BOATING SAFETY, PERSONAL WATERCRAFT (PWC) FAQs
1. What is a personal watercraft (PWC)?
A personal watercraft is a boat less than 16 feet in length that uses an internal combustion motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of propulsion. It is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling rather than in the conventional manner of boat operation.
Personal watercraft are better known to the public by brand names that include Jet Ski®, Sea Doo®, Wave Runner®, Tiger Shark®, Wet Jet®, etc.
2. What is the education requirement for personal watercraft?
All operators of personal watercraft must have a Boating Safety Education Certificate in their possession to operate a personal watercraft.
3. How do I get a Boating Safety Education Certificate?
You need to successfully complete a Commission-approved boating course and accompanying examination. You can either take an online course, a home video course, or find a classroom course in your area. Schedules and course descriptions are listed on our Boating Courses & Safety Certificates page.
4. Is a certificate the same thing as a license?
There is no boating “license” in Pennsylvania. Unlike a license, a certificate is good for life. It does not need to be renewed regularly, as does a license. Also, a certificate does not get revoked for operational violations, as a license can. Even though you could lose your boating privileges for violations of the Fish and Boat Code, your certificate remains valid when you are permitted to boat again.
5. How much do courses cost?
Boating courses taught by Commission personnel are very low-cost or free. Most boating courses are taught in cooperation with outside organizations (such as community colleges, boat clubs, etc.) and a fee is often required. When inquiring about a course, ask the sponsor about fees. The Commission does not charge for their classroom courses.
6. Where are boating courses held?
There are three easy ways to take a course:
- Take an online course. The course is offered by Boat Education and BoaterExam.
- DUE TO COVID-19, Home Study courses are currently unavailable. Take a course at home with our video home-study course. This is also offered through Boat Pennsylvania, or call 1-800-830-2268 to order.
- Take a class in your area. Courses are held throughout PA, schedules are listed online or you can call our toll free Boating Course Hotline at 888-PAFish1 (888-723-4741). View the PFBC calendar.
7. How long do boating courses last?
Boating courses vary in length. Most Commission courses are eight hours. Other courses may be as long as 26 hours. The Commission’s long distance learning courses vary in length according to the individual.
8. How old must you be to take a boating course?
Boating courses are good for the entire family. There is no minimum age requirement to take a boating course. Most courses are designed for students 12 years of age and older. There is a requirement that all personal watercraft operators must be at least 12 years old.
9. How do I get a PA Boating Handbook?
Request one from: Publications, PA Fish and Boat Commission, PO Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. Be sure to include your mailing address and indicate that you want a PA Boating Handbook. The handbook (PDF) is also available online.
10. Do I have to renew my Boating Safety Education Certificate?
No. Boating Safety Education Certificates are not renewable or transferable. They are not licenses and cannot be revoked. They are good “for life.”
11. If I lose my Boating Safety Education Certificate, or if I move, how do I get a new one?
You need to complete a Duplicate Safety Certificate Application (PDF). The form should be used to request duplicates or to let us know that your address has changed.
12. If I have a certificate issued by the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadrons for passing one of their boating courses, can I operate a PWC?
No. The only approved certificates are ones issued to individuals by the Commission or another state or province. Non-residents may operate a PWC in Pennsylvania if they have a certificate issued by another state or province, or by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, or other organizations approved by the Commission’s Executive Director. Pennsylvania residents who have been issued a certificate for successfully completing a Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons course may be issued a Commission Boating Safety Education Certificate by contacting the Commission office in Harrisburg (1-888-723-4741).
13. If I have a Boating Safety Education Certificate issued by another state, can I operate a personal watercraft (PWC) in Pennsylvania?
The Commission recognizes certificates issued by another state or province that have been approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). Look for the NASBLA logo on your Boating Safety Education Certificate or visit NASBLA’s website to see if the course you completed is NASBLA approved.
Approved permanent Boating Safety Education Certificates for Pennsylvania residents must be issued by the PA Fish and Boat Commission. Out-of-state boaters must have a certificate issued for a course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).
14. Why did the Commission pass the mandatory education requirement?
Even though PWC currently make up about 7 percent of the 350,000+ boats registered in Pennsylvania, they were involved in a disproportionate number of boating accidents and complaints from other boaters and anglers. In 1999, 36 percent of all reported boating accidents involved at least one PWC, and 45 percent of all boating collisions involved at least one PWC. Analysis by the Fish and Boat Commission shows that operators not keeping a proper lookout or operating a boat in a reckless manner usually cause these accidents. Many of the accidents are caused by people new to boat operation, and nearly all of these accidents are avoidable.
15. Where can I buy a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)?
PFDs are available at many sporting goods stores. We maintain a list of PFD manufacturers on our PFD Information page.