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Other Water Sports Enthusiasts

Always keep a sharp lookout for swimmers while operating your PWC. Remember, glare and the sun make swimmers hard to see. Avoid congested swimming areas. Keep your personal watercraft at a minimal speed (just enough to maintain headway and steering) when you are near swimmers. When launching and landing onto a beach, maintain a low speed even if swimmers are not visible.

Give sailboats and sailboarders plenty of room. Their vessels do not provide as much maneuverability as your PWC. High speed wakes can cause them to veer off course and lose their source of power - the wind.

Often, the vision of sailboats and sailboarders is impaired by the position of the sail(s). A personal watercraft operator who is "heard but not seen" can make even the most experienced skipper or sailboarder nervous.

Be familiar with both the Divers Down Flag and the International Diving Flag (also called the Alpha Flag). Displayed on a boat or a float, either flag indicates that divers are present in an area. Avoid the area surrounding the flag by 300 feet or more. Keep an eye out for air bubbles breaking the surface of the water in the event divers have strayed from the safety of their diving marker.

Divers Down Flag (red flag, white stripe)

Alpha Flag (blue & white) International Diving Flag

Divers Down Flag Alpha Flag/International Diving Flag

Some state regulations permit personal watercraft along coastal areas. In other states this is illegal. Check and understand state and local regulations before taking to the waves. Watch out for surfers. Surfboards are usually not very maneuverable in the water. You have a legal and a common sense responsibility to stay away from surfers and other non-power and less maneuverable vessels and objects. Wave-jumping is dangerous and illegal everywhere. Don't do it!

You will frequently find yourself sharing the water with water skiers. A personal watercraft is more maneuverable than a boat towing a water skier, so it makes sense to stay out of the way. For safety, and to lessen the nervousness of skiers, stay as far away from skiers as possible. Never boat near a water skier. That is dangerous for everyone involved.

Fishermen should also be given plenty or room. On boats or ashore, fishermen usually have lines or nets out which can be damaged by - or damaging to - your watercraft or to you. Some fishermen also feel that noise "scares" fish away. That can cause bad press for PWC users!

If you intend to tow a water skier behind your PWC, there are some important rules of which you must be aware. Most states require that an "observer" must be present aboard the towing vessel. They usually also specify that there must also be room for the skier aboard the vessel. Anything less than a PWC with a 3-person capacity is obviously unsuitable for towing water skiers and even PWC of that size will probably be overloaded when carrying 3 adults - don't exceed your boat's load limits. Remember, a boat's capacity includes the people in the boat and the ones being towed.

Water-skiers

When towing a water-skier, a person on an inner tube or wake board it's important to remember the aggressive pull will have a more destabilizing effect and exert a greater influence over the PWC than a larger craft. Plan your turns and stay clear of other boats and the shore. Instruct the water skier to raise the water ski if they fall. This will be easier to see by you and other boaters. Also, be aware of water-skiers towed by other boats. Some PWC operators have sustained serious injury running into towropes.

Below are some of the hand signals used by water-skiers to communicate with the tow vessel. These hand signals were taken from the U.S. Coast Guard safety web page. Additional water-skiing safety information can be found at: www.uscgboating.org/safety/metlife_archived_9-21-2007/water_ski.htm.

Turn Left hand signal

Turn Left:
This signal can be used by either the observer or the skier to communicate to the other the request to turn left. It is made by extending the left hand straight out to the side. The observer or skier receiving this signal would reply with the same signal if they are in agreement.

Turn Right hand signal

Turn Right:
This signal is similar to the Turn Left signal except the right hand is extended straight out to the right.

OK hand signal

OK:
This signal is used by the skier to communicate to the tow boat that they are OK. It is usually used after the skier has fallen. It is made by the skier extending his arms over his head and clasping his hands together.

Speed OK hand signal

Speed OK:
This communicates that the speed of the tow boat is OK. It can be used by the skier or as a question from the boat.

Back To Dock hand signal

Back to the dock:
This communicates that the skier or boat wants to return to the dock. It is made by the skier or observer moving his hand up and down over his head. The party receiving this signal will return the signal if they are in agreement.

Stop hand signal

Stop:
This signal is used by either the skier or the boat to advise the other that they want to stop for some reason.

Slower hand signal

Slower:
This signal is used by the skier to request that the boat go slower. It is made by extending either hand straight out to the side and pointing the thumb down.

Faster hand signal

Faster:
This signal is used by the skier to request that the boat go faster. It is made by extending either hand straight out to the side and pointing the thumb up.

Retrieval hand signal

Retrieval:
This signal is used by the skier to signal the tow boat that they want to be picked up. It is made by lifting a ski out of the water and holding it over their head.

These signals should be understood and used by both the skier and the observer. It is important for the observer to watch the skier at all times. It is also important that the observer relays requests from the skier to the boat operator and visa versa. The observer must know the meaning of these signals and relay the message to the boat operator or skier correctly.

Boating Guidelines

PWC Guidelines

Other Water Sports

  • It's recommended the ski rope be 75 feet long (your state may have laws that directly address this issue - be sure you know before you go).

  • The water-skier/tuber/boarder must wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD.

  • In addition to the operator, an observer must be in a position to view the progress of the person being towed. An observer is not required if the vessel is equipped with a wide-angle rear view mirror mounted in such manner as to permit the operator of the vessel to observe the progress of the person being towed.

  • Make sure that the skiers/tubers/boarders know the correct hand signals.

  • Check local and state law to determine the age and education requirements of the boat operator and observer.

  • The ski area is not crowded.

  • It is against the law to tow someone ˝ hour after sunset to ˝ hour before sunrise.

Other Water Sports

  • You should not tow a person on water skis, or an aquaplane, or similar device with any personal watercraft smaller than a three- person model, which can hold the operator, the observer and skier.

  • Check local and state law to determine the age and education requirements of the PWC operator and the observer.

  • The skier should wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD.

  • You should know the standard hand signals in order to communicate with the skier and those on board.

  • Be aware that your PWC will handle differently when towing. When towing a skier/tuber/boarder it's important to remember the aggressive pull will have a more destabilizing effect and exert a greater influence over the PWC than a larger craft.

  • Plan your turns and stay clear of other boats and the shore.

  • Be aware of water-skiers towed by other boats. Some PWC operators have sustained serious injury running into towropes.

  • It is against the law to tow someone ˝ hour after sunset to ˝ hour before sunrise.

Paddlesports

Operating a kayak, canoe, rubber raft or drift boat takes special skills and good physical conditioning. The following are important paddlesport safety tips:

  1. Wear a properly fitted PFD. Over the years statistics from the United States Coast Guard have shown that about 87% of all people who drowned in recreational boating accidents could have survived if they had worn a life jacket.

  2. Keep movement in a canoe or kayak to a minimum. Excessive movement can cause a kayak or canoe to capsize. If you must move keep three points of contact. This usually means both feet and one hand or both hands and one foot. Move slowly.

  3. When moving or trying to retrieve something be sure to keep your shoulder within the boats gunwales. When you reach outside a kayak or canoe the boat's stability decreases. It is best to retrieve something using a paddle or some other object rather than reaching over yourself.

  4. Know the waterway. On rivers know where there are rapids or falls. Always scout rapids from shore. On all waterways, know where rocks, strainers or strong currents are located. Always avoid extreme conditions including weather, rapids, distance from shore and fast current situations such as flooding. Do not go on rivers that are beyond your skill level. As a rule of thumb, you should take an additional paddlesport course with hands-on training before going out.

  5. Never boat alone. For a whitewater run, have a minimum of three boats in the party for safety.

  6. Be prepared for cold water by dressing properly and wearing a personal floatation device. Be aware of the effect of cold water, air temperature and wind on your body temperature. Hypothermia is a constant hazard on rivers and open waters.

  7. Avoid alcohol consumption before boating. Analysis of accident data compiled by the United States Coast Guard, for the period 2002 - 2003 suggests that at least 23% of fatalities and 9% of non-fatal injuries resulted from accidents in which alcohol/drugs was a contributing factor. These estimates undoubtedly understate the actual contribution of alcohol/drugs to accidents.

Whitewater rapids are classified by six degrees of difficulty:

  • Class I: Easy

  • Class II: Novice

  • Class III: Intermediate

  • Class IV: Advanced

  • Class V: Expert

  • Class VI: Extreme

Before launching check the weather and river conditions. Be familiar with the river course and make sure you know how to "Eskimo roll" or escape for self-rescue, if you're using a kayak or enclosed-deck canoe. Check the equipment and secure all ropes and gear so it doesn't get in the way or tangles in the brush or trees - or entangle a swimmer if the boat overturns. The lower and closer the load in the boat is to the boat's centerline, generally the more stable the boat will be.

Check any unfamiliar section of the river. Go to the shore and scout rapids. If the rapid is too much of a challenge carry the boat around the obstacles.

Fishermen and hunters often don't consider themselves boaters and thus pay little attention to learning and observing boating safety rules. In a recent survey, half the people who purchased boats claimed they bought them to go fishing. Approximately one-third of national boating fatalities occurred while people were fishing from a boat. Likewise, more hunters die each year from drowning and the effects of hypothermia than from gunshot wounds. Many water-based hunting and fishing accidents occur when a hunter reaches for a decoy, or the boat capsizes from an unbalanced load, or a person falls overboard while standing up.

While PWCs are rarely used for hunting and fishing, when they are, PWCs have the same considerations as other boats. First, it is vital for hunters and anglers to know and follow all the applicable boating laws for the area they are in. As with any other boating situation, hunters and fishermen should not overload their craft and should wear a PFD in good condition while on the water. Also, broken lines, shells and any other trash should be packed out or deposited in a proper receptacle.

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