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Personal Watercraft - What you need to know!



Montana has SWC requirements.

Personal Watercrafts (PWC) are also known as jet skis.

As PWC owner you should become familiar with how to operate your boat and the boating rules and laws. A personal watercraft is a motor boat. You must follow the same rules and equipment requirements as other boaters.



Youth 13 and 14 years of age must have a motorboat operator's certificate if an adult is not on board the PWC. An adult (18+ years) must accompany youth 12 and younger.


A PWC may not be rented to anyone under 18 years of age.

Life Jackets

Anyone operating or riding on a PWC must wear an US Cost Guard approved life jacket (type I, II, or III). Read the label to ensure your life jacket is suitable for wearing on PWC. A life jacket marked for use when water skiing or riding a PWC is desirable due to its high impact rating.


Many PWC have a lanyard cord connected to the start/stop switch. The PWC will not start unless the lanyard is attached. If a PWC has a lanyard, it must be attached to the operator's wrist or life jacket. If the operator falls off, the engine automatically stops, allowing the operator to swim to the PWC and reboard.

Fire Extinguisher

One US Coast Guard approved class B-I fire extinguisher must be onboard the PWC.


PWC must be registered at the County Treasurer's office and display proper numbers and decals. Decals expire December 31 each year.


Avoid an Accident


PWC are capable of quick acceleration and are highly maneuverable. PWC do not have breaks. To avoid collisions:

  • Avoid tunnel vision and maintain a proper lookout by watching ahead, to the sides, and behind your PWC.
  • Always look before turning and avoid sulien changes in direction.
  • Take a boating course and become familiar with safe boating rules.


If a PWC is used to tow a person on water skis, kneeboard, tube, or other device, there must be an aliitional person on board the PWC to act as an observer or "spotter." A PWC will likely operate differently while towing so allow for more time to maneuver your craft.


PWC operate using a jet pump system- water is drawn into the pump and then forced out a nozzle that pushes the craft forward. PWC do not have an external propeller or rulier. This makes them safe to reboard if the operator falls off. Unlike powerboats, a PWC can only be steered when the throttle is engaged. To maintain steering control, the pump must be pushing water. If the engine is allowed to idle or is shutoff during a turn, the PWC will continue in the same direction as it was moving at the point of power loss, regardless of steering. Releasing the throttle to avoid a collision will result in a loss of steering control.


PWC Don't have brakes! Some PWC are equipped with "reverse." Do not shift into reverse while running forward and never use reverse as a brake. To do so could cause you and your passenger to be violently ejected forward onto the handlebars or even off the craft onto the hazard.

PWC Ethics

Noise Annoys!

Noise from PWC


Excessive speed is dangerous. Follow posted speed regulations and be aware of NO WAKE areas. "No wake" means there is no "white" water in the track or path of the PWC. "No wake" areas are marked with signs or buoys and are found near marinas, docks, and boat ramps.


Noise carries farther on the water. Ride well away from the shore and vary your operating area often during your ride. Avoid using PWC in the evening or early morning--the times when others enjoy peace and quiet. Never modify the PWC engine or exhaust if the result is more noise. Excessive noise from PWC is one of the fastest ways to make them unpopular with others who enjoy the water.

Watch for other recreators

Stay a football field away from others (200 ft = 70 yards)

Distance away

It's often difficult to judge distances on the water. A good rule of thumb is to stay a football field distance away from other recreators.


Keep a sharp lookout for swimmers, as they may be difficult to see. PWC must stay 200 feet away from swimmers in the water.

Sailboats, canoe, kayaks, rowboats

Give these boats plenty of room; they are not as quick or maneuverable as PWC. PWC must stay 200 feet away from these vessels, or travel at No Wake speed if closer.


Watch for divers and know what their flag looks like. PWC must stay 200 feet away from the "diver down flag."


Give anglers plenty of room. On boats or ashore, anglers usually have line out which can be cut or damaged by PWC operating too closely. Stay away from people who are fishing.

Driving Rules

Know how to pass


Operating a PWC is like driving a car, except there are no brakes and the road signs look different. Boats under sail and non-motorized boats always have the right-of-way over PWC. In Montana, PWC must stay 200 feet away from these vessels.


When two boats meet head-on, each must alter course to the right to avoid collision.


When crossing paths with another motorboat, the vessel on the right has the right-of-way. It must hold its course and speed. Slow down to let the boat on the right continue its course, and then pass behind it.


A boat being overtaken has the right-of-way. It must hold its course and speed. The passing boat must keep out of the way of the the overtaken boat.

Wake Jumping

It's illegal to cross or jump the wake of another boat when within 100 yards of the vessel (or anything being towed by the vessel). Never weave through congested traffic or operate in a manner that could put yourself or other in danger.

Sharing your PWC

Know your liability of sharing.

PWC rider.

Ask these questions before allowing anyone to ride your PWC:

  • Is the person legally old enough to operate the PWC?
  • Does the person know how to operate the PWC? (This includes steering, gas reserves, starting/stopping, safety lanyard, and reboarding.)
  • Does the person know the rules of the road on the water?
  • Does the person know the laws for slow, no-wake areas and safe distances from other boaters and swimmers?