Personal watercraft (PWCs)

A personal watercraft (commonly known as a PWC) describes an aquascooter, jet bike, jet ski, wave runner, ski free, motorised surfboard and any similar vessel that has an engine used for propulsion. They are also known as 'powerskis'.

Definition

The Marine Safety Act defines PWCs as any recreational vessel that is of a kind that is required to be registered and that: 

  1. Has an engine that is used for propulsion
  2. Has a fully enclosed hull
  3. Does not retain water on it if it capsizes
  4. Is designed to be operated by a person standing, sitting astride or kneeling on the vessel but not seated within the vessel.

Licensing

The Marine Safety Act requires that the master of a PWC must hold a general marine licence with a PWC endorsement. The requirement for an endorsement recognises the additional knowledge and skills required to act as the master of a PWC. 

You will need to sit an additional knowledge test and correctly answer a minimum of 13 out of 15 questions to pass. An operator with a PWC licence endorsement can operate all types of powered recreational vessels. This licence must be carried at all times when acting as the master of a PWC.

The licensing section of this website has more information on applying for your marine licence in Victoria.

Registration

All PWCs are required to be registered with VicRoads (who undertake marine licence and registration services on our behalf) or through approved dealers. The registration label must be fixed in a conspicuous position on the outside or upper part of the vessel.

The owner of a registered recreational vessel that is a personal watercraft must ensure that the identification mark that is assigned by Maritime Safety Victoria for that vessel is painted or displayed in appropriate characters:

  1. On each side of the hull of the vessel
  2. Forward of the beam
  3. So that the highest part of each digit commences at a point no more than 25mm below the gunwale. 

Appropriate characters means characters that are:

  1. No less than 100mm high
  2. In proportionate breadth
  3. Coloured in contrast to the surface on which they are displayed. 

Diagram showing approved locations for personal watercrafy identification marks as described 

A person must not act as the master of a registered vessel on State waters unless an identification mark is painted or displayed on the vessel in accordance with the above. These identification marks must take preference over decals and striping provided to decorate or customise the PWC.

The buying and registration section of this website has more information on what to look out for when buying vessels and how to register a vessel in Victoria.

Lifejackets

Under the Marine Safety Regulations the operator or master and passengers (including anyone being towed) must wear an approved lifejacket type 1, 2 or 3 at all times on a PWC. It is recommended a type 2 be worn. 

Our Wear A Lifejacket website has everything you need to know about: lifejacket laws in Victoria; what jacket you need to wear, when; choosing the right lifejacket for your lifestyle; and looking after your lifejacket.

Other safety equipment

In addition to wearing an approved lifejacket, PWC operators must also carry a waterproof buoyant torch on board at all times. A torch can be used to signal the shore or other vessels if you encounter difficulties. 

A PWC must show the lights for a powerboat if operating at night. Note that a mast may be required for an all round white light to ensure the occupant does not obscure a sector of light from being visible. 

A registered EPIRB is required on all vessels, including PWCs, if operating more than 2nm from the coast.

Keeping a PWC in good working order is not only common sense; it is a legal requirement. Look after your PWC so it looks after you – maintain it after each trip and have it regularly serviced.

The trip preparation section of this website includes a full list of the safety equipment for personal watercraft.

Speed and distance

All vessels are required to travel at a safe speed at all times. The master of a PWC must constantly monitor the speed of the vessel to ensure that a safe speed is being maintained. Without power a PWC has little or no steering control. Follow speed signs and buoys marking waterway zones.

Remember, stunts and manoeuvres must be done well away from other people, other vessels and the shore. The main complaint received by marine authorities relates to the operation of PWCs close to other water users and/or the water's edge.

If you cannot maintain the minimum distances you must slow to 5 knots. PWC operators are subject to hoon legislation. The safe operation section of this site has more information about speed and distance rules.

Image instructing PWC riders about the speed and distance rules

Other safe operation rules

The Marine Safety Act and the Marine Safety Regulations require that the vessel is operated in a safe condition and manner, and according to the conditions of registration. However, PWCs are generally much more powerful and manoeuvrable than traditional powerboats and, in the wrong hands, can present a danger to the operator and to other people using our waterways. 

Like any other boaters, PWC operators should make sure that they know the boating rules applicable to any waterway they intend to use (see the Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules for particulars) and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea

Image instructing PWC riders not reduce noise

The safe operation section of our website includes more information on vessel handling, buoyage and navigation and operating rules.

Responsible riding: Code of Conduct for PWC operators 

Maritime Safety Victoria, in collaboration with BRP, Yamaha, Kawasaki and the Australian Jet Sports Boating Association, has developed the recommendations for PWC riders operating on Victorian waters.

Respecting international and local maritime regulations

  • I obey international and local navigation regulations
  • When required, my PWC is registered and I am able to present all papers (permit, registration card, insurance document etc.)
  • I observe and obey local age restrictions for riding my PWC
  • I do not enter any prohibited zones
  • I ride at reduced speed in harbours and strictly respect speed limits
  • I do not ride my PWC at night unless the PWC complies with local laws and is correctly fitted with navigational lights
  • I do not ride my PWC after consuming alcohol or drugs.

Respecting the environment

  • I always refuel on land and keep my engine clean
  • I do not modify the exhaust or cooling system of my PWC
  • I limit the time spent flushing the engine to a strict minimum
  • I do not throw rubbish into the water or onto beaches
  • I respect fauna and flora, and adapt my speed when in areas with a high wildlife population.

Sharing the sea

  • I respect other boats and keep away from them, especially when they are at anchor
  • I pay attention to the way I ride and keep an eye on wind direction in order to avoid any noise nuisance
  • I do not ride too close to the shore or where other people are swimming or playing.

Riding responsibly

  • I check the weather conditions before I ride
  • I am wary of off-shore winds and tidal currents
  • I ride with others because there's safety in numbers
  • I make sure I have enough fuel and battery life before riding
  • I check the controls function as intended
  • I do not leave my PWC if it breaks down.

Respecting the facilities available in ports

  • I do not damage launching ramps or their surroundings
  • I only leave my trailer in the designated parking area
  • I respect other ramp users and wait my turn to launch my PWC.

Riding with all safety equipment

  • Everyone on board wears a lifejacket and wetsuit (bottoms)
  • I bring a towing device (anchoring point and tow rope)
  • The tether cord clip is attached to the driver's wrist or life jacket all times,
    this cuts the engine ignition if the driver falls overboard
  • I bring a portable phone in a waterproof case or a hand-held marine radio
  • I follow the manufacturer's recommendations for use (gloves, glasses, footwear etc.)

Download this Code of Conduct as a printable  PDF, 1.6 MB

If you use a trailer

Owners and operators of trailer boats should make themselves aware of the following information on the VicRoads website, relating to towing loads on the road.

Photo of a PWC rider