What is a Personal Watercraft?

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A personal watercraft (PWC) is defined as a jet driven vessel that the rider sits, kneels, stands, or lays on, as opposed to sitting in like you would a boat, kayak, canoe or rowboat. You’ll commonly hear these small pleasure crafts referred to as jet skis. Let’s explore what these little boats are designed for and how they work.

Is a Personal Watercraft a Boat?

A PWC is classified by the U.S. Coast Guard as a Class A Inboard Boat less than 16 feet in length that is designed to carry from one to three people. A PWC is a small vessel that uses an outboard motor or propeller, driven motor or an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of propulsion and is operated by sitting, standing or kneeling on the watercraft itself. PWCs are commonly known by their manufacturer names like “Jet Skis” and “Wave Runners.“

Since PWCs are considered (inbound) boats, they must adhere to the same Coast Guard regulations and standards as any other power boats. Federal regulations require that all personal watercraft:

  • Be registered and display a registration number in accordance with state and federal guidelines.
  • Have a properly fitted, USCG approved PFD for each person on board (in most states they are required to be worn).
  • PFD’s should have an impact rating equal to, or better than, the PWC maximum speed.
  • Have a USCG approved, Class B-1 fire extinguisher aboard the PWC.
  • Have a lanyard connected to the start/stop switch of your PWC which will stop the engine if the operator falls off.

In addition to the general regulations, PWC owners must also be aware of local laws and ordinances that might include age of the operator, hours of operation, special no wake zone provisions, assigned operating areas and restrictions, and speed and distance limits. Unlike other boats, virtually no PWCs have running lights as all manufacturers recommend that they only be used during daylight.

How Does a PWC Work?

Canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards and rafts all belong to the category of manually propelled vessel commonly referred to as paddle craft. PWCs are operated by two-cycle inboard gasoline engines that drive a jet water pump. Water is taken in through a water pick-up on the bottom of the PWC, drawn into an internal propeller (an impeller) that creates a jet of high pressure water which exits through a nozzle on the back of the PWC.

The water being pulled into the machine moves the watercraft forward slightly, but it’s the power built into the engine as it pushes it out that actually moves you forward. As the water caught in the engine collides with the water of your surroundings, you begin to move. If you filled a PWC with water, then lifted it out of the water, it wouldn’t go anywhere because air is significantly less dense than water.

PWC are easier to store and less expensive compared to a boat, can usually fit into a garage and easily be towed and transported. They are fast, easy to ride and maintain and tons of fun to be on. A PWC is the motorcycle of the water world and we can help you get on the water in no time. Learn more about our Sea-Doo inventory or contact us.

You are viewing this post: What is a Personal Watercraft?. Information curated and compiled by Kayaknv.com along with other related topics.


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