by boaters indicates a skier or equipment in the water.
  • Avoid overexposure to sun and cold water. Quit before fatigue sets in.
  • Never venture out on the water during a storm; if a storm threatens, proceed to a safe location at once.
  • Because your PWC is not equipped with running lights, operating after dark is illegal. Never ride between sunset and sunrise or at other times of reduced visibility.
  • NEVER DRINK AND THEN DRIVE YOUR PWC. Studies show that alcohol is a factor in 59% of all motorboat and watercraft fatalities. Alcohol impairs judgment, coordination and concentration. A person arrested for operating a PWC "under the influence" may be requested to take a test to determine blood alcohol concentration. Refusal may result in increased penalties if convicted.


If your PWC is principally used in California, it must be registered and numbered according to CA law. Law enforcement agencies will recognize valid registration of another state, provided the vessel will not be used in CA for longer than 90 days. Apply to register your PWC at any office of the DMV. They will issue you a Certificate of Number, a Certificate of Ownership, and a set of registration stickers. The Certificate of Number must be available for inspection on the vessel when it is being used on the water. Numbers and stickers must be affixed on each side of the forward half of the vessel on a non-removable portion of the hull.