Safe at Speed

Operating a PWC is great fun. So is staying safe and uninjured. Check out our tips for a day of unscathed amusement.

Riding a personal watercraft is a thrill most people don’t forget once they’ve done it. Skipping across the top of the water at more than 60 mph is a definite rush, one we enjoy every chance we get. With all that power and speed, though, comes a fair amount of responsibility, to oneself and everyone else in the vicinity.

Nobody wants to be the foreign matter in the punch bowl, but knowing how to stay safe and to keep others that way too is a trait that should be celebrated, not shunned. To help our readers have a great time and stay safe, we’ve compiled the dreaded safety list. It’s not exhaustive, but it touches the important areas. Remember, being the “hall monitor” may save someone’s life.

Wear a life jacket. That should be enough said, but we’ll go on. Wearing a life vest doesn’t detract from the “cool” factor. Professional riders don’t have a problem wearing one, so recreational riders shouldn’t either. Protective footwear isn’t a bad idea either.

Attach the kill switch. Clip it, loop it, hook it. However you attach it, make sure the kill switch’s lanyard is attached your person. It’s for your own safety, yes, but also for the safety of riders around you.

Protect your eyes. Goggles, sunglasses, doesn’t matter, as long as you wear them. Eyes tear up at high speeds, which impedes vision, and that’s not good when you’re covering more than 85 feet per second. Based on experience — heard it from a friend — don’t wear your favorite pair. Unless they float.

Ride standing up. At least for a while during a run, ride standing up. The comfy seat beckons and is perfect for cruising flat water, but to really enjoy riding at top speed and on choppy water, standing is key. Riders’ legs absorb most of the shock when they’re standing, so choppy water won’t rattle their teeth like an Iowa gravel road after a really hard winter.

Observe personal space. Don’t get too close to other riders, and make sure they’re not getting too close to you. Stopping short is not an ability PWCs have. Sea-Doo (iBR) and Yamaha (RiDE) models can stop more quickly than they used to, but stopping is not instantaneous and care must be taken. Figure out how long it takes to stop, remembering that totally disengaging the throttle may disengage the steering. Again, manufacturers have created systems that maintain some steering without the throttle, but only on newer models. Do this: Once you’ve ballparked a safe following distance, add to it. Know the PWC. Squeeze the throttle or push it with your thumb? Get comfortable with whichever is correct. How does it take off? If it’s like the PWCs we’ve tested from Yamaha, Sea-Doo and Kawasaki, the answer is two words: damn quickly. Start slow and get faster to discover the answers to such questions. Trust us: Do. Not. Underestimate. The takeoff power. Of modern PWCs.

Wear sunscreen. OK, this one is a bit peripheral, but who wants to ride a PWC for just a few minutes? Nobody. Protect your skin, because you’re going to be out there for a long time, and water intensifies the sun’s rays.

Keep the intake clean. To avoid sucking unwanted debris into the intake by touching bottom as you near a beach or depart from one, don’t start the engine too early or kill it too late. Walk your PWC from and to shore. Yes, it’s slower than riding it, but you’ll be tearing along soon enough.

Don’t overload a PWC. A PWC that is severely overloaded will be much more difficult to control and will be much more likely to tip over. Even a machine rated for three people has a weight limit. Dad, mom and child probably work. Man, rugby buddy and ex-college football lineman may exceed the limit. Know your sled’s limits.

Carry a GPS. Here’s one that may not apply to everyone, but sometimes overkill can be underrated. Most new PWCs feature plenty of storage, a good percentage of it dry, so throwing a handheld GPS unit aboard is a simple matter. A large body of water, especially one new to a rider, is easy to get lost on. The view can be different on the return path than it was going out. Note: A cellphone shouldn’t be the sole, or even primary, means of communication, but having one can be reassuring in case of a breakdown.

One thought on “Safe at Speed

  1. I’d like to add: DON’T RIDE AFTER SUNSET. PWC generally do not have running lights and therefore are illegal after dark. Plan your trip accordingly.


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