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

We asked Principal Lawyer and National Head of Public Liability, Dimi Ioannou, about basic jet ski safety guidelines and risks, the differences in Australian safety rules and regulations, and if you require insurance for a jet ski.

What are the risks of driving a personal watercraft?

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 when driving a jet ski?

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 and everyone on board must:

  • always wear an approved lifejacket, and
  • 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.

Two people safely riding a jet ski wearing life vests

What jet ski rules and regulations do you need to know?

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

Jet ski licence laws in New South Wales

In New South Wales, people over 12 who hold a general boat licence can upgrade to a PWC licence to drive a jet ski, but restrictions apply to those aged between 12 and 16.

Jet ski licence laws in Victoria

In Victoria, people over 16 who hold a marine licence can get a PWC endorsement to drive a jet ski. This requires an additional test.

Jet ski licence laws in Queensland

In Queensland, people over 16 can apply for a PWC licence at the same time as, or after applying for, a boat licence.

Jet ski licence laws in Western Australia

In Western Australia, people over the age of 14 can apply for a Recreational Skipper’s Ticket (RST) to operate a recreational vessel – including a PWC – with a motor exceeding six horsepower.

Jet ski licence laws in Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory (NT), you do not need to hold a licence to operate a recreational boat or jet ski. You may, however, be prosecuted if you do not follow NT boat laws so you should familiarise yourself with the local safety regulations.

Jet ski licence laws in Australian Capital Territory

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) does not have a boat licence scheme – to operate a boat or personal watercraft in the ACT, you will need to obtain a licence from another state.

Jet ski licence laws in South Australia

In South Australia, people over the age of 16 who hold a boat licence can operate any type of recreational vessel with an engine – including boats and jet skis.

Jet ski licence laws in Tasmania

In Tasmania, anyone over the age of 17 who holds a boat licence can apply for a PWC endorsement, which involves completing a practical course.

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.

In Victoria, if 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.

Do you need insurance to drive a jet ski?

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, and
  • 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. Before you head out on the water, check the jet ski safety laws in your state to see what your obligations are, and seek out insurance to make sure you’re fully protected.

If you are injured on a jet ski as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. There are strict time limits for these types of claims, so it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Contact us to speak with one of our experienced public liability lawyers about your entitlements.

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We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.