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It’s jet ski season: stay safe, know the law

It’s not even summer yet but watercraft season is already in full swing. If you head to just about any body of water in Florida, odds are you’ll see it packed with people enjoying the high-speed thrills that come with riding personal watercrafts.

Personal watercrafts (PWC) – like the Kawasaki Jet Ski and the Yamaha WaveRunner – are definitely exciting, but they can also be very dangerous. This was the case when tragedy struck near the Courtney Campbell Causeway in early May. According to ABC Action News, Alberto Portales Fernandez was recklessly driving his jet ski when he collided with another jet ski driver, Helen Gore.

Witnesses told reporters Fernandez flew into the air after hitting Gore, who was idling, and was hit by his craft as it crashed back down. Fernandez did not survive the accident, and Gore passed away in the hospital a short time later.

Accidents like this don’t need to happen. The first and best way you can keep yourself and other safe while enjoying your PWC is to know and uphold Florida’s personal watercraft regulations.

How to stay safe

When you’re out on the water with your friends and family, remember these regulations:

  • Wear a life vest – If you are driving, riding or being pulled behind a PWC, you must be wearing a non-inflatable, wearable, personal flotation device.
  • Attach your cutoff switch – If you are driving a PWC, make sure that your engine cutoff switch is attached to you, your clothing or your life vest.
  • Ride in the light – Riding in the dark may seem exciting, but it is the law that you may not operate your PWC a half hour after sunset or a half hour before sunrise, even when using navigational lights.
  • Drive safely – This this such a simple rule, but so many people ignore it: drive safely. Weaving between vessel traffic, jumping off another vessel’s wake, swerving at the last moment to avoid collision, driving backwards in your seat; these are all not only dangerous, they are first-degree misdemeanors in Florida.
  • Observe age limits – You must be at least 14 years old to legally operate a watercraft in Florida. It is a second-degree misdemeanor for an adult of at least 18 years old to knowingly allow someone who is underage operate a PWC.
  • Have your ID – If you were born on or after January 1, 1988, and are operating a vessel with a 10+ horsepower motor, you must have successfully completed a boating education course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, a course equivalency or temporary certificate examination and have your boating education ID, plus a photo ID.

There are tens of thousands of personal watercraft accidents each year in Florida alone. They result in dozens of avoidable injuries and deaths and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Keep yourself, those around you and your ride out of harm’s way this summer. Drive safe!

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