A personal watercraft (PWC) is a boat and you're the captain. You are legally in command of a powerboat and you're bound by the boating rules of the road as well as the laws and regulations for safe boating.
The U.S. Coast Guard classifies the personal watercraft (PWC) as a Class A powerboat with an inboard motor. That means PWCs are subject to most of the same rules and requirements as any other powerboat with a few limitations and exceptions.
There are a few laws that apply specifically to PWCs and PWC operators in Ohio.
- Life jackets must be worn by each person on board. Wear a properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that is approved for use on a PWC.
- State of Ohio equipment laws requires you to have a fire extinguisher on board.
- Many craft have a lanyard connected to the start/stop switch. Ohio law requires that you attach the engine cut-off lanyard to you, your clothing, or your life jacket. If you fall off, the key comes out of the ignition with you, and the engine automatically stops. Your craft won't travel far from you, and you can swim to it easily.
It is recommended that each rider wear eye protection, a wetsuit, footwear and gloves.
Operator Age & Ohio Boater Education Law
In Ohio, children under the age of 12 MAY NOT operate a PWC (eg. Jet-ski, Sea-Doo, etc.), under any circumstances.
- Children 12 to 15 may operate IF they have an education certificate AND there is an adult (18 or older) onboard with them.
- Young adults age 16 and older may operate without supervision IF they have an education certificate.
- Adults over 18 who were born on or after January 1, 1982, may operate or may supervise a child 12 to 15 IF they have an education certificate.
Although anyone born before 1982 may operate without an education certificate, it is highly recommended that everyone take a boating course.
Ohio Operating Laws
- PWCs may not be operated at night — technically they may not be operated between sunset and sunrise. There are no lights powerful enough to light up the water ahead of you with enough distance to stop. They are not outfitted with the lights required for other powerboats, so they may not be operated at night.
- Observer required when towing a skier. Ohio boating laws require that someone who is not the boat operator, be watching the water skier or tubers being towed.
- Alcohol or Drugs: Don't operate your personal watercraft under the influence of anything but your good judgment. Alcohol and drugs reduce your ability to make quick decisions and handle your craft in all situations. Many laws pertaining to driving under the influence are also enforced on the water.
- Local Ordinances: It's your responsibility to know and follow local laws and ordinances regarding use of your watercraft. Common restrictions that vary by waterway or municipality include no-wake zones, assigned operating areas and speed limits.
Think Safe — Ride Safe
Right of Way
Follow basic boating guidelines. Sailboats, commercial vessels and fishing vessels always have the right of way. Stay to the right when approaching an oncoming craft, so that it passes on your left side. When overtaking another boat, pass on the right or left, but stay clear. If you're about to cross paths with another boat, the craft on the right has the right of way. Slow down to let the boat on your right continue its course, then pass behind it.
Constantly look about for traffic on the water and especially near you. Know where other boats are and where they're heading before you make a turn or cross a wake.
If your course takes you across the wake of another boat, make sure your visibility is not obstructed by that boat. Stay far enough behind it so that you can see if other traffic is coming your way.
Follow local regulations regarding speed limits, whether posted or not. In congested areas, lower your speed. Realize that because of the design of the engine on your PWC, when you reduce your speed, you reduce your maneuverability. Be cautious.
Passengers and Guests
Never carry more than the maximum passenger load specified for your craft. A person being towed counts as a passenger. If you loan a craft to a friend, make sure he/she is of legal operating age, has fulfilled Ohio's Mandatory Education Requirement and that he knows how to operate your craft. Make sure he is fully aware of these safe boating rules and navigation "Rules of the Road."
Check your craft internally and externally before you get on the water. Make sure the throttle and all switches are working properly, that fuel and battery lines are properly connected, that no fuel is leaking and that cables and steering are functioning.
Launch Ramp Etiquette
Be considerate and efficient when launching your personal watercraft. Prepare your craft beforehand and perform all safety checks before you get to the water. Launch quickly and quietly.
PWCs emit a whine that can be annoying to anglers, swimmers and other boaters. Don't operate in one area too long. Be considerate of waterfront property owners and others near and on the water. Excessive noise from a poorly maintained or modified exhaust system disturbs others and is illegal in many areas.
Respect ecologically sensitive areas. Don't spill fuel or oil and don't leave litter or other pollutants where they don't belong. Don't operate in shallow water where your drive will churn up sediment and disrupt wildlife. Be sensitive to marine life; the water is their home.
Other Water Enthusiasts
Personal watercraft riders must share the waterways with other boaters, fishermen, swimmers, surfers and skiers, so respect their rights to safety, access and use of the water.
Know Before You Go!
- Know your craft and how it operates
- Know your local boating laws
- Know navigational marks and signs
- Know the rules of the road
- Remember to ride responsibly. It's up to you to use your good judgment and to obey all local ordinances that apply to you and your watercraft.