PWC Boating License Revision (FAQs)

Are you studying for your PWC boating license? Our FAQs make boating license revision easy. Use our resource to test yourself and find out the answers to the common questions you’ll encounter.

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The idea of heading out onto the water is very appealing for most, especially when the sun is shining and the weather is warm.

However, before you do, you’ll need to think about whether you fully understand how to stay safe, and how to make sure you don’t endanger other water users.

The boating license in the US is a simple way to get educated on the subject, but you’ll need to study for the course.

The content isn’t difficult to understand but in order to gain your license you’ll have to demonstrate you understand the important elements of personal watercraft (PWC) safety.

Every state has its own laws, but it’s possible to take a boating education course online which meets all the requirements. This means no matter where you travel you can be assured that you hold a boating license which will cover your use of PWCs.

It’s not just a legal requirement; the boating license will also keep you safe. You’ll be able to enjoy your time on your PWC, confident that you are backed up by the knowledge you need.

To pass your test and gain the license you’ll need to carry out some revision. Here are some of the important elements that you’ll need to know.

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12. What is a personal watercraft?

A personal watercraft, abbreviated to PWC, is a type of motorboat which is designed for personal use. They are sometimes referred to as jet ski, but this is actually a brand name created by Kawasaki.

Other brand names for PWC include Waverunner (Yamaha) and Sea Doo (Bombardier).

PWC are strictly for personal use and defined as watercraft which:

  • Use jet pumps for propulsion, not propellers
  • Are less than 16 feet in length
  • Are operated by a single person (but may have room for passengers)
  • The user sits, kneels or stands on the craft rather than being inside it

11. When operating a PWC, what will happen if you shut off the engine?

Shutting off the engine will have the effect of stopping the engine, but it won’t bring the PWC to an instant halt. Without the engine in motion, the PWC will continue forward for some way which means you could collide with anything in your path.

In addition, you won’t have any control over the direction of the craft or how fast it goes.

Steering on a PWC relies on a jet of pressurized water being pumped through the craft. When the engine is switched off, this stream of water stops which results in a total loss of control.

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10. Which items are required onboard a PWC?

There are a number of pieces of equipment that must be onboard a PWC, but the precise requirements depend on whether all of the individuals on board the craft are wearing a PFD or inherently buoyant life jacket.

If PFDs are being worn by everyone, the following is needed:

  • One lifejacket or PFD for each person on board
  • One watertight flashlight or three flares (type A, B or C). Flares are not required if the PWC meets the description of any of the exemptions in Small Vessel Regulations, Part 2, #213–Visual Signals.
  • One sound-signaling appliance or device
  • Navigation lights (or operation between sunset and sunrise, or for periods where there’s limited visibility)
  • Magnetic compass (not required if the PWC is wholly operated within sight of navigation marks and is less than 8 meters long)
  • One radar reflector – not required if the PWC meets the description of any of the exemptions in Collision Regulations, Schedule 1, Rule 40 (Radar Reflectors)

If not everyone on the PWC is wearing their PFD, the following requirements apply in addition to those listed above:

  • One buoyant heaving line (minimum 15 meters long)
  • One re-boarding device (where the freeboard distance is greater than 0.5 meters)
  • One manual bilge pump or bailer
  • One manual propelling device or an anchor (minimum 15 meters of cable, chain or rope)
  • A 5B:C fire extinguisher

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9. What should an operator do when trying to re-board a PWC?

Begin by swimming up to the stern. Re-boarding should never be attempted from the side because you can easily flip the craft on top of you.

Use the handle on the seat or the transom to support your weight as you pull yourself up. Bring your knees up onto the boarding platform before moving forward onto the seat. Don’t forget to reattach your safety lanyard.

8. If a PWC capsizes, what is the best way to roll it upright again?

If your PWC has capsized, it must only be turned in one direction to get it turned upright. There should be a warning sticker on the stern to show which is the correct direction for your particular model. This information can also be found in the owner’s manual.

7. What determines the direction that a PWC will travel?

The steering controls determine the direction that your PWC will travel in. However, the steering will only work when you have power. This is because water must be pumping through the craft and being forced out through the nozzle. The steering controls the direction of this nozzle.

6. What is needed for complete steering control on a personal watercraft?

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Power is required for completed steering control. This allows water to be pumped through the PWC and forced out through the nozzle. The steering controls the direction this nozzle points in, thereby controlling the direction of the craft.

If no water is being forced through the nozzle, you will not have complete control of your steering. Power and use of the throttle are therefore essential components.

Recommended: Just like for your car, a routine jet ski battery check sometimes leads to a replacement being needed.

5. Where is the steering nozzle located on-board a personal watercraft?

The nozzle is located at the back of the PWC. This is where water is forced out to determine your direction of travel.

4. What happens to the watercraft when the throttle is released?

The throttle will propel you forward and allow you to determine how fast you want to travel. When you release the throttle you will begin to lose speed but you will not instantly stop.

The PWC still take some time to come to a complete halt so you should factor this in when you want to stop.

It’s also important to understand that when you release the throttle you will lose control of the PWC and will not be able to control its steering.

In the vast majority of cases, your PWC will just continue in the same direction as before. Turning left or right with your steering handles will not make any difference.

This is because steering control is achieved by pumping water through the PWC.

As the stream of water is forced out through the nozzle, the steering pushes the nozzle in the desired direction. When the throttle is released, water stops being pumped through, leaving no way to control the craft.

Recommended: Don’t miss our guide to Waverunner oil kits.

3. When do PWC lose the ability to steer properly?

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PWC lose their ability to steer through the water if there is a loss of power to the craft, such as the engine being shut off, or the throttle is released.

A pressurized stream of water being pumped through the craft is required to be able to steer accurately in any direction. Power and use of the throttle are necessary to suck water into the craft and pump it through.

2. How should you wash your PFD (Personal Flotation Device) properly?

You can minimize the amount of cleaning required by only using your PFD for the purpose for which it was intended. If it needs washing, do not dry clean, machine wash or use any harsh detergents.

A PFD should only ever be washed using mild soap and running water. Once cleaned, it should be left to air-dry in a space which is well-ventilated. Direct sunlight and heat sources should be avoided.

1. When may the maximum person capacity of a watercraft be exceeded?

There are no circumstances when it is permissible to exceed the maximum person capacity in a watercraft.


It may sound intimidating to study for your boating license but once you start to study, you’ll quickly pick up the key facts.

A boat license will ensure you’re able to operate your PWC legally and be fully aware of the safety issues you may encounter while on the water.

Use our study guide to test yourself on these key areas, and to get the information you need to pass the test. All that remains now is to say good luck – we’re sure you’ll nail it!
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