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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. 

General safety obligation

Owners and operators 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 you must:

When towing a skier the operator must be licensed and there must be an observer on board who is more than 12 years old 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.

Safety equipment

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

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) * *
Should carry the following equipment
Anchor * (with cable appropriate to area of operation) * (with cable appropriate to area of operation)
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.

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

If you're travelling at more than 10 knots you must keep a distance of 30m from other moving boats, unless you're involved in an approved aquatic event or where doing so would endanger you or another person.

Consider the density of waterway traffic in the area to determine a safe speed. You must stay 60m away from, or reduce your speed to 6 knots if within 60m of:

  • people in the water
  • anchored or moored boats, structures, boat ramps, jetties or pontoons
  • the shore
  • the boundary of a bathing reserve.

Exceptions apply to the 60m from 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.

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

  • beyond 200m of the shore if homes are within 100m of the shoreline, and are in the vicinity of the waters where the PWC is operating. Coastal waters do not include dams and inland waters.
Last updated
26 June 2017