By Peter Byron
For the Express

There are probably very few people on the lake who do not have an opinion about ‘jet-skis’. The numbers and types of the vessel officially called a ‘personal watercraft’ or PWC has multiplied over the years. Each version offers something new and exciting. Although they share regulations with other motorized vessels, there are a few differences. Let’s get everyone set for a safe summer.
What is a Personal Watercraft?
A personal watercraft (PWC) is defined in New York State navigation law as: “a boat which uses an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of motive power and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on, …. rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the boat.” Two important features: (1) jet pump propulsion and (2) the operator sits or stands on the machine rather than in the machine. Now we know what it is.
What Makes the PWC Move?
The water jet pump causes the water entering the boat to exit with power or thrust into the water. The handlebar helps to direct the stream of water and the direction of the PWC. Without the water stream, the PWC will continue as our NYS Safe Boating manual says: “in the direction it was headed when the throttle was released.” It might be a good idea to practice before you need to avoid an obstruction on the lake.
What Should I Take With Me?
The operator of the PWC must carry a NYS Boating Safety Certificate (no one under the age of 14 can operate a PWC without someone over the age of 18 with them who has a boating safety certificate). Everyone on the PWC must wear a personal flotation device (PFD), in good condition, in the correct size and approved by the USCG. An inflatable PFD will not satisfy the requirement.
In addition to the above, the operator should have (1) PWC boat registration certificate, (2) sound producing device (how about a whistle connected to the PFD?), and (3) USCG daytime visual distress device (flag or visual distress signal). Might want to add a fire extinguisher but it is not required on the Great Sacandaga.
Now, you can attach the engine cut-off switch to your PFD and put your shades on.
Why Doesn’t the PWC Have Navigation Lights?
There may be multiple reasons for the lack of lights but the first and foremost is that the PWC may not operate between sunset and sunrise. Adding lights doesn’t change the requirement and operating in the dark in such a low profile vessel is dangerous and foolish. Please spread the word.
Why Do Some People Have a Less than Positive View of PWCs?
PWCs are great. They allow the operator to explore the waterways either slowly or more than slowly depending on conditions. A PWC is relatively easy to operate and provides a great backdrop for pictures.
All boat operators have to be aware of their neighbors both on the water as well as on shore and may not operate their vessel recklessly. New York State has three actions specifically defined as ‘reckless operation’ for PWCs: (1) weaving through congested traffic; (2) jumping the wake of another boat at an unreasonably close distance or when visibility is obstructed; and (3) swerving at the last possible moment to avoid collision (playing “chicken”). PWCs are prohibited within 500 feet of a swimming area unless the opposite shore is closer than 500 feet, or when launching or returning to the launch. (New York State Safe Boating: A Course on the Safe Operation of Boats and Personal Watercraft 2009)  
Every ‘Captain’ of a personal watercraft has the ability to maintain, improve or destroy opinions about the PWC. Be courteous to your fellow boaters, watch your wake, enjoy your time on the water and help everyone become positive about PWCs.
The Great Sacandaga is great because of its panoramic views and for its variety of coves, landings and water stretches. It is also great because it is large enough to welcome many types of watercraft. Although we can’t explain everything about PWC operation in a short article, we invite you to continue your education through reading, courses and practice on the water.
Catch you on the water

Peter Byron holds a USCG Master License. He provides NYS Boater Safety classes on the Great Sacandaga for the Great Sacandaga Lake Association and is a founding partner of NAV-ED Services Group.NAV-ED Services Group is approved by the USCG to offer local courses and examinations for Captain, Master, License Renewal (NMT 100 Gross Tons), Assistance Towing, and Auxiliary Sail. Captain Byron can be contacted through