Personal watercraft

Cruising, wave jumping, surf-riding and skiing are just a few fun ways to enjoy your personal watercraft (PWC). Whatever the activity you choose, the smart way to enjoy your sport is safely. Whether you own or just borrow a PWC, you must know your responsibilities.

What defines a PWC: 
personal watercraft means a powered ship that—
(a) has a fully enclosed hull that does not take on water if capsized; and
(b) is designed to be operated by a person standing, crouching or kneeling on it or sitting astride it.

General safety obligation

Every owner and operator have a general safety obligation to make sure their PWC is in good condition, used safely and has the correct safety equipment. 


To operate a PWC in Queensland you must:

When towing a skier the operator must be licensed and there must be an observer on board who is more than 13 years or older and is competent to watch the skier at all times.

A supervised unlicensed driver is not allowed to carry passengers—other than the supervising licence holder. The supervising licence holder must wear the kill switch safety lanyard while the PWC is being driven by the unlicensed driver.


All PWCs must be registered. See your local Transport and Main Roads customer service centre.

Safety equipment

The safety equipment required for your PWC depends on where you are.

Equipment Smooth waters Partially smooth waters Beyond partially smooth waters
Must carry the following equipment
Lifejacket ✔ Lifejacket level 50 or level 50 special purpose ✔ Lifejacket level 50 ✔ Lifejacket level 50
Signalling device if operating at night (e.g. torch, lantern, glow stick)  ✔  ✔  ✔ 
V sheet * *
Flares (2 red hand-held and 2 orange smoke) * *
EPIRB or PLB** #
Should carry the following equipment
Anchor * (with cable appropriate  to size of vessel) * (with cable appropriate to size of vessel)
Drinking water * *
Handheld electronic navigation device (if not equipped with a chart and compass)

*Does not apply to a PWC that is operating in an approved aquatic event or beyond partially smooth waters and within 0.5nm from land.
** If using a Personal Locator Beacon in place of an EPIRB, the PLB must be comply with the usage conditions. See for detail.
# Required when operating more than 2 nautical miles outside of smooth waters or partially smooth waters or other waters more than 2 nautical miles from land.

PWCs travelling at night, or at times of reduced visibility, must show navigation lights (side lights and an all-round white light which is visible from 360 degrees). Download the safety equipment for recreational boats and personal watercraft.

PWC rules on the water

As the skipper of a PWC you must make sure that you keep a proper lookout. On busy waterways there may be plenty of obstacles. The busier it is the slower you will probably have to go. 

You must reduce your speed to no more than 6 knots if you are within 60m of:

  • people in the water
  • anchored or moored boats, structures, boat ramps, jetties or pontoons
  • the boundary of a bathing reserve (check with your local council for locations)
  • the shore*.

* Exceptions apply only to the 60m from the shore rule if:

  1. the waterway is less than 120m wide, and: 
    • you operate the PWC as close as practical to a straight line to transit the area
    • you stay as close as possible to the centre of the waterway or a marked channel
  2. the PWC is being used in waterskiing or towing.

You must keep a distance of 30m from any other moving ship or reduce your speed to less than 10 knots unless you're involved in an approved aquatic event or where doing so would endanger you or another person.

In coastal waters, freestyling or wave jumping is restricted to:

  • beyond 200m of the shore if homes are within 100m of the shoreline where you are operating. (This does not apply to dams and inland waters.) 

Wherever you are, the way you operate your PWC affects the people around you.

Remember your General Safety Obligation, You’re the Skipper, You’re Responsible.

Kids and PWCs

It is great fun to involve the whole family in your boating and PWC adventures.

A couple of quick points about kids and PWC’s.

You should:

  • operate your PWC only with the child seated behind you, never between you and the handle bars
  • only have passengers who can place both feet at the same time firmly in the foot wells of the PWC
  • have the correct number of people on board for the number of seats available. It is no longer considered safe to count children under 12 years of age as half a person. Three seats means 3 people - no matter the age.

Operating outside of these points may leave you liable to prosecution in regards to your general safety obligations, under Transport Operations Marine Safety Regulation.

MSQ’s marine incident data shows us this is the safest practice for your family.

Last updated
19 June 2023