Boating Industry Magazine reports that sales of Personal Watercrafts (PWCs) have increased over the past few years, and that Florida has a 14.3 percent market share. With Florida’s strong tourism economy, this is no surprise. Of course, it also comes as no surprise that Florida has a high PWC accident rate. The United States Coast Guard reports that 670 casualties, on Personal Watercrafts (PWC) such as jet skis, took place in 2017 in Florida. Fortunately, one may be able to prevent many common accidents by following these safety precautions.
Know Your Watercraft
Jet skis are Class A vessels, so one should treat them as such. This means learning about equipment before ever taking it out on the water. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) requires a boater safety course for anyone operating a 10 horsepower vessel or anything larger. Register for the free online course to fulfill this requirement.
Familiarize yourself with your equipment and with the particular requirements for jet skis by reading your operator’s guide. Know how to properly inspect your PWC and its individual features. These features include the backfire flame arrestor, the fire extinguisher, and the ventilation system.
Safety and equipment that operates properly go hand in hand. Before heading out on the water, inspect the following:
- Engine, by starting your jet ski up and listening to it run for about 15 to 20 seconds. Check for unusual gurgling or clanging noises, which indicate mechanical issues.
- Oil, to ensure you have enough fluid and that it is not overly dark.
- Battery terminals and cables for signs of corrosion.
- Seats, to see that they are not loose or wobbly.
- Spark plugs and spark plug wires (you may want to carry an extra set of spark plugs with you as well).
Ensure you have the right personal protective devices in place before riding. These include:
- Approved life jackets or floatation devices for all passengers.
- Some type of signaling device, such as a whistle that will allow you to call for help.
- A wrist cord attached to the key. This causes the vessel to shut off whenever the driver falls off.
A Trial Run
After learning about safety and performing an inspection, you may be ready for a trial run. Ride only under the supervision of an experienced operator and in a safe location until you are comfortable operating the vessel. Choose an area with few other watercraft carriers.
Once you are comfortable in a controlled environment, gradually move out into deeper water with other jet skiers. Follow these rules when doing so:
- Accelerate smoothly and evenly until you are clear of the shore. Continue to accelerate consistently until you have reached your desired traveling speed.
- Maintain a safe distance away from other boaters and PWC.
- Pay attention to posted signs and heed their warnings.
- Obey right-of-way rules. When in doubt, allow others to go ahead of you.
- Allow yourself sufficient distance to stop. Depending upon your speed, you could require up to 300 feet to fully stop.
- Do not venture too far away from the shoreline. You should always remain within sight of the shore at all times.
Practice Personal Watercraft Safety
Even experienced riders can experience an accident if they fail to practice PWC safety. The U.S. Coast Guard attributes many casualties to alcohol use. Operating a jet ski while intoxicated is akin to driving a motor vehicle while under the influence. As such, you should never use PWC after consuming even small amounts of alcohol. The same goes for drugs (including prescriptions) that affect your mental judgment or reflexes.
A sense of adventure often attracts people to jet skis. The thrill of open waterways sometimes means that riders feel safe and therefore willing to take unnecessary risks. Do not kid yourself into thinking that PWC danger does not exist. Serious injury can occur if you fall out of your watercraft or collide into another vehicle. As such, you should not race your jet skis, drive too fast, or operate under treacherous conditions.
Weather plays a role in many water-related accidents. Never ride in high winds, lightning, hail, or thunderstorms. Pay attention to red flags on the beaches. Stay out of water that is too turbulent for swimming.
Distracted driving is just as dangerous on the water as it is on the highway. Leave all personal devices behind. Alleviate the temptation to use them. Remain focused. Avoid turning around to talk to passengers or gazing aimlessly out onto the horizon.
Make Safety a Habit
Jet skis may seem attractive because more than one person can ride at a time. Even so, they come with limits on the number of passengers. Never carry more people than the manufacturer allows. Ensure each rider is in an approved seat. Do not put children in front of the driver, even if they are small enough to fit in that spot.
Make sure that each passenger has an approved life jacket or flotation device. You may hear complaints from strong swimmers, especially if you are not going too far out. However, it is possible to drown even in only waist-deep water, so you should insist on life jackets every time.
In Florida, the minimum age to operate a jet ski is 16. Younger teens may plead for permission to drive, but do not give in to the temptation.
I’ve Experienced an Injury. Now What?
Even if you follow these safety tips, not everyone else will. Some boaters will operate recklessly, or drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Many will take unnecessary risks that endanger everyone in their path. Some outfitters fail to maintain their equipment properly, and do not strictly enforce safety requirements.
After a Florida jet ski accident, you may be at risk for a permanent or long-term disability. Our New Port Richey attorneys may be able to help you determine whether a legal remedy exists. To find out if you qualify, please contact us at (727) 853-6275.
Dolman Law – New Port Richey
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL