Personal watercraft (PWCs)
A PWC includes jet skis, wave runners and similar vessels that have an engine used for propulsion, fully enclosed hull, don’t retain water and are operated by standing, kneeling or sitting astride.
It is important to remember that PWCs are just another type of powered vessel and must be operated within the rules relating to powerboats.
PWCs are generally much more powerful and manoeuvrable than traditional powerboats. They can pose a danger to the operator and to other people if not ridden safely and responsibly.
Always read signage placed at boat ramps and on shore. Some local rules may apply specifically to PWCs so be familiar with the area you intend to operate in. If you are unsure of local rules and conditions, ask the local waterway manager for information.
Refer to the Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules for State and local regulations relevant to any waterway you intend to use.
New rule for personal watercraft on Port Phillip Bay (15 November 2019)
Changes to laws about children operating personal watercraft (21 December 2017)
The master of a PWC must hold a marine licence with a PWC endorsement. You must carry this licence at all times when you are 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.
Try our online practice tests.
An unlicensed person may operate a PWC under the direct supervision of a person who is:
- over the age of 18 years
- licensed with a PWC endorsement
- on board the PWC in a position where they are able to take immediate control of the vessel.
Persons under 16 will no longer be issued with a PWC endorsement on their restricted marine licence but can operate under supervision as per the conditions above.
It is illegal in Victoria for a PWC operator or owner to allow or cause a PWC to be used unless it is registered with VicRoads.
Conditions of registration require that the PWC is in good working order and engine kill switches are operable, so maintain your PWC after each trip and have it regularly serviced.
The registration label must be in a prominent position on the outside or upper part of the vessel.
If you own a Victorian registered PWC, you must ensure that the identification mark assigned for your PWC is painted or displayed in appropriate characters:
- on each side of the hull of the vessel
- forward of the beam
- so that the highest part of each digit commences at a point no more than 25 mm below the gunwale.
‘Appropriate’ means characters that are:
- no less than 100 mm high
- in proportionate breadth, and
- coloured in contrast to the surface on which they are displayed.
It is illegal for you to act as the master of a registered vessel on Victorian waters unless an identification mark is painted or displayed on your PWC in accordance with the above.
These identification marks must be conspicuous and distinguishable from any decal or striping that you may have used to decorate or customise your PWC.
Interstate registered vessels must display registration numbers or marks as required by the relevant State or Territory.
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.
Any person on, or being towed by, a PWC must wear an approved lifejacket type 1, 2 or 3 while underway.
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
On a PWC, you must:
- carry a waterproof, buoyant torch at all times to signal the shore or other vessels if you encounter difficulties
- show the same lights for a powerboat when operating at night. Note that a mast may be required for an all-round white light to ensure the occupant does not obscure the beam.
A registered EPIRB is required on all vessels, including PWCs, if operating more than 2nm from the coast. All operators are advised to carry a means of raising the alarm. A personal locator beacon (PLB) should also be considered for those not heading as far out.
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.
Speed and distance
All vessels must travel at a safe speed at all times.
Obey buoys, beacons and signs marking waterway zones, channels and speed limits. Be aware that at 5 knots, equivalent to 9 km/h or fast walking pace, it takes 20 seconds to travel 50 m and 80 seconds to travel 200 m.
The master of a PWC must constantly monitor the speed of the vessel to ensure that a safe and lawful speed is being maintained.
Remember: stunts and manoeuvres must be done well away from other people, other vessels and the shore. If you cannot maintain the minimum distance, you must not exceed 5 knots.
PWCs are subject to ‘hoon’ legislation which means owners and/or operators can be prosecuted for operating an unsafe vessel, or dangerously, and PWCs can be seized, impounded and embargoed.
The main complaint about the operation of PWCs relates to their use too close to other water users and/or the water’s edge.
Speed and distance regulations must be observed on all waterways, unless a specific local rule says otherwise.
Do not exceed 5 knots:
- within 50 m of a person, vessel, fixed or floating structure and the shore on inland waters
- within 50 m of a person, vessel, wharf, jetty, slipway, diving platform or boat ramp on coastal and enclosed waters
- within 100 m of a dive flag
- within 200 m of the shore on enclosed and coastal waters
- or as per the scheduled waterway rules.
Remember: 5 knots is equivalent to 8-9 km/h.
Irregular riding prohibited in Port Phillip 5-knot zone
When operating a personal watercraft (PWC) in a 5-knot zone you must:
- navigate the PWC in the safest, most direct course from the shore heading seaward, or from the sea towards the shore.
The shore can include the beach, boat ramp or berthing facility including a jetty, pier or mooring.
You must avoid any irregular riding of the PWC in a 5-knot zone, including:
- weaving or diverting course in a way another person would not be able to predict
- surfing down or jumping over or across any waves, wake or wash
- freestyling, which includes sharp turns, donuts, or any circular manoeuvres.
Changes of direction to avoid other waterway users are permitted.
PWC operators found in breach of this rule may receive an infringement notice.
The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (1972) - COLREGs, enshrined in Victorian maritime safety legislation, apply to operators of all vessels including PWCs.
It is your responsibility when in charge of a PWC to correctly apply these rules in all circumstances.
Without power, a PWC has little or no steering control – simply releasing the throttle may not help you avoid a collision.
A PWC operator must give way to:
- larger vessels operating in confined channels
- sailing vessels
- other vessels crossing from the right
- vessels being overtaken.
A very important rule is: maintain a proper look out at all times.
In particular, remember:
- in surf areas, swimmers may be hidden from view by waves and swell. Keep well away from areas where swimmers are likely to be present or slow to 5 knots or less
- do not cut blind corners – slow down
- if you have difficulty seeing properly because your vision is affected by the sun or spray – slow down or stop
- keep well clear of anchored or moored vessels
- in channels and narrow stretches of water, you must operate to the right of the centre of the channel
- on inland waterways, powered vessels must travel in an anticlockwise direction in relation to the approximate centre of the waterway, unless otherwise specified in a waterway rule
- navigation lights are required if your PWC is used on the water between sunset and sunrise, and in times of restricted visibility
- water does not ‘give’ when you hit it at speed – you will probably break bones and, if you are not wearing protective clothing, sustain serious internal injuries.
If you are participating in any towed watersports on a PWC, you must follow the relevant rules which include carrying an appropriate observer.
Your PWC must have seating for the master and observer.
You should also consider having adequate seating for anyone who is being towed.
To determine the carrying capacity of your PWC, refer to the manufacturer’s specifications.
As a PWC operator, you have a legal duty to take reasonable care for your own safety and for the safety of anyone who may be affected by your actions.
Assess the risks associated with operating a PWC and be aware of the changing nature of the maritime environment.
PWCs can accelerate very quickly and can be noisy. Be mindful of this when others are on or in the water, or on the beach.
Understand your limitations in performance in varying conditions. Be aware that the operators of other vessels may not be familiar with PWCs and how quickly you can approach, pass, turn and move away. You may need to adjust your riding techniques so that you don’t alarm other operators.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and maintenance schedule. Joining a PWC riders club or similar organisation will improve your skills, knowledge and experience.
If you use a trailer
Owners and operators of trailer boats should make themselves aware of the oversize light vehicles information on the VicRoads website, relating to towing loads on the road.
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