Jet ski safety: what you need to know this summer

Skimming across the water in a jet ski is one of the most entertaining ways to enjoy the summer. In some ways, however, a jet ski is like any other vehicle, which means there are plenty of safety regulations to remember.

What are the risks?

You need to be aware of hazards when you’re on the water, whether you’re riding on a lake, river or ocean. Pay attention to your surroundings. A jet ski (also known as a personal watercraft or PWC in some states) is a powerful machine, so if you hit a swimmer the results could be tragic.

It's also important to keep a clear distance from other jet ski operators, motorboats and vessels such as yachts and kayaks.

In a recent case, a jet ski operator was having such a good time he didn’t notice a boat reversing in his direction. Unfortunately, the jet ski driver ended up losing a leg, and both he and the owner of the boat are now caught in a legal battle over damages.

What are your obligations?

The number one priority for jet ski operators should be safety. Firstly, let someone know where you’re going every time you head out, and secondly, review and practice your emergency procedures regularly.

Jet ski owners should conduct a check of safety equipment when planning a trip. Each jet ski should carry a waterproof buoyant torch. Everyone on board must:

  • always wear an approved lifejacket
  • know what safety equipment is on board, where it is stored and how it works.

You also need to carry an emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, if you’re more than two nautical miles off the coast.

What are the rules and regulations?

Jet skis are vehicles, so they need to be registered. In most cases, you also need a licence to operate them. However, it’s not one size fits all. Just like road laws, jet ski laws change depending on your state.

In New South Wales, people over 12 can drive a jet ski if they have a PWC driving licence, but restrictions apply to those aged between 12 and 16. A PWC driving licence is a specific licence that includes a general boat driving licence. If you hold a general boat driving licence, you can upgrade to a PWC driving licence.

The rules were recently changed in Victoria. People aged between 12 and 16 are no longer able to get a restricted marine licence and ride a jet ski. From age 16, jet ski drivers require a marine licence with a PWC endorsement, which requires an additional test.

In Queensland, PWC operators need to have a recreational marine licence and a PWC licence.

In Western Australia, any skipper of a registered vehicle powered by a motor greater than six horsepower (HP) needs a Recreational Skipper’s Ticket. Restrictions apply to people aged 14 to 16.

Before you set off, check your local laws for where you can and can’t use your jet ski. There will be restrictions on where, when and how fast you can ride, depending on the circumstances.

What if something goes wrong? 

Responsibilities differ from state to state. For example, in Victoria, owners must report any injuries or accidents to Maritime Safety Victoria, and penalties apply if they don’t.

If Victoria Police have reason to believe that a vessel has been involved in committing a relevant offence, Maritime Safety Victoria and Victoria Police can direct a vessel not to operate in state waters.

There isn’t any authority that suggests licensing bodies would be held liable if any injury occurs.

It's best to familiarise yourself with the relevant laws in your own state.

What about insurance?

There’s no legal obligation to take out insurance for a jet ski unless you’re a training provider. However, safety authorities such as Maritime Safety Victoria do recommend that jet ski riders take out insurance.

Personal watercraft insurance may cover:

  • accidental damage to your jet ski when caused by an accident with an uninsured party
  • injury to you or your passenger when caused by an accident with an uninsured party
  • theft or attempted theft of your jet ski
  • third-party damage to other vessels.

The insurance policy terms and conditions are important. You may not be covered, for instance, if you lend your jet ski to a friend and they don’t carry the correct licence.

Using a jet ski can be great fun, but it’s also a responsibility. Check the laws in your state to see what your obligations are, and seek out insurance to make sure you’re fully protected.

TOPIC: Public safety

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Dimi Ioannou

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Dimi Ioannou is a Principal Lawyer and Practice Group Leader at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in charge of the firm’s Public and Product Liability team in Melbourne. Dimi is an accredited specialist in personal injury law. Dimi works in the area of public liability and represents clients in a wide range of consumer law litigation involving different product liability claims. Dimi also represents families at coronial inquests, acting on behalf of the families of those who have died as a result of negligence, and she is a senior member of the firm's national sexual and institutional abuse compensation team and has a particular interest in bringing claims for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She is specially trained in trauma informed practice which ensures she works with clients to access justice in a way that recognises the complex trauma they have suffered. Dimi has also represented hundreds of road accident clients who have lodged compensation claims with the Transport Accident Commission. Dimi is passionate and committed about defending the rights of her clients’ entitlements. She knows that the legal world can be daunting, therefore, makes the process as easy as possible for those she is advocating on behalf of. She has provided legal advice to many Maurice Blackburn clients and has been active in litigation in both the County and Supreme courts. She also advocates in many forums for the rights of those who have sustained serious injuries. “We’ve been helping clients for almost 100 years at Maurice Blackburn, and public safety is something I take very seriously. It’s important that people know they are protected if something goes wrong through the negligence of someone else and I pride myself on achieving a just outcome for those affected”. Dimi speaks fluent Greek and is actively involved in Melbourne’s Greek community. Accreditations & memberships Law Institute of Victoria Accredited Personal Injury Specialist Australian Lawyers Alliance member Law Institute of Victoria Public Liability Committee member Law Institute of Victoria Litigation Lawyers Executive Committee member  Leadership program, Mt Eliza Business School, 2014  ...

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