Sunday, May 9, 2021

Personal Water Craft (PWC) Safety




You just bought or are renting a Personal Water Craft (PWC) and can’t wait to climb on and head out on a fantastic new adventure. Gunning the throttle and taking off like a rocket is a thrill to be sure. The speed, maneuverability, wind and spay in your face – all so exciting. However, there are dangers lurking in all that fun, whether life threatening or running afoul of the law.

The daughter of a friend of mine once rented a PWC and was having the time of her life – that is until she decided to cruise over to where we were sailing on a 12-meter racing sailboat. She just wanted us to see her flash by. That was when she found out PWCs don’t have brakes and a 12-meter sailboat can’t turn very quickly. She slammed into the hull of the sailboat and was thrown from the PWC. Luckily, she survived with minor injuries, but with major damage to both the PWC and the sailboat.



Many PWC operators do not know they must adhere to all the same boating laws as people operating power boats. Here are some very important facts you need to know about operating a PWC.

Safety Equipment Required by Florida Law

Personal Floatation Device (PFD) – Must be US Coast Guard Approved type I, II, III or V and must be worn by all persons on-board. Fire Extinguisher – UL approved for watercraft and in serviceable condition. Kill Switch Lanyard – Must be worn by operator. Sound Producing Device – a horn or whistle for making required sound signals. Documentation – Current registration certificate on board and proper display of registration numbers on both sides of the watercraft with a current registration decal affixed to the port side.


Must comply with US Coast Guard navigation rules. Must be at least 14 years of age to operate and 16 years of age to rent a PWC. Please note: a person younger than 22 years of age may not operate a vessel powered by a 10 HP motor or greater unless they have a photo ID and Florida Boating Safety

Education Identification Card.

Careless operation of a PWC includes, but is not limited to, the following: • swerving at the last minute to avoid collision; • not operating in a prudent or reasonable manner; • jumping the wake of another vessel too closely; • not having regard for other boating traffic.

Reckless operation of a PWC includes, but is not limited to, the following: • operating at a speed or in a manner that would endanger life, limb or property; • operating with a wilful or wanton disregard to the safety of people or property. If you are towing an aquaplaning device – Florida Law requires a spotter and/or a wide angle mirror

Boater fatigue caused by a combination of sun, vibration, glare and noise impairs your reaction time similar to a blood alcohol content of .035. After six hours on the water an operator has their ability to operate a vessel decline by 30%. Adding alcohol impairs the operator much faster.

It is a criminal violation to operate a vessel under the influence in Florida. A blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is illegal. However, blood alcohol content need not be .08 for the operator to be considered impaired.

A PWC Checklist: Review prior to operating the watercraft

Know Local and State Laws Check all Safety Equipment Check Kill Switch operation Check Weather File a Float Plan Check Level of Gas and Oil Apply Sunscreen

For more information about safe boating courses, contact Joe Riccio at 239- 384-7416 or email To schedule a free Vessel Safety Check contact John Moyer at 239-248-7078 or or call the Coast Guard Auxiliary Station – Flotilla 95 at 239-394-5911. Interested in joining Flotilla 95, USCG Auxiliary? Call Bob Shmihluk at 215-694-3305.

Keith Wohltman retired to Marco Island from New Jersey, where he spent decades on the water. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to help make boating safer around Marco and the 10,000 Islands. He has served as the Flotilla Commander and a Coxswain and is currently the Public Affairs Staff Officer for Marco Island’s Flotilla 95.

Marco Waterways: Post-Irma Status

Immediately post-Irma, MIPD did an island wide survey of all sunken boats (visible) or displaced boats (aground in yards, etc.). The number of boats documented was 120, we know that a fairly sizable percentage of these vessels have already been or are in the process of being removed.

People who have returned to boating, MIPD Captain Dave Baer offers the following points:

First, there is a lot of debris in the water (roofing materials, sunken boats, etc.) that is not viable. Unlike debris on the roadway, which is easy to avoid, debris in the water is usually not found until one runs into it. A very slow speed, sharp lookout(s), boating at high tide, following track lines successfully used since the storm without incident, watching your depth gauge/sonar/fish finder are all techniques to reduce the chance of unwanted contact with submerged debris.

Not only is there debris in the water, but the environment has changed too – in the sense that shoals known to boaters prior to the storm have moved, shrunk, or grown. Additional shoaling has been created. Boaters would be well advised to conduct a daytime area refamiliarization prior to boating at night or in an area not traversed since the hurricane.

These dangers highlight the critical need to carry the requisite and suggested safety equipment such as PFDs, visual distress signals, marine radios, and so on.

Owners of sunken, damaged or grounded vessels have the responsibility to recover their vessels. They should do this in a timely fashion with safety and the environment foremost in their minds.

Boaters are welcome to report debris or vessels to MIPD at 239-389-5050.

Finally, MIPD would ask the public, boating or otherwise, to continue to be patient with respect to debris removal. It will be a long slow process managed by entities other than the City of Marco Island.

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