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Why Are There So Many Jet Ski Accidents? And How Can They be Avoided?

Many people choose to go jet skiing when they come to Florida, but unfortunately, Florida jet ski accidents are more common than you think. When you think of Personal Watercraft (PWC), otherwise known as a Jet Ski, you think of fun, fast and loud…but what about crash? According to the United States Coast Guard (USCG), PWCs have a higher rate of collisions than any other type of boat and there are several reasons why.

A PWC is a vessel as defined by the USCG and subject to all the same rules and regulations as a 40-foot power cruiser. It could be that, due to it’s quirky handling characteristics, a PWC might require more experience.

Handling Characteristics

The claim files show that nearly 70% of PWC collisions are with another vessel, the majority of which are other PWCs. Inexperienced operators who are not familiar with judging speed and distances can suddenly find themselves on top of another boat (like other boats, PWC’s don’t have brakes and can take up to 300 feet to stop from 60 mph). PWC’s have several handling characteristics that make them completely different from most boats and take some skill to master.

Common Types of Collisions and Off-Throttle Steering

One of the most common types of collisions is caused by PWC’s inherent lack of steering whenever water isn’t being shot out of the stern. There is no rudder. Some newer models have devices that assist off-throttle steering, but the boats still have very limited slow-speed maneuverability and nearly no maneuverability at high speeds when the throttle is suddenly closed.

What is Off-Throttle Steering (OTS)?

PWCs generate their power by pulling water in through the impeller and pushing it out through the nozzle. The stream of accelerated water that moves through the nozzle also provides the steering ability for the vessel. A PWC will continue on the same course-even if the steering wheel is turned-once the throttle is off. Unlike operating a power-driven vessel-where slowing down or turning off the engine and steering through obstacles is advised-a PWC can maintain its steering ability only with the throttle applied. You must apply the throttle and steer away to avoid obstacles-once you release the throttle, you lose the ability to steer the craft.

Note: newer PWCs are equipped with off-throttle steering capabilities.

A study by the state of Florida showed that accidents due to lack of off-throttle steering is the second most common type. Typically, an inexperienced rider releases the throttle to try to avoid another boat, a dock, or a person in the water, and looses the ability to turn. Tapping the throttle is one way to regain steering, but it also increases speed (and severity of accidents) and must be practiced. In a few claims, a collision occurred because the engine died at slow speeds, rendering the steering useless. PWC engines must be serviced routinely and allowed to warm up before taking off.

PWCs are able to turn much sharper and faster than a typical boat and the forces generated by such maneuvers can throw a passenger or even the operator into the water. Smacking into the water at high speeds can cause serious injuries. For this reason, every state requires PWC riders to wear approved PFDs and most require safety lanyards that shut down the engine if the operator is thrown off.

Steering Loss as a Contributing Factor

With some models reaching 250 horsepower and speeds up to 70MPH, a personal watercraft can coast about a hundred yards in the direction it was traveling after the throttle has been released.  What compounds the danger of steering loss is the fact there are no brakes available while coasting.  According to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 24% of the accidents associated with personal watercraft have cited loss of control or steering loss as a contributing factor.  In Florida where there are a high number of personal water recreation vehicles used, the number is far higher making it the second cause of accidents.


According to the US Coast Guard, PWCs are involved in 30% of all reported boating accidents. And 36% of all boating injuries take place on PWCs. PWC collisions result in more injuries and deaths than any other type of PWC accident. And, unlike all other types of boats, PWC operators are more likely to die from blunt-force trauma than from drowning. Most often, riders strike another boat due to inattention, excessive speed, or loss of control. The collisions typically throw the rider and passengers off the boat, often resulting in broken limbs, sometimes from simply striking the water at high speed (Claim #9608267) Broken teeth and noses are common injuries after being in a collision, usually after striking steering bars.

According to the 2018 report – July sees the highest number of accidents with 120 accidents, 87 injuries, seven fatalities on PWC.

Florida Regulations

Florida has several regulations that try to curb personal watercraft accidents, but these regulations cannot ensure everyone is driving safely. In Florida, the operator of a personal watercraft must be over fourteen years old, and if someone wants to rent a personal watercraft they must be over eighteen. Also, it is illegal for someone to knowingly let someone younger than fourteen drive a jet ski in Florida. Every driver must have a cutoff switch attached to his or her person so the jet ski powers off if the driver falls into the water. Driving a jet ski a half hour before or after sunrise or sunset is illegal, as is weaving through boat traffic. If you weave through traffic on a jet ski in Florida, you are committing a first-degree misdemeanor.

If you’ve been the victim of a boating or PWC accident caused by another’s carelessness, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Instead, put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve.

Joe Zarzaur, founder of Zarzaur Law, P.A., a Pensacola Personal Injury law firm, has created this blog in an effort to educate the many citizens and visitors of Pensacola, Florida about their legal rights. Joe Zarzaur knows the ins and outs of Florida law, and offers friendly-quality legal help whether you have experienced an auto accident/car wreck, have been a victim of medical malpractice or are in need of a personal injury lawyer. For more information, visit:

11 E Romana Street
Pensacola, FL 32502
Telephone: 850-444-9299