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Is a Jet Ski a Boat? Understand the Laws That Apply!

Is a Jet Ski a Boat? Understand the Laws That Apply!

Is a jet ski a type of boat? We hear this question quite a lot from beginners.

They not only want to know how a jet ski (PWC) works, but they also want to know which laws and regulations apply to them before they start riding!

If you are thinking about renting or buying a jet ski, you likely want answers to these questions as well.

To make it easy on you, we at JetDrift have compiled all the relevant facts, regulations and laws and have them right here at your disposal.

Is a jet ski a boat?

What exactly is a jet ski or PWC?

A jet ski is a small personal watercraft (PWC) that has an inboard jet drive to give it propulsion. It’s operated by one person who is sitting, kneeling or standing ON, not inside the vessel. They often come with additional seats for passengers.

These small watercrafts are among the most popular types of boats now being seen on the water. Although the fun factor is high, and the hassles and costs relatively low compared to boats, jet skis should not be thought of as just a toy.

They have a unique design and propulsion system that allows them to be highly maneuverable on the water. It is critically important that the operator know exactly what they’re doing and have respect for the PWC’s abilities. An inexperienced or reckless operator can end up causing very serious accidents!

This is why we emphasize the importance of learning how to operate a jet ski safely and properly, before heading out on the water!

Is a jet ski a boat?

If you are wondering whether a jet ski is a boat or not, you can rely on the designation given in the U.S. Coast Guard’s regulations. The USCG designates personal watercrafts (PWCs or jet skis) in the category of inboard vessels that are less than 16 ft. in length.

Because of this they must comply with the same Coast Guard standards and regulations as all the other powerboats in the same category, which means they must keep safety equipment on board.

While jet skis are considered boats and subject to the requirements and laws of boats, there are also specific laws that apply to jet skis, which vary between states.

This is why it’s important to find out what the laws are in your state before you go out onto the water. There may also be additional local regulations in your locality, so you need to check for those too.

Here is a list of the USCG operation requirements for jet skis:

Legal Requirements for Operation

Personal Watercrafts are classified as type A motorcraft, and must comply with the following U.S. Coast Guard requirements:

  • All jet skis must have a marine-rated fire extinguisher on board and be equipped with marine-rated emergency signaling devices as well.
  • All jet skis need to be legally registered in that state and display their registration number. State guidelines must be followed regarding specific regulations.
  • All jet ski operators must comply with the limits set by the manufacturer in terms of capacity for people and equipment. Every jet ski comes with a capacity plate attached that spells out what you may carry. You can find additional information in your owner’s manual.
  • All jet ski riders must wear life jackets. A Coast Guard approved life jacket that fits properly must be worn by all riders for their safety.
  • Local laws in your area may require that you take a boating education course to get a jet ski license before you begin operating your jet ski.

Additional Safety Gear That Should be Seriously Considered

  • Protective Eye Gear: Water spraying into your eyes can impair your vision. Wrap-around glasses or goggles provide the best eye protection.
  • Foot Protection: By wearing shoes or boots you will have the traction you need.
  • Gloves: Gloves will help you keep a tight grip on the controls in a wet environment.
  • Wetsuits: A wetsuit will keep you warm and comfortable in cold water. A properly fitting wetsuit can protect you if you fall off your jet ski into the water.
  • Helmet: Head and neck injuries are common in jet ski accidents. Wearing a helmet along with a high-impact life jacket equipped with a neck brace would greatly reduce the level of injury from a high speed impact.
Again, because the laws vary state-to-state, you need to find out what the laws are in your state before operating your jet ski.

Aside From the Legal Designation

Aside from the legal designation, you may be wondering whether a jet ski can function as a boat or not.

The answer is yes, jet skis can be used as boats to a certain extent. However, there are some things you’ll need to compromise on if you choose a jet ski over a boat.

The main issues you’ll be dealing with is the lack of space for passengers and the limits on weight capacity.

At first, jet skis were more like small water toys. But over the years they’ve become larger and larger, so now they can comfortably accomodate 3 people.

What this means is that you can take up to two passengers with you riding, which is a lot less than you can fit on a boat. There is also a lot less storage space for accessories and gear.

Because jet skis are more nimble than boats, they are more prone to capsizing and this happens more frequently when riding with passengers.

In spite of the compromises, today’s jet skis really can be an alternative to a boat since they can easily be used for touring, jet ski fishing, wakeboarding and even tubing.

Furthermore, a jet ski offers many advantages over a boat, like lower owning costs and purchase price, smaller size and weight.

Overall, there are a lot of pros to owning a jet ski as well. If you’re not sure which model to buy, you may want to consider a jet ski boat converter like the Sealver Wave Boat.


Is a jet ski considered a boat? Now you know that the U.S. Coast Guard designates jet skis (personal watercrafts) in the category of inboard vessels that are less than 16 ft. in length, as boats.

And remember that jet skis are subject to the very same requirements and laws of all other vessels, as well as some that are specific to jet skis only!

Make sure you know all the applicable laws and regulations before hitting the water so you’re legal and for your safety.

You can research the laws and regulations on the USCG’s website, and it would definitely be wise to take a boating safety course, even if it isn’t required in your state. Additionally, you should have insurance on your jet ski as well.

Aside from the legal designation, you can use a jet ski for many of the same things you use a boat for, although there are pros and cons on both sides.

If you want to see the new 2020 jet ski models, you can discover and compare them with each other in our browser and comparison tool!Related Artilces:Jet Ski vs. Boat: 4 Key Factors to Consider Before BuyingJet Ski Wakeboarding: 4 Key Pros and Cons of Tow SportsJet Ski Fishing Guide: Tips, Models and AccessoriesSealver Jet Ski to Boat Attachments—————* Disclaimer: “Jet Ski” is a registered trademark of personal watercrafts manufactured by Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. However, the term “jet ski” is already genericized and often used universally to refer to any type of personal watercraft. As this is the most commonly used term by the public and the media for personal watercrafts, in this educational article, the term “jet ski” refers to any type of personal watercraft (PWC) in general, regardless of the manufacturer and model.