We recognize at Fox Insurance Agency that one of the fastest growing American pastimes in Oregon and Washington is recreational boating. Although many boaters cruise the waterways in powerboats and sailboats, personal watercraft (PWC) have also become a very popular way to enjoy the water in the Pacific Northwest. Recreational boaters use them as tenders on larger boats, to water ski, commute and just for spring and summer fun.
The following items will acquaint you with some information you should know before hitting the water. For your own safety and the safety of others, we here at Fox Insurance encourage you to learn more.
Federal and State Regulations
While personal watercraft are often driven by teens and young adults, they are not toys. They are classified by the U.S. Coast Guard as Class A inboard boats (boats less than 16′ in length). Both the boat and its operator must comply with all Federal and Oregon and Washington requirements.
Federal regulations require that personal watercraft be registered and have an identification number. The validation sticker and registration number must be displayed on the craft.
State regulations vary, but may require the operator to be of a minimum age (usually 14 to 16 years old), complete a safe boating course and/or obtain an operator’s certificate. Oregon and Washington and local jurisdictions may also regulate speed limits, hours and areas of operation – please check these specific regulations.
All Class A inboard craft must carry the following items:
- Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) for each person aboard. (Type III vests, the most popular among PWC enthusiasts, are not designed to turn unconscious wearers face up, but allow greater freedom than Types I or II)
- Fully charged portable B-1 type fire extinguisher
- Efficient sound-producing device (whistle or horn) for signaling or warning
In addition, the following items are strongly recommended to carry or wear aboard the boat:
- PWC owner’s manual
- Boating safety course certificate
- Local chart
- Small waterproof first-aid kit
- Emergency repair supplies and basic tools, spare lanyard, strong tape, spare spark plugs, oil, spray lubricant and cleaner
- Visual distress signal (flare, brightly colored cloth or flag, signaling mirror)
- Tow rope
- Plastic one gallon fuel can
- Telescoping oar
- Sunscreen with UV protection
- Wet suit for water below 70 degrees - Neoprene pants for warmer water
- Helmet (required for racing) – a high percentage of injuries are head injuries
- Sunglasses or goggles
- Nonskid shoes or boots (for example, neoprene “wet-booties”)
- Waterproof watch
Before Leaving Home
- Study your owner’s manual to learn all you can about your boat.
- Inspect your boat and make necessary repairs.
- Steering controls are operating properly
- For hull damage
- Throttle works freely and returns to idle position when released
- Hoses, hose connections and clamps
- Battery and cable connections
- For fuel and oil leaks
- For adequate fuel and oil levels, the sump pump cover and inlet grate for looseness
- Engine cover latches are secure
Check that all safety equipment is aboard and in proper working order.
File a float plan with a close neighbor or friend. Instruct them to alert the Coast Guard or local Search and Rescue if you don't arrive home when expected.
At the Launch Ramp:
- It helps to have someone in the car, and someone at the water.
- Prepare your PWC as much as possible before taking your turn in line. Remove the craft cover. Remove the seat for a few minutes to allow gas fumes to vent. Undo the stern (not bow) tie-downs. Unplug the trailer lights. Make sure the PWC drain plugs are in place. Visually inspect your PWC from bow to stern.
- Be courteous. Wait your turn at the ramp. Don’t rush, but don’t linger longer than necessary.
- Make sure the area is clear before launching. Look for other boats, debris, swimmers etc.
- Be prepared to ride clear of the launch area immediately and to secure the boat away from others.
- Never leave the trailer unattended on the ramp with only the parking brake set.
In the Water
- Make sure you and your riders are wearing the proper gear, including PFDs. Most PWC operators who drown are not wearing a PFD.
- Attach the kill switch safety lanyard to your PFD or wrist. If you fall off, the PWC will come to a stop.
- Before starting the engine, check that the throttle control and handlebars are operating smoothly, and that the steering nozzle turns properly in both directions.
- The engine should be started in at least three feet of water to avoid stirring up the ground or damaging the jet pump. Run your engine for several seconds to get the water out.
- Maintain idle speed for at least 100 yards from shore, until you’re in a clear area.
Rules of the Water
You are required to know and obey the boating Rules of the Water. The rules can be quite complex, and a boating safety course is highly recommended, if not required in Oregon and Washington. Here are some simple guidelines for common encounters with other boats.
Non-powered boats, like sailboats under sail, commercial and fishing vessels all have the right of way.
When crossing paths with another boat (with the exception of those mentioned above), the boat on the right has the right of way. If necessary, slow down to let the boat on your right continue its course, then pass behind it.
When meeting another craft head on, stay to the right so that the other boat passes to your left.
When passing another craft, the boat being overtaken has the right of way. You may pass on either side, but stay well clear of the other boat.
Safe Boating Courses
Take a safe boating course through the Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons. The classes are free or involve a nominal fee to cover the cost of materials. Call the “Boating Courseline” at 1-800-336-2628 for information about a class in or near Portland.