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Virginia Watercraft Owner's Guide

Personal Watercraft (PWC) Regulations

A personal watercraft is a motorboat less than 16 feet in length which uses an inboard motor powering a jet pump as its primary motive power and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling onórather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside—the vessel.

PWCs must follow all rules and regulations for motorboats. There are additional rules and regulations for PWC operators as follows:

  1. It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a PWC or the owner or any person having control to authorize or knowingly permit a person to operate a PWC, unless the operator is at least 16 years of age. Any person age 14 or 15 may operate a PWC if they have successfully completed an approved boating education safety course, carry proof of successful completion of such course, and show this proof upon request by a law enforcement officer.
  2. All operators of PWCs must take a boating safety course.
  3. It is unlawful to operate a PWC unless the operator, each rider, and anyone being towed by a PWC is wearing a Type I, II, III, or V USCG approved life jacket. Inflatables are prohibited.
  4. If the PWC is equipped with a lanyardtype engine cut-off switch, the operator must attach the lanyard to his person, clothing, or personal flotation device.
  5. It is unlawful to operate a PWC after sunset or before sunrise.
  6. It is unlawful to operate a PWC while carrying passengers in excess of the number for which the craft was designed by the manufacturer, including towed passengers.
  7. A person shall be guilty of reckless operation who operates any PWC recklessly so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person, which shall include, but not be limited to: (1) weaving through other vessels which are underway, stopped, moored or anchored while exceeding a reasonable speed; (2) following another vessel or skier, crossing the path of another vessel or skier, crossing the path of another vessel more closely than is reasonable and prudent; (3) crossing between the towing vessel and a skier; or (4) steering toward an object or person and turning sharply in close proximity to such object or person in order to spray or attempt to spray an object or person with the wash or jet spray of the PWC.
  8. PWC operators must maintain "no wake" operation when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps, people in the water and vessels other than PWCs. PWCs may tow a skier with a rope less than 50 feet. No wake is defined as "The slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage and headway."

The above provisions do not apply to participants in regattas, races, marine parades, tournaments or exhibitions approved by the Board of the DGIF or the USCG.