Personal Watercraft 101: What You Need to Know


Choosing a PWC

There are a lot of great options when choosing a PWC that will work for you.  Obviously, they are not all the same, and being able to fit your needs to the watercraft that suits you will pay off in the many hours you’ll spend on it.  Here’s a few things to look for when you are deciding on a model:

  1. Seating—there are three options for seating: three-passenger models will appeal to anyone who plans to use their PWC for towing (tubes, wakeboards, etc.), as it provides a place for a spotter to sit, which is not only a good idea, it’s required by law.  Otherwise, most race-oriented models are built a little shorter and designed for one to two riders.  If you just watched a sweet action movie from the 80’s and want one of the stand-up watercraft you saw, it’s a little harder than just picking out one that looks rad, you have to be certified for racing first.
  2. Steering—many new models come with adjustable telescopic steering which will off you a more comfortable ride for longer days on the water and allow you to operate the watercraft in a standing position.
  3. Storage—you’re going to want to take some stuff with you, so having enough room to keep water bottles, fishing gear, tow ropes, etc. will come in pretty handy. Look for storage options in the front of the unit as well as under-seat storage bins.
  4. Power—There’s a good chance you aren’t interested in a PWC so you can cruise along the coast looking for seashells (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and at some point you’ll want to open it up and get going fast. How fast?  Well, that really depends on who will be operating it and under what conditions.  Some models are over 300 horsepower and will accelerate quicker than you can imagine.  Others will have safety features like remote speed control for when you are brave enough to let your teenager take a shot at controlling it.


Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Each person riding on a PWC must wear a U. S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device which is properly fitted and fastened. Inflatable Type V PFDs are not approved for PWC.  This rule is different than it is for boats.  The PFD cannot just be with you; it must be worn at all times.

Fire Extinguisher

One Coast Guard approved hand-held portable fire extinguisher must be aboard each PWC.  Most personal watercraft will have a place designed specifically for a small fire extinguisher.


All boats less than 39.4 feet must carry an efficient sound producing device.  In the case of PWC, a simple whistle works well and can be affixed to each PFD.


Hey, you never know.  You wouldn’t want to be stranded out somewhere and wish you had one.

Local Laws

If you’re going to be in waters in Georgia or South Carolina, you’ll want to make sure you are in compliance with all the local laws and regulations.  This list is intended to be helpful and reflects the most common questions people have, but is not intended to be authoritative or necessarily complete.  Please check with Georgia Wildlife Commission and South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources for all the rules.

Age limits—anyone 16 years old and up should have no problem riding solo or with passengers in both states with proper identification.  In SC, anyone under 16 years old must have passed an approved boating course or be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older.  In GA, anyone under 16 years old must also have passed an approved boating course or be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older AND anyone under 12 cannot operate a PWC.

Towing—every PWC towing someone on water skis, wakeboards, tubes, or similar devices must be rated by the manufacturer to carry three or more persons and must have onboard a person, in addition to the PWC operator, capable of observing the towed person(s) at all times.

Registration—if you are buying a new or pre-owned PWC from a dealer, they should handle the original registration for you.  It is good for three years and expires the last day of the month of birth in the third year.  You can renew online with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which should cost you less than $25 if you do it on time.  More information about regulations is available from these sites:


Basic Maintenance

The most important thing you can do for your personal watercraft to keep it on the water for years to come is very simple care and maintenance each time you use it.   These steps will be especially important if you are using your PWC in saltwater, which is pretty likely in this area.

Rinse it off—clean the outside of your PWC with soap and water to make sure all the algae, salt, sand, and whatever else you may have picked up is removed.  Also, open the engine compartment and rinse off the motor and interior compartments.

Flush the motor—you’ll want to flush the system with fresh, clean water to get all the saltwater and debris out of the internal parts.  Your PWC will have a flush valve that you can connect to any hose (start with the water off), you will then start the engine, wait a few seconds, and then turn on the water.  After letting it idle for 5 minutes or so, rev the engine a few times to make sure the fresh water gets into everything.  Then, turn off the hose and let all the water drain out before turning off the engine.

Drain it—after you’ve rinsed it and flushed the motor, make sure to remove the drain plugs at the back of the PWC and lift the front of the hull a little (this is much easier if it’s on the trailer) to allow the water to flow out of the internal compartment.  Any leftover water can be dried out with a towel or a sponge.  Don’t forget to replace the plugs!

Protect it—once everything is dry, a little spray lubricant on the engine and internal parts will keep them looking new and a cover will keep the PWC from fading and other damage from the elements, especially if you will be storing it outdoors.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: