Personal Watercraft Anatomy Expert Article

In this article, the maritime experts at Robson Forensic provide an introduction into the anatomy of a personal watercraft, as well as some of the operational issues that are commonly central to cases involving PWCs.

Personal Watercraft Expert

Personal Watercraft

According to US Coast Guard statistics, Personal Watercraft (PWC) were associated with 764 injuries and 44 deaths in 2011. The Marine Practice Group at Robson Forensic frequently investigates and reconstructs incidents involving PWCs; including issues related to operator actions, Rules of the Road, safe operating distance/speed, and proper lookout.

PWC Anatomy

PWC Anatomy

PWC Operation

PWC Configurations - PWCs exist in three main styles or configurations: 1) stand-up, 2) sit-down sport class (one or two people), and 3) sit-down three or four person. The stand-up style carries only one person who stands while operating the vessel, while the sit-down styles have seats for one to four people.

Handling/Maneuverability - PWCs are propelled by the thrust of a jet pump. The pump draws water into the housing and forces the water in a stream out through a steerable nozzle at the rear of the pump housing. When the handlebars are turned, the nozzle directs the stream from side to side turning the craft. If the engine is not pushing the jet of water, there will be no thrust to steer the craft. Without throttle, PWCs have no steering and no way to avoid obstacles.

Unpredictable Heading – The speed and agility of PWCs contributes to the thrill of operating these vessels, but may cause uncertainty for other boaters, especially if PWCs are not strictly following the established Rules of the Road.

Avoid a Collision - The Rules of the Road include the actions to take when encountering another vessel on the water. Some of the most common situations are: overtaking, meeting head on, and crossing the bow of another vessel. In each case, one boat is designated as the “give-way” vessel and is required to yield to the other boat, while the other boat, designated as the “stand-on” vessel, should maintain its course and speed.

Low Visibility - The shallow draft design of PWCs allows them to be operated in shallow waters and close to shore, but can also make them difficult for other vessels to see, particularly when dead in the water.

Certifications - Certification requirements vary from state to state and may require that PWC operators complete coursework and maintain a certificate of boating safety on their body.

Our experts can speak to PWC operation and Rules of the Road as they specifically apply to your case.

Featured Experts

Arthur Faherty, Marine Engineer & Mechanical Expert

Arthur Faherty

Marine Engineer & Mechanical Expert
Arthur is a marine engineer and mechanical expert with over forty years of professional experience both at sea and ashore. He applies his expertise to personal injury and economic loss claims… read more.
Bartley J. Eckhardt, Marine & Mechanical Engineer

Bartley J. Eckhardt, P.E.

Marine & Mechanical Engineer
What better expert for matters relating to marine and industrial engineering than a Merchant Mariner who's versed in ship design and operation, who co-authored the U.S. Navy Towing Manual, and… read more.


View All Articles

Personal Watercraft Safety

By Michael Gerard
Expert Article

30% of all boating accidents in the United States involve Personal Watercraft (PWC). According to the NTSB, in 84% of these accidents, the operator was inexperienced and had not received education or…

See & Be Seen: Tips for Small Boats on Crowded Waters

By Bartley J. Eckhardt
Expert Article

Collisions between non-powered recreational watercraft (kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, etc.) and faster, wind or motor powered vessels can be catastrophic for passengers in the slower vessel. Any…

Visibility Factors in Small Boat Collisions Research

By Bartley J. Eckhardt
Expert Article

This study examined powered craft operators’ ability to identify a kayak under differing visibility conditions. The kayaker was either wearing a dark PFD or a fluorescent shirt over the PFD, and…