What is a personal watercraft (PWC)?

The official definition of a PWC varies from state to state, but they are generally recognized as a vessel which uses an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of motive power. The vessels are designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling. PWC are manufactured by BRP (Sea-Doo®), Kawasaki (JET SKI®), and Yamaha (WaveRunner®).

Who rides PWC?

Many people are surprised to learn that 99 percent of all PWC sold today are multi-passenger vessels, with three-seat models making up the vast majority of sales. These are purchased by families who want to spend a day together on the water and have found PWC to be affordable, approachable, easy to store, transport and maintain. The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment 2000, coordinated by the USDA Forest Service, reports that 20 million Americans enjoy PWC each year.

How many PWC are there?

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reports that 39,400 PWC were sold in the U.S. in 2013. The majority of all PWC sold today include 4-stroke engines. NMMA estimates that there were approximately 1.1 million PWC in use in the U.S.

What about PWC emissions?

Some anti-access groups cite a study that compared an unregulated, older-technology PWC with a regulated 1998 model car, which is an apples-to-oranges comparison. With the introduction of new engine improvements such as catalysts, direct injection, and four-strokes, marine engine manufacturers have achieved up to a 90 percent reduction in hydrocarbon and NOx emissions. 

New technology has enabled PWC models to meet EPA's 2006 marine engine standards years ahead of schedule, placing these vessels among the most environmentally friendly motorboats on the water today. Today all PWC manufacturers offer models with four-stroke engines.

Lake Tahoe — which has the strictest environmental requirements in the country — welcomes the use of more than 30 models of direct-injection and four-stroke personal watercraft because they are uniquely environmentally-friendly.

How is the safety record of PWC?

According to U.S. Coast Guard figures, over 99 percent of PWC are enjoyed accident-free every year. A recent report published by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the NOAA Coastal Services Center cites, “There is little data or evidence to suggest that PWC are inherently more dangerous than other recreational vessels.”