Personal Watercraft Law

The N.C. General Assembly enacted a personal watercraft law that took effect Dec. 1, 1999. On June 30th, 2000 this law was amended. Below is a summary of the law:

Who Can Operate a PWC?

  • Anyone 14 years of age or older  can operate a PWC if they meet one of the following requirements::
  •          - they have successfully completed an approved boating safety education course (proof of age and safety course completion must be carried during operation)

             - they are riding with a person who is at least 18 and is in compliance with the Boating Education Requirement  Law (G.S. 75A-16.2)

  • It is unlawful for the owner of a PWC to knowingly allow a person younger than 16 to operate a PWC unless they have first completed an approved boating safety education course.
  • It is unlawful for anyone who has temporary or permanent responsibility for a person younger than 16 to knowingly allow that person to operate a PWC unless they have first completed an approved boating safety education course.

    PWC Operation

    • No one can operate a PWC on state waters between sunset and sunrise.
    • All PWC riders, passengers and those being towed must wear approved personal flotation devices.
    • If the PWC is equipped with a lanyard-type engine cut off switch, the lanyard must be worn by the operator at all times.
    • A PWC must have a rearview mirror or an observer on board besides the operator to legally tow someone on skis or similar device.
    • PWCs must be operated at all times in a reasonable and prudent manner. Maneuvers that endanger people or property constitute reckless operation.
    • No person shall operate a personal watercraft on the waters of this State at greater than no-wake speed within 100 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, a dock, pier, swim float, marked swimming area, swimmers, surfers, persons engaged in angling, or any manually operated propelled vessel, unless the personal watercraft is operating in a narrow channel (see below).
    • No person shall operate a personal watercraft in a narrow channel (see below) at greater than no-wake speed within 50 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, a dock, pier, swim float, marked swimming area, swimmers, surfers, persons engaged in angling, or any manually operated propelled vessel.
    • No person shall operate a PWC towing another person on water skis or similar device unless the total number of persons operating, observing, and being towed does not exceed the number of passengers identified by the manufacturer as the maximum safe load for the vessel.

    Reckless Operation Includes:

    • Unreasonable or unnecessary weaving through congested boat traffic.
    • Jumping the wake of a vessel within 100 feet of the vessel or when visibility is obstructed.
    • Intentionally approaching a vessel in order to swerve at the last moment.
    • Operating contrary to the "rules of the road".
    • Following too closely (see below) to another vessel, including another personal watercraft.

    Renting PWCs

    • No one shall rent a PWC to someone under 16 unless that person meets the conditions in the section "Who Can Operate a PWC?"
    • A minimum of $300,000 insurance must be carried on each PWC that is rented to the public.

    Narrow Channel

    • A "narrow channel&quot: means a segment of the waters of the State 300 feet or less in width.

    Following too Closely

    • The term "following too closely" means proceeding in the same direction and operating at a speed in excess of 10 miles per hour when approaching within 100 feet to the rear or 50 feet to the side of another vessel that is underway unless that vessel is operating in a narrow channel, in which case a personal watercraft may operate at the speed and flow of other vessel traffic.