Think Twice Before Loaning Out Your Jet Ski or Waverunner
February 18th, 2019
Texans own nearly 600,000 boats, putting the state at number six nationally. Getting out on the water can be a relaxing and refreshing way to escape the Texas heat. But, ensuring that boats and personal watercraft (PWC) are operated by qualified boaters is critical. Although the state mandates boater education for operators born after September 1, 1993, inexperience accounts for a significant percentage of Jet Ski accidents.
What is a PWC?
Texas Parks & Wildlife defines a PWC as “a type of motorboat that is specifically designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling ON the vessel rather than INSIDE the vessel.” Some of the most common PWCs include Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and Waverunners.
What Makes PWCs Dangerous?
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, more than 1/3 of all boating injuries occur on PWCs. Several factors contribute to the higher risk associated with PWCs, including:
- PWCs can make sharper, faster turns than most boats
- The rider can more easily be thrown from the vessel
- Most PWCs lose steering capacity when the throttle is released to slow the vessel
PWCs also face some of the same safety challenges as boats. Since neither boats nor PWCs have brakes, it can take hundreds of feet to stop these vessels. That’s particularly problematic for a PWC operator, who may have to choose between slowing the vehicle as quickly as possible and re-engaging the throttle to regain steering capability.
However, one of the most significant risk factors has less to do with the vessel itself than with the way PWCs are perceived by their owners and others. While few people will hand an inexperienced friend the keys to a speedboat, Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and Waverunners appear more manageable and less dangerous. That perception often leads to poor decisions about who is allowed to hop on a Jet Ski or other PWC and take off. And, while giving a friend the wheel on a boat often involves the owner standing by in case of emergency, many inexperienced riders take off on PWCs alone.
Inexperienced PWC Riders Cause Accidents
Seaworthy magazine studied insurance claim data for PWC crashes and other boating accidents and revealed this surprising statistic: Only 18% of PWC-related insurance claims involved the owner of the vessel. Friends of the owners accounted for more than half of all PWC accident claims, and siblings another 29%. An older study from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that nearly half of those injured while operating a PWC were operating a PWC for the first or second time.
Mandatory Boater Education in Texas
Texas requires boater education course completion for anyone operating a PWC, powerboat, or windblown vessel more than 14 feet in length. However, that requirement applies only to operators born after September 1, 1993, which means that operators currently in their mid-twenties and older may operate PWCs and other watercraft without completing the education course. Even those who don’t make the cut-off may be exempt from this requirement under certain circumstances, such as when they are operating the vessel on a private body of water.
In addition, the education course may be completed online and a certificate printed after passing a test. Unlike drivers of cars, trucks, motorcycles and other motor vehicles, PWC operators are not subjected to hands-on testing. In fact, one may complete the course and receive a Boater Education Card without ever having been on a boat.
First and foremost, don’t loan your Jet Ski, Sea-Doo, or Waverunner to a friend who doesn’t have the training or experience to handle it. And, don’t assume that you’ll be able to manage a new PWC or one belonging to someone else just because it looks easy when your friend is out on the water. New riders should, at a minimum:
- Complete the boater education course, even if it isn’t mandatory
- Start out in unoccupied water, to avoid potential hazards and the need to navigate around other vessels
- Start slowly—some PWCs have “beginner keys” that control the speed of the craft, but if the one you’re operating doesn’t, use your own judgment to keep speed low.
When an inexperienced rider injures someone else while operating a PWC, the operator may be liable for the harm caused to the other person and his or her vessel. But, the responsibility may not stop there. An owner who hands over the keys to an unqualified or inexperienced operate may share that liability.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.