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Personal Watercraft (PWC) are boats less than 16 feet long that use an inboard engine powering a water jet pump as their primary source of propulsion. To operate a person is sitting, kneeling, or standing in other than the conventional manner of boat operation. Learn more about PWCs in the Boating Handbook.


PWC operators are involved in a disproportionate number of boating accidents. Collisions are the most common accidents. Safe operators keep a proper lookout and maintain control of the craft at all times. If you are new to operating a PWC, play it safe. Learn how they operate and practice out of the way of obstructions and other boaters.

PWC operators follow the same laws and regulations as other boaters in Pennsylvania. 

All PWC operators must have a Boating Safety Education Certificate. Persons 11 years of age or younger may NOT operate a PWC. 

PWC operators must:

    • Wear life jackets at all times. (All passengers must also wear life jackets.) Inflatable life jackets are not acceptable.
    • Carry a fully charged fire extinguisher on board. 
    • Carry a sound-producing device on board.
    • Attach the cut-off switch safety lanyard to clothing, body, or life jacket. (The switch stops the engine if the operator falls off.) 
    • Carry a valid Boating Safety Education Certificate.

PWC operator dont's

    • Operate a PWC from sunset to sunrise
    • Tow more than one person on a boat-towed device on a PWC with a capacity of three or less.
    • No one 11 years of age or younger may operate a PWC.
    • Anyone 12 - 15 years of age operating a PWC may not carry passengers 15 years of age or younger.
    • No one under 16 years of age may operate a rented PWC.

PWC Operator Etiquette and Best Practices

    • Be responsible and considerate of others.
    • Remember most complaints about PWCs are about the noise.
    • Vary areas of operation to reduce repetitive course tracking. 
    • Stay away from shorelines, and be aware of all boats and people in the area of operation.
    • Read the owner’s manual and become familiar with the craft before going out on the water.
    • Practice operating the PWC safely.
    • If you fall off, re-board the craft from the rear.
    • Safety gear, including gloves, eye protection, footwear, helmets, and wetsuit or dry suit for protection against cold water, is not required by law but is a good idea.