Recreational boaters share waterways with personal watercraft or may themselves be operators of personal watercraft. Many states and local areas have laws and regulations specific to PWC operation and safety. Boating operators must understand PWC characteristics and regulations in order to boat safely and legally.

PWCs are operated differently from other boats, and each PWC model has its own unique characteristics. PWC operators need to consult their owner’s manual and understand the handling characteristics of personal watercraft. PWCs are highly maneuverable. The jet drive propulsion system is extremely responsive to slight steering turns. This responsiveness in maneuvering can encourage operators to attempt maneuvers that are dangerous and beyond the safe operation of the PWC. Further, some PWCs completely lose the ability to steer when the operator releases the throttle. Newer technology reduces the off-throttle steering loss. Operators must be able to re-board the PWC in deep water after falling off. This is most easily done from the rear (stern) of the craft. This maneuver is more challenging when the operator is tired or hindered by water conditions. A properly used lanyard cut-off switch stops the PWC when the operator falls overboard, preventing the operator from being stranded or the PWC running uncontrolled. Knowing how to effectively handle a PWC takes practice. New operators should practice their skills with an experienced operator who can guide them on controlling the PWC and making safe boating decisions.

A review of boating accident reports indicates that PWCs are involved more frequently in certain types of accidents (collisions with other vessels or hazards). The course will provide information on these common accidents and how to prevent them such as: maintaining a proper lookout when turning (look all around and behind before turning); maintaining a proper distance from other boats and hazards; and making sure that all operators, not just the owners of the PWC, have proper knowledge and skill to operate the PWC.

Personal Watercraft History
For a complete review history compiled by Shawn Alladio please visit this link:

Personal Watercraft Engine
1. Two Stroke
2. Four Stroke
3. Electric Motor

Personal Watercraft Hull Types

There are 5 PWC Hull types or styles. They are divided into categories of size hull, weight loads, and seating capacity. The weight load capacities are not to exceed total weight of passengers, and equipment, including 'wet' gear.

For instance: A 2013 Kawasaki Ultra LX model Jetski has a total weight load capacity of 496 lbs. or up to three persons on board (including cargo).
A 2013 Yamaha SHO model Waverunner has a total weight load capacity of 530 lbs. or up to three persons on board (including cargo).

When we as occupational educators are teaching others about the use, features and functions of personal water craft or RWC use we must use the following instructional guideline:
Refer to the Make-Model-Year of Production of the personal watercraft for reference materials. All Rescue Water Craft are not the same.

1. Stand Up
One person who stands, or kneels in a tray with a handlepole that pivots upward and downward. Some of the older stand up models do not have 'lanyard cut off switch' type of devices. Instead when an operator is separated from the vessel, the PWC or as some people refer to it (slang) as 'ski' will circle at an idle speed either to the right or left. Oftentimes the vessel will shut down or the operator will need to swim to the watercraft. On occasion the handlebars may be in a straight position and the PWC may continue onward instead of in a circle pattern.

Common names for Stand Up: Superjet (Yamaha), Jetski (Kawasaki), Hydrospace (Austrian brand four stroke stand up).. There are also hybrid or custom designed hulls for freeride (surf riders) that are not related to major OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) brands. Older brands that are not longer produced but may be in use are Thunderjet models.

Shawn Alladio riding in the surf on a Yamaha Superjet 601cc stand up two stroke water craft. Photo courtesy of David Pu'u.

2. Sport
1-2 persons on board. These type of watercraft are no longer sold in the United States, but they are sold elsewhere in the world. Mainly due to the lack of physical conditioning of the operators whom were not able to re-board these small power craft. Common names for Sport: Yamaha Waveblaster, BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products) HX, Kawasaki X-2

3. Runabout or Sit Down
A three person runabout or sit down type of Personal Watercraft.
Common names for runabouts: Kawasaki Ultra LX, Yamaha Waverunner HO, BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products) GTi

4. Sport Utility Vessel (SUV)
The Sport Utility Vessels are no longer being produced. They failed to reign in the higher performance oriented customer. However, with the advent of fishing being one of the number one sales use for personal watercraft we may see a resurgence in these units. They are wider, longer and have more storage capacity.
Manufacturer's were Yamaha, BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products), and Polaris. (Polaris a US company ceased production in 2004)

5. RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) SAR Model
BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products)
NOTE: There is only one OEM occupational production designed Rescue Water Craft as of April 2015:

BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products)
Search and Rescue (SAR): Features dual sponsons (Hypalon), heavy duty front bumper, hull coating, night navigation lighting and the highest weight load capacity offered. This RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) has set the standard for occupational PWC vessel use. Being the first of it's kind is in relationship to the growing demand globally for these unique power boats becoming the standard in close quarter, confined space and surf operations for search and rescue purposes for occupational use.


Rescue Water Craft - RWC
Personal Watercraft is the recreational terminology used for PWC's when addressing the name of the vessel. For the purposes of occupational use in some circles the vessel description has been changed to 'Rescue Water Craft' or RWC to separate the name from an operational recreational mindset to professional conduct.

RWC Training at Morro Bay, Calfiornia Photo Courtesy of David Pu'u

In 1996, a USMC Force Recon Marine, Vincent McLeod was tasked to find a lifesaving solution. Vincent introduced Rescue Water Craft into the United States Military. He employed Shawn Alladio to provide a project outline and the program was tested, vetted and scrutinized for approval. The US Military special waterborne divisions have been using RWC's for 19 years as of 2015.

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USNavy Task Force Protection training, student is rotating off a 11 meter RHIB to trade places for the next trainign evolution. Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i. Photo courtesy of K38 Water Safety, Vessel type Yamaha Waverunner GP 1200 -2 seater craft, 2 stroke

The RWC platform has enabled military instructors to better serve their training elements especially during surf passages at night to ensure the safety of their personnel. These Instructors use them as safety vessels utilizing rescue board towable devices attached to the stern deck of 3 seater capacity Rescue Water Craft using a 3 point attachment rigging system.

RWC night operation training for the USMC Marines at Camp Pendleton, California. Photo Courtesy of David Pu'u. Vessel type: Kawasaki Jetski 15-f 3 seater craft

Personal watercraft were not designed for night usage recreationally. Only a few states allow PWC's to be operated after dark using approved navigational aids. For the purposes of patrol, surveillance and SAR however with highly trained operators and in specified conditions night operations are a vital part of law enforcement, military usage and SAR capabilities. Night Operations training has lead to an increased level of expertise in some locations and conditions. These boats are able to maneuver in tight quarters and confined spaces. Chem Lights (glo-sticks), Night Vision Goggles (NOG's), waterproof helmet lights affixed to water safety helmets are advised. It is NOT advised to use white beam lights on the forward section of a RWC. The movement of the craft and mist off the surface of water creates a strobe effect or a white out effect causing loss of night vision and creates a hazardous risk to the operator and craft. Likewise it is not advised for shore based support teams to aim a bright light to the surface of the water, but side shore. (Note: K38 training practices)

In the State of California Night Operations are legal for public safety agency certified personnel:
As of January 1, 2015, marine patrol officers, harbor patrol and other emergency personnel are allowed to operate PWCs during night time hours. See link for language. 2nd sentence in section D.

DIVISION 3. VESSELS [399 - 786]
( Division 3 enacted by Stats. 1937, Ch. 368. )

CHAPTER 5. Operation and Equipment of Vessels [650 - 774.4]
( Heading of Chapter 5 amended by Stats. 1970, Ch. 1428. )
ARTICLE 1. Operation and Equipment [650 - 674]
( Article 1 added by Stats. 1959, Ch. 1454. )

(a) A person operating a personal watercraft equipped by the manufacturer with a lanyard-type engine cutoff switch shall attach the lanyard to his or her person, clothing, or personal flotation device, as appropriate for the specific vessel.
(b) No person shall operate a personal watercraft equipped by the manufacturer with a self-circling device if the self-circling device or engine throttle has been altered in any way that would impede or prevent the self-circling device from operating in its intended manner.
(c) Every personal watercraft shall, at all times, be operated in a reasonable and prudent manner. Maneuvers that unreasonably or unnecessarily endanger life, limb, or property, including, but not limited to, jumping or attempting to jump the wake of another vessel within 100 feet of that other vessel, operating the personal watercraft toward any person or vessel in the water and turning sharply at close range so as to spray the vessel or person, or operating at a rate of speed and proximity to another vessel so that either operator is required to swerve at the last minute to avoid collision, is unsafe or reckless operation of a vessel.
(d) A person shall not operate a personal watercraft at any time between the hours from sunset to sunrise. This subdivision does not apply to marine patrol, harbor police, or emergency personnel in the performance of their duties.
(e) This section does not apply to a performer who is engaged in a professional exhibition or to a person who is participating in a regatta, race, marine parade, tournament, exhibition, or other event sanctioned by the United States Coast Guard or authorized by a permit issued by the local entity having jurisdiction over the area where the event is held.
(f) Any violation of this section is an infraction.
(Amended by Stats. 2014, Ch. 54, Sec. 5. Effective January 1, 2015.)

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Rescue Water Craft are using in rivers, flood situations and swiftwater. RWC operators need to have a thorough understanding of swifwater training prior to operating a RWC in these conditions. Pre-requisites of Swiftwater Technician Level I & II or an equivalent are required for operator, passenger and vessel safety. Vessel type Kawasaki Jetski 15-f 3 seater , four stroke

Rescue Water Craft or RWC's are commonly referred to as Personal Water Craft or PWC's. This is the recreational terminology. For the purpose of occupational duty work we define these unique small power craft as 'Rescue Water Craft'.

  • Work in shallow waterways/zones
  • Work inside and outside of surf zones
  • Open Water
  • Swiftwater
  • Flood conditions
  • Calm water operations
  • Lifeguarding/Lifesaving
  • Homeland security-surveillance
  • Air deployment from fixed wing aircraft or rotary
  • Towsurfing (recreational)
  • Marine life studies, monitoring and recovery
  • Fisheries (recreational/occupational)
  • Disaster management
  • Debris removal
  • Mass waterborne evacuation using ancillary towable devices during flood stages
  • Aquatic habitat maintenance
  • Special events-officiating/umpires/referees
  • Search and rescue
  • Film/Media platform
  • Law enforcement
  • Rehabilitation for Wounded Warriors and physically challenged
  • Scientific studies, geographic/surveys
  • Organized competitions
  • Safety use for various specialized recreational events
  • Note: Variables apply to safety and water/weather/debris/hazards, type of RWC employed, set up and training/experience capabilities of crew or staffing.

Rescue Water Craft Can Have the Following Limitations

RWC’s are fundamentally designed as recreational watercraft and is not specifically designed as a rescue or patrol vessel. Use caution to operate a RWC in a manner consistent with the scope of training, operator qualification, and manufacturer recommendations must be observed at all times.

  • Weight Capacity (Up to 530lbs on 3 person capacity 2002+ models, we will overload)
  • Can capsize or sink/flood engine or storage compartments, lose/break/damage seats or hoods/latches
  • Limited equipment storage capacity, weight restricted
  • Limited crew capability
  • Operator lack of knowledge of situational awareness of craft efficiency and safe operations (Human Error)
  • Limited on board deck space for crew and patient(s)
  • Rescue board device changes trim capacity of vessel dynamics
  • Has a maximum towing load depending upon towed vessel size and environment
  • Has a specified underway range in transits due to fuel usage and weight load
  • Danger if operators and crew are not properly trained, outfitted and vetted
  • Risk exists if vessels are not properly maintained or retired when need be


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Technical Boat Operation Training around rock pile at Kuki'o Resort, Hawai'i with ocean surge. Students are practicing bow and stern manuevvers into the currents and slow speed operations. Photo Courtesy of Kanalu K38. Vessel type Kawasaki Jetski 15-f, four stroke

Rescue Water Craft can be used in the following waterways due to their hull designs and jet pump technology. These vessels are highly maneuverable and can navigate where traditional vessels cannot operate due to certain conditions:

  • Open Water
  • Surf line/Impact Zone (6-8 Foot Wave height maximum)
  • Shallow Water Habitats
  • Flood Control Channels (seasonal conditions apply)
  • Swift water (scale of difficulty rated in classes)
  • Lake or pond
  • Special Use-amusement parks, movie sets (man made facilities)
  • Floods (flushing, standing or receding)

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Rescue Water Craft are ideal close to the water contact support boats. They are often used to retrieve persons or recreational equipment from the waterline using a rescue board. Photo courtesy Shawn Alladio-k38. Vessel type Honda Aquatrax four stroke. (ceased production in 2009)