Jet Ski Personal Water Craft PWC off Morro Str...

It is another gorgeous day on the Finger Lakes in Upstate NY. Before you head out on the water, however, there are some safety concepts you should consider first— especially if you are operating a personal watercraft.

A personal watercraft, or PWC, is a motorboat less than 16 feet in length that is powered by a jet pump instead of a propeller. Instead of riding inside it, the operator stands, kneels, or sits on the craft. Sound familiar? You may know a PWC by its more common names, like Ski-Doo, Waverunner, and Jet Ski.

Before you hand over the keys to your Jet Ski to your excited teen or take off for a quick spin around the lake, here are some items to consider about the laws surrounding operation of PWC:

Education Requirements

New York requires that anyone operating a personal watercraft complete an approved course in boating safety or otherwise be accompanied, on board, by someone age 18 or older who has an approved boating safety certificate.You must carry your boating safety certificate with you at all times when operating a PWC. You can find out more about this course here.

Minimum Age for Operation

In order to operate a PWC in the state of New York, the PWC operator must be at least 14 years old and hold an approved boating safety certificate.  

It is not recommended, but those under age 14 may operate a PWC if there is a certified operator over age 18 on board. If this is the case, please be sure to exercise caution!

In terms of riding onboard a PWC, be sure that small children do not ride in front of the adult operating the craft. It is also especially important to ensure that all passengers can keep both feet on the deck to better maintain balance while the PWC is moving.


–          PWC operation is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.

–          PWC operation is prohibited within 500 feet of bathing and beach/swimming areas. The speed limit is 5 mph within 100 feet of shore, docks, rafts, or anchored boats.

–          As a general safety rule, avoid reckless operation of PWC. Don’t weave through congested traffic, jump the wake of another vessel, or play chicken. Not only is it unsafe to you, it endangers (and likely angers!) other boaters in your area.

Required Equipment

You are legally required to have a:

  • Life Jacket (required to be worn by all persons). While it is not required, it is smart to wear an orange or other bright-colored life jacket for better visibility from larger boats.
  • Engine Cut-off Lanyard
  • Sound Producing Device (i.e. horn, whistle, etc.)
  • Visual Distress Signal
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Fire Extinguisher (on waters under USCG jurisdiction)

Recommended equipment:

  • Eye Wear – goggles or sunglasses
  • Wet Suit
  • Gloves
  • Practical Footwear

Renting a PWC

You must be at least 16 years old and have proof of completion of an approved boating safety course in order to rent a PWC. After you show your ID and proof of age, the rental operator is required to show correct operating procedures and proper use of safety equipment.

Operating Behaviors to Avoid: General Tips from the New York State Parks Department

While these are not official laws, it is extremely wise to avoid the following behaviors:

  • Operating continuously in one location
  • Operating in groups/packs
  • Operating too close to shore, docks, marinas
  • Operating too close to fisherman
  • Operating in and around launching areas
  • Starting too early – Sunrise is early in summer.
  • Operation near environmentally sensitive areas or disturbing wildlife
  • Forcing larger craft to maneuver unnecessarily or excessively, especially commercial vessels

General Safety Advice

Before you operate a PWC on your own, go for a ride with an experienced operator and ensure that you understand how your craft works. Once you get the hang of it, you are sure to have fun— as long as you stay safe!

To find out more about PWC operation, visit or contact us at 1-800-ZIFF-LAW. As an accident attorney, I have seen firsthand the tragedy of many boating accident cases; hopefully, these guidelines will help to prevent accidents and keep you and your family safe.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks, Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
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