PWCs – Highly enjoyable but potentially perilous

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PWCs (personal water craft) or jetskis provide some of the best fun to be had on water and everyone should try it at least once in their life. However, each year sees too many terrible accidents ensue from irresponsible operation of PWCs and it is something that needs to be addressed. Heed these few guidelines for a safe and enormously fun experience when jetskiing.

The amount of PWCrelated mishaps in South Africa has been dramatically reduced already, largely owing to new legislation put in practice in 2009 which requires anyone wanting to operate a PWC to have a Certificate of Competency – essentially a skipper’s license for a jetski. In order to obtain a certificate, you have to be trained by a SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority) authorised agent as well as complete a written test and these certificates need to be obtained for operation of your PWC in offshore as well as inland waters. Also, anyone under the age of 16 or someone learning to jetski should be under the constant supervision of an authorised SAMSA agent or a skipper that has been accredited for training by such an agent.

These new regulations have made a significant impact in cutting back annual PWC accidents in South Africa, however, avoidable accidents still happen, and they’re mostly down to non-compliance, inexperience, recklessness, alcohol misuse, and showboating – so to speak.

The feeling of exhilaration and freedom one experiences when ripping across the water on a high-powered jetski is absolutely incredible and this excitement might sometimes cause us to throw caution to the wind, do silly speeds and make unnecessarily sharp turns. But, unless you have sufficiently mastered the art of riding a PWC and are on a stretch of water far from other water users and obstructions, don’t! Accidents happen too easily and you’re not always able to spot a swimmer at those kinds of speeds, let alone an obscured sandbar.

It only takes about 10 minutes to learn to ride a PWC and this breeds unfounded confidence which inevitably leads to high speeds, braggy manoeuvres and subsequent accidents. It takes far longer to master a PWC, and speed, extravagant tricks and sharp turns should be kept to a minimum until such a time. This needs to be impressed on the beginner by whomever it is that instructs them in the first place.

It may feel like a quad bike but this particular quad doesn’t have the brakes you’re used to. Some of the latest PWCs do have braking systems but most older models and even some new do not, and this takes some getting used to – especially seeing as you will need to use the throttle instead. You must use your throttle to accelerate while turning away from whatever obstruction you may be heading towards, be it a swimmer, log, sandbar, dock, etc. Letting go of the throttle means you lose your steering as the rudder relies on the jet propulsion for steering, and you will end up colliding with the obstruction.

It is features of the PWC such as these that need getting used to and which can’t be learnt in 10 minutes. Even if the PWC does have brakes, you will need time and practice to determine the appropriate stopping distance you’ll need before deciding to go tearing across the lake. Take a look at the manual and learn exactly how the craft works before you get on it. Be especially aware of how much distance you will require to stop when carrying passengers on your PWC!

Also, you will need to learn the ‘rules of the road’ before setting off. First rule about a PWC: you don’t have the right of way, ever! In essence, motor-powered boats give way to sailboats as well as to other non-motorised craft such as canoes and kayaks, and, the shorter and more manoeuvrable your powerboat, the lower on the pecking order you are. In other words, never assume someone will give way for you; always be the fi rst to take evasive action when you’re on a PWC.


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