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Know Before You Go: California Boat, Jet Ski, and Personal Watercraft (PWC) Requirements

Two young kids wearing life vests while sailing to illustrate the requirements for personal watercraft and the importance of insurance.

Ready to have some fun in the sun? Before you head to the water on your new boat, jet ski or personal watercraft (PWC), be sure that you’re not breaking any local boating laws. Although some of the laws are obvious, there are also very specific requirements pertaining to PWCs and boats.

Do I need boat insurance if I’m just riding a jet ski? Is there a difference between that and jet ski insurance?

First of all, see if you’ll need to register your watercraft. If it’s longer than 8 feet in length, California requires your PWC or boat to be registered at the DMV. The following are exceptions:

• Vessels only propelled by oars or paddles
• Non-motorized sailboats that are 8 feet in length (most jet skis, wave runners)
• Surfboards or sailboards
• A ship’s lifeboat (does not include dinghies)
• Vessels currently registered in another state (if used primarily outside California)

In California, you’re not required to have boat insurance or have a boater’s license, however, similar to driving an automobile, there is a minimum age required to operate certain water vehicles.

• You must be at least 16 years old to operate a water vehicle by yourself.
• If you have supervision on board by someone at least 18 years of age, you can be between 12-15 years old to operate any type of motorboat that uses more than 15 horsepower or sailboats over 30 feet.
• There are no age restrictions for being a passenger.
• California state law requires all children under 13 years of age to wear a life jacket while on board a boat or watercraft that is 26 feet or less, including PWCs.
• Anyone on a jet ski, wave runner, being towed behind a vessel, or other personal watercraft (PWC), must wear a life jacket
• You should also be sure to carry enough life jackets for anyone on board a boat, and make sure they’re readily accessible.

Is boat insurance required by law? Is jet ski insurance required by law?

While boat insurance or jet ski insurance are not required by the law, it is highly advisable since it comes with a measure of risk. In the event of a collision or damage to the vehicle or to yourself and others, jet ski insurance (also known as PWC Insurance) offers similar coverage to an automobile:

• Collision
• Liability
• Comprehensive
• Medical
• On-water towing and labor
• Emergency

General requirements for boats, jet skis, and other watercraft

One PWC specific legal requirement is that all PWCs be equipped with a lanyard cutoff switch, where the lanyard is connected/attached to the person operating the vehicle. The laws regarding PWC and boat operation are mainly concerned with safety for passengers, yourself, and bystanders:

• No PWCs or operation after dark (between sunset and sunrise)
• The legal Blood Alcohol Limit for someone operating the watercraft is <0.08%
• It is illegal to be intoxicated by alcohol or drugs while operating the watercraft
• Limit your speed to 5 mph anytime you’re within 100 feet of a swimmer or 200 feet of shore, swimming float, diving platform or landing

Much of the time, you won’t have to worry about speed limits on your PWC or boat. However, for areas that have posted speed limits, be sure to obey all signs. In addition to state laws, there may be county or city specific laws, so be sure to familiarize yourself with them.

What equipment do I need to operate a boat, jet ski, or other personal watercraft (PWC)?

Lastly, some equipment that’s required while operating a PWC and boat are:

• Type B fire extinguisher
• Whistle or horn
• Visual distress signals (flares)
• Life jackets

If you’re operating a PWC or will have passengers with you, it’s encouraged to look into getting boat insurance or jet ski insurance quotes. The coverage may help protect you from liability issues in case of an accident.

Ride the waves knowing your personal watercraft is covered. Freeway Insurance can help you get the best coverage at the best rate. Get a watercraft insurance quote online or over the phone at (800) 777-5620.

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