Personal Watercraft Safety

May 06, 2020

Looking for adventure out on the water? A personal watercraft (PWC) can give you a thrilling and adventurous experience. Whether you’re on a Waverunner® or another kind of craft, you’re bound to have a great time and get your adrenaline pumping! But it’s important to prepare yourself and your watercraft so you don’t cause injury to yourself or others. Here at Gordon Bay Marine in Lake Joseph, Ontario, we’re all about making sure you know the basics when it comes to PWC safety. We’ve compiled some tips to make your watercraft outing safe, fun, and memorable.

Inspect Your Craft

Before heading out, you’ll want to make sure your Waverunner® is in tip-top shape for hitting the waves. Check the whole craft for any signs of damage. If you think anything’s amiss, take your watercraft into a shop for repairs. You can also request a free Pleasure Craft Courtesy Check, offered by Transport Canada and carried out by trained boat safety volunteers from the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons. While this isn’t a formal authorization of a craft’s seaworthiness, it’s still helpful and can give you more information on boat safety so that you’re better prepared.

If you’re out on the water often, you should probably invest in boat and watercraft insurance. Many plans are available for insuring you, your watercraft, and your gear to protect you in case of damage or injury.

You’ll also need to acquire your Pleasure Craft Operator Card through Transport Canada before you can operate personal watercrafts or other motorized boats. This card is good for life once you have it and brings you up to speed on boating safety practices. Transport Canada advises taking a boating safety course before taking the test for your card, but only passing the test is required.

Gear Up

Obviously, life jackets are the most important safety gear for anyone entering the water. Everyone on board the watercraft, plus anyone being towed behind it, should wear one. Personal flotation devices or PFDs are NOT permitted for use instead of a life jacket on personal watercrafts. Canadian-approved life jackets come in red, orange, or yellow for visibility, and they come in three types:

  1. SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) life jackets, which come in a keyhole style and will immediately turn you on your back in the water even if you’re unconscious;
  2. standard-type life jackets, which come in a keyhole style and will perform similarly to SOLAS life jackets, but more slowly; and
  3. Small-vessel life jackets, which operate the slowest of the three types and come in keyhole or vest options.

Provided all passengers are wearing Canadian-approved, inherently buoyant life jackets, here’s a short list of the safety equipment that the Canadian Coast Guard requires a personal watercraft to carry:

  1. a sound-signalling device;
  2. a watertight flashlight or three pyrotechnic distress signals other than smoke signals;
  3. a magnetic compass, if the personal watercraft is navigated out of sight of seamarks; and
  4. navigation lights that meet the requirements of the Collision Regulations, if the personal watercraft is operated after sunset or before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.

It’s a good idea for the craft operator to also wear an emergency engine cut-off lanyard on their life jacket or wrist in case they fall or otherwise become unable to operate the craft.

Even on a warm and sunny day, Canadian waters are cold, and cold water shock can paralyze your muscles instantly when you hit the water. It’s important to wear thermal layers that will protect you from the cold so you can stay alert and get back on your craft.

Other useful safety equipment: a handheld VHF radio and a phone for backup, a first-aid kit with sunscreen and burn cream, a hand-operated bilge pump or other dewatering tool, an anchor with sufficient line, rear-view mirrors, and a skier-down flag.

Monitor Weather Conditions

Canadian waters can be rough, with choppy waves and cold temperatures that pose life-threatening risks. Local Canadian government programs, such as Environment Canada, issue multiple daily marine forecasts to inform boaters of relevant weather conditions, water conditions, storms, wind speeds, and other information. Check these before you head out to the coast. It’s advisable to have a trip plan or sail plan where you plan out your route in advance and let someone you trust know where you’re going, what your craft looks like, and how long you anticipate being out on the water. They can contact the Rescue Coordination Centre if necessary.

Hauling Tips

Your PWC will require a special trailer suited to carry powersports vehicles, such as a toy hauler. Make sure the trailer you choose fits the weight of your PWC. Overloading a too-small trailer is not only illegal, but it makes for dangerous driving conditions that increase your chance of an accident. Take your time learning to load your PWC into the trailer in advance of your water adventure. Drive carefully and increase the following distance between yourself and other cars when you’re on the road. Towing heavy cargo means you’ll need more room to slow down and stop. Give other drivers the right of way whenever possible.

Ramp Safety

Once you arrive at the water, you’ll want to exercise patience around others who are also embarking on their own watercraft adventures. The ramp into the water may be crowded, so be courteous and wait your turn! This same courtesy applies when you’re landing.

Abide By Watercraft Regulations

Their powerful engines and fast acceleration mean that you should handle PWCs responsibly. Don’t drink or use drugs before operating a watercraft. Check with your doctor if you’re on any medications that might interfere with your ability to operate heavy machinery. Make sure your watercraft’s markings are clearly visible.

Being safe is important, but so is having fun. In the market for a Waverunner®? If you’re ready to ride the waves, head down to the Gordon Bay Marine showroom in Lake Joseph, Ontario, to check out our selection of personal watercrafts. We proudly serve customers in nearby Muskoka and the Toronto metro area.