by Bill Callahan
SO/PA Division 3 U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
You have seen them flying by with young and old alike at the controls, and you think, "Wow! They're fast."
Yes, they are. Some can do over 80 mph and they are dangerous when misused. PWCs are the motorcycles of the water; they are fast, highly maneuverable and very few operators really understand how to operate them safely.
First thing you need to know is in New York state you're required by law to take an approved safe boating course before you can operate a PWC. New York state has amended its navigation laws effective Jan. 1, 2006, raising the minimum age for unaccompanied operators of a personal watercraft to 14. Unchanged is the requirement that all operators of personal watercraft, regardless of age, must have on their person a certificate or card proving the successful completion of an approved boating course.
"A personal watercraft is a powerboat, not a toy," says Commander Bob of the Web site http://www.commanderbob.com. "If you operate one, you are the captain, with all the same responsibilities for knowing and obeying boating regulations and practicing boating safety, as any captain of any vessel."
There is a lot to know about operating your PWC safely. You should take the time to become familiar with your vessel. Here are just a few things to keep in mind. All riders must wear a properly fitted USCG-approved life jacket and have a class B-1 fire extinguisher on board. A securely attached engine-stop lanyard should be hooked to your wrist or your life jacket; this will stop your PWC should you fall off.
Be alert. Look in all directions at all times and be aware of the area you are operating in. Vessels you may encounter include sailboats, kayaks, rafts and canoes. Be on the lookout for water skiers, swimmers, fisherman in anchored boats, and scuba divers (watch for diving flags). Stay a safe distance away from other vessels, swimmers in beach areas and obey the no-wake zone laws.
Generally, PWCs don't have brakes. When you let off the throttle the PWC will slow quickly, but not stop. Remember to maintain power to your PWC when coming to a dock. If you shut down your power you will have no steering control and could have an accident.
The vast numbers of PWC operators are responsible and safe boaters, who obey the rules and know their vessel and respect the rights and safety of others who enjoy our waterways. Always be courteous and considerate of others. Your PWC is fast and fun only if you remember others operating around you. Enjoy your motorcycle of the water safely.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary message to all boaters: "You are in command, boat responsibly." Remember, "Life jackets save lives. They float; you don't. Wear it!"
If you're new to boating or even an old salt, taking a safe boating course is always a wise and good idea. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary reminds everyone that an educated boater is a safe boater.
Coast Guard Auxiliary Division 3 has a list of safe boating classes now under way on its Web site www.wnyboatsafe.org.
The information includes times, places, dates and instructors and a contact number to register for the class.