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Are jet skis dangerous? People ask this question all the time, especially beginners.
The truth is that if you learn the basics of riding a jet ski, and if it’s been properly maintained, you can definitely reduce the risks so that you’re not worried every time you ride a jet ski.
However, even experienced riders can cause jet ski accidents, but accidents can also be due to mechanical problems. In a worst-case scenario, the jet ski could explode right from under you. This would be a very rare occurrence, but it is a possibility. It’s more common though for others to crash into you on the water!
Any one of these incidents could cause serious injuries, and even fatalities.
We, at JetDrift, have compiled information on the dangers of riding jet skis, along with the most common types of jet ski accidents and the injuries that can result.
It would certainly help you to have this information so keep reading so that you can lessen your chances of having an accident while riding your jet ski.
The Most Commonly Occurring Jet Ski Accidents
The price tag on a new jet ski can be anywhere from $5,500 to $20,000, you can also keep it at home in the garage, which means you don’t have to pay for the storage.
This goes along way to explain why about 11% of all vessels registered in the United States are personal watercrafts. However, with more people out on the water riding jet skis you cannot ignore the risk of jet ski accidents.
Reports submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard show that 30% of all boating accidents involved jet skis, as well as 36% of all reported boating injuries.
Jet ski riders and passengers have little to protect them should there be a jet ski accident. Add the fact that jet skis are extremely agile, so any crash could result in major injuries. The risks of being injured can be reduced if riders wore helmets and life jackets.
There seems to be a consistent pattern to jet ski accidents, one that involves an inexperienced rider who was found to be at fault. Let’s take a look at the most prevalent types of accidents:
- Two vessels are often involved in a jet ski accident. What typically happens is that a jet ski will either bump into a boat or another jet ski.
- Jet skis are also known for bumping into buoys, buildings, docks and the shoreline.
- PWCs sometimes hit people swimming near the shoreline, causing serious injuries.
- Riders and passengers also get injured jumping waves.
- Accidents occur when riders and/or passengers fall off their seats.
Jet ski accidents are caused by a variety of factors, but certain ones stand out as causing the most.
Typical Causes of Jet Ski Accidents
Unfortunately, operator error is the one thing that most often causes a jet ski accident. What specifically causes the majority of PWC crashes are as follows:
- Excessive speed
- Doing stunts and wave jumping
- Jet ski’s design/mechanical problems
- Inexperienced and/or distracted driver
- Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Dangerous weather or water conditions
- Lack of jet ski safety equipment
Let’s discuss the most serious causes in more detail and add some tips on how you can avoid being involved in a jet ski accident:
Truthfully, many people either rent or buy jet skis because of the thrill they offer, the rush of adrenaline and all the possible tricks you can do on the water. If they weren’t out for the thrill, they’d be just as happy with a kayak or dinghy, which would cost them practically nothing compared to the cost of a jet ski.
Plus, they’re a lot easier to operate and certainly don’t pose the same risks. You can draw a very fine line between someone who has a disciplined yet thrilling style of riding and someone who is just being reckless.
This is why recklessness is what causes most jet ski accidents. When you use excessive speed, it’s reckless and this too often leads to an accident.
You can compare a jet ski on the water to a motorcycle on the roads. They’ve been designed to accelerate fast and get to incredibly high speeds. When you’re going 65-67 mph on a jet ski, you’re having the thrill of a lifetime, but it can also be dangerous.
Going this fast in any type if vehicle or vessel can be dangerous, especially out on the water. A lot of beginning riders claim that they’re most comfortable at speeds of no more than 35-40 mph!
Despite this, a lot of beginners rent 300 HP PWCs and on their very first try, riding at speeds exceeding 65 mph. This is irresponsible and dangerous when you consider that the only training they got came from watching a 5-minute video in the rental shop.
It is comforting to know that some PWCs are now being built with braking systems, but there are still many new models that don’t have them. The truth is that most older models are not equipped with these safety features, and many rental shops are still sending people out on those older PWCs.
It is more dangerous to operate a jet ski without brakes, and the danger is compounded when you have an inexperienced operator. You’re going to have to pray that the operator can maneuver well enough to avoid collisions, or is able to jump off the jet ski before it crashes.
Therefore, it is very important to learn how to operate a jet ski properly.
Inexperienced or Inattentive Driver
Roughly 30% of all jet ski or personal watercraft operators who’d been in an accident told authorities that they had only operated their jet ski or personal watercraft fewer than 10 times before the accident.
The greatly overpowered PWCs get out of control easily, especially when the operator is inexperienced or younger. This is not only dangerous for the users, but for everyone else out on the water. The people most commonly affected are young people who get hurt more often in jet ski accidents. Studies show that the highest rate of these types of injuries occur to young people just 17 and 18 years of age.
Why is there such an abundance of young people riding jet skis these days? They’re easy to rent because every beach town seems to have a jet ski rental shop on every block.
Practically anyone can rent a jet ski because it requires no experience. This is why so many people on vacation are able to go down to the corner rental shop and get set up with a jet ski.
Unfortunately, many renters ignore the instructions because they think they already know it all. Even if you are an experienced rider, always be really careful in crowded areas. In certain designated travel paths like shipping lanes, if you do not obey the rules you can very quickly find yourself in a serious jet ski accident.
Doing Stunts to Show Off
Beginners aren’t the only ones causing jet ski accidents.
Even veteran jet ski riders give in to the temptation to show off and they often perform their stunts before an audience.
But where? Where others can see their performance; in front of other riders or vessels out on the water or close to the shoreline in front of beachgoers (or even in swimming pools!).
Rental shops do what they can to dissuade renters from performing stunts on their jet skis, but a lot of customers pay no attention and get out on the water driving dangerously trying to get their adrenaline rush or impress onlookers. When a rider becomes overly adventurous, people in the vicinity are at risk.
This is especially true if they are doing stunts in swimming areas or they lose control of their jet ski. A speeding jet ski can cause major injuries. There have been situations in which jet skis have shot out of the water and crashed into cars, lifeguard shacks and even beachgoers watching from shore!
Wave jumping is one of the most common causes of jet ski accidents resulting in injuries.
If you search YouTube, you can find tons of spectacular jet ski videos with riders doing huge jumps. After watching these videos, a lot of people think how cool it would be for them to go out and do the same thing.
What is not seen in these videos (like a lot of film compilations of other extreme sports) are the jet ski accidents and the injuries that a single jump gone wrong can cause.
In a worst-case scenario, the rider can easily be thrown off their jet ski after crashing, ending up in the water unconscious and face down:
The best thing you can do to play it safe is to avoid the temptation to try big wave jumps!
Jet Ski’s Design
In some instances, the jet ski itself has been poorly designed and that can cause problems or malfunctions that put riders and others at risk of injury.
Jet skis are generally grossly overpowered and provide riders with much less protection than a boat would. As discussed earlier, many models, older ones especially, do not have brake systems.
Furthermore, unlike autos or motorcycles, jet skis need to be accelerating to make a turn. This is dangerous for inexperienced riders because they can’t turn away from potential danger without accelerating.
How it got the name “jet ski” in the first place is from the water jet shooting out the back that propels the jet ski forward. The water jet goes side to side, which is what steers the machine since it doesn’t have a rudder.
When you stop accelerating, you have little or no ability to steer the jet ski. So, if you encounter an emergency and you’re trying to avoid crashing, you cannot let up on the throttle. If you did that, you would have no way to steer yourself out of danger. Instead, you have to keep up your speed to turn and escape the threat.
Jet ski accidents occur as a result of mechanical problems as well. These can be caused by poor maintenance and even manufacturing defects.
Defective jet skis, either in their design or from manufacturing mistakes, can easily malfunction and cause accidents. Another issue that could cause your jet ski to malfunction is poor maintenance.
This can cause any number of problems, including having your jet ski come to a stop while out on the water. (For such cases it’s good to know how to tow your jet ski properly with a boat or other PWC.) There have even been cases where poor maintenance caused an explosion on the jet ski!
You can play it safe by following the instructions in your owner’s manual, scheduling regular maintenance services and by winterizing your jet ski properly.
Dangerous Weather or Water Conditions
It is extremely unsafe to try riding your jet ski out on the water when the weather looks like it’s taking a turn for the worse.
Heading out there in rough waters can be just as dangerous, especially if the visibility is poor or it’s starting to get dark. Moreover, most states have laws prohibiting jet ski riding from sunset to sunrise, which makes perfect sense. Jet skis are not made to be ridden in the dark!
If you check the weather forecast before heading out and go well before days end, you will definitely lower your risk of an accident.
Driving Under the Influence
Operating a jet ski under the influence of alcohol or drugs is just as dangerous and illegal as it is when driving a car.
Because jet skiing and boating are recreational activities people often think nothing of drinking onboard. They bring along coolers filled with beer and other alcoholic beverages, planning a fun day relaxing with friends and family over a few drinks.
This is often the cause of serious boating and jet ski accidents because the operator is impaired both mentally and physically. Driving a boat or jet ski under the influence is no different than a drunk driver behind the wheel of a car, and it’s illegal.
In many states, the laws governing alcohol use when operating a jet ski or boat are very similar to the laws that apply to driving a car while under the influence. It’s important that you find out what the applicable laws are in your state as well as any rules and regulations imposed by your marina.
Some marinas are set up with bylaws that govern the alcohol consumption of anyone operating a boat or jet ski out of that marina.
No matter what the laws, rules, or regulations are, we definitely do not recommend that you operate your jet ski after you’ve been drinking. Aside from how dangerous this is, it is very unlikely that your insurance company would cover any damages to your jet ski.
Operating a jet ski while under the influence does increase your risks of causing an accident and of being injured, not to mention the fact that you would be putting others at risk as well.
If you’re planning on wakeboarding or engaging in any of the other tow sports, it’s also important that you avoid drinking any alcoholic beverages.
Engaging in Watersports
People have been engaging in more jet ski watersports lately, especially tow sports like tubing or wakeboarding.
There is no doubt that they’re a lot of fun, but you need to know the danger they pose as well.
Remember, your state very likely has laws on the books regulating tow sports, so it’s important that you check the legalities before heading out. You’ll also need the proper safety equipment and some basic knowledge of these popular tow sports.
Lack of Jet Ski Safety Equipment & Accessories
To play is safe you will need some basic safety equipment and accessories, which are also required by law.
The U.S. Coast Guard has categorized personal watercraft as Class A Vessels. As such, all safety equipment and accessories as well as laws of operation that apply to vessels under 16 feet long, also apply to jet skis.
Before launching, there are a few things you’ll need to have on hand for your safety and to comply with the law:
Required Equipment & Accessories
- A life jacket for the operator, each passenger, and the person being towed
- Fire extinguisher approved by the U.S. Coast Guard
- A sound-signaling device approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, like a horn or whistle
- An emergency engine cutoff safety lanyard worn by the operator
- Registration numbers and letters properly displayed as well as validation decals
- Vessel registration on display when requested
- Passive ventilation system
These are all necessary to legally comply with U.S. Coast Guard requirements and are very important for your safety.
How To Avoid Having a Jet Ski Accident
It is always easier to prevent an accident than to deal with the aftermath, so here’s what you can do to avoid having an accident in the first place!
- Understand your jet ski: It’s important that you learn everything you can about how your jet ski works and how to operate it correctly before heading out on the water. Read the owner’s manual from beginning to end!
- Select the appropriate jet ski model: This is especially important if you are just a beginner. You would need an easy to handle model equipped with breaking and reverse systems.
- Properly service your jet ski: If you have your own jet ski it is extremely important that you have it serviced regularly to ensure that it’s being properly maintained.
- Gain experience: To play it safe it’s important that you gain the experience you need before you get out on the water and ride. You can do this at your local jet ski rental shop.
- Wear your life jacket: The most important piece of safety equipment is your USCG approved life jacket. Wear it every time you go out and see that your passengers do as well.
- Additional safety equipment: Aside from life jackets, make sure that you have all the other safety equipment and accessories listed above to keep everyone safe and legal.
- Never drink and ride: Tons of jet ski accidents, just like car accidents, could have totally been avoided if the people involved had not been drinking. Do not indulge in drinking or in drug use when you’re heading out on the water. This could save your life!
- Stop speeding: The PWCs being made today go really fast. Speeding is a factor in so many jet ski accidents, so play it safe and slow down!
- Don’t be reckless: Speeding is bad enough, but when you get out there and recklessly perform stunts you are seriously taking risks. Play it safe and forget the wave jumping and make sure you are not being reckless while driving.
- Avoid bad weather: Make a habit of checking the weather forecast before heading out and make sure there’s plenty of time left in the day before sunset.
- Follow watersport safety rules: Make sure you have all the required equipment and accessories, know all safety rules and make sure you’re prepared if you plan on towing anyone behind your jet ski.
- Obtain a Boating Safety Card: Even if this is not required in your state, you should play it safe by taking the Boating Safety Course so you can pass the exam and get the Card (jet ski license). By taking the safety course you will be safer out on the water and be able to operate your jet ski more easily.
- Drive at a safe distance: If you drive too closely to the shoreline, another vessel or sharks, you are risking danger. It’s important that you maintain a safe distance at all times and that you stay aware of others around you.
- Insure your jet ski: It’s impossible to keep everyone safe from accidents 100% of the time, but if you do get in an accident it’s important that your jet ski is covered by insurance.
Most Commonly Occurring Jet Ski Injuries
Even if you take all the precautions listed above, there will always be some risks of an accident. Therefore, you should know which injuries are typical of a jet ski accident.
Jet ski riders are far more exposed than people on other types of boats, and unfortunately, they are more likely to be going much faster. So, jet ski injuries tend to be quite severe.
Certain types of injuries are more prevalent among jet ski accident victims.
These include traumatic brain injuries, as well as injuries to the neck and spinal cord. If a jet ski collides with another vessel, something submerged in the water or suddenly goes aground, those riding can easily be thrown off the jet ski. When you crash into something at high speeds, you can end up with broken bones and/or brain damage.
If your body hits the surface of the water hard enough you can get a concussion and/or serious whiplash. Passengers who get thrown off a jet ski often get pinned by other vessels, causing severe limb injuries. After a jet ski wreck there are a lot of exposed electronics and engine parts, which can burn or electrocute the people involved.
Obviously, there are various possible jet ski injuries depending on the type of accident. However, the most common fall into three main categories:
- Skin injuries
- Skeletal injuries
- Neurological injuries
Of the three, skin injuries are the least serious. They are typically superficial and cosmetic in nature, maybe some bruising and a little bleeding from wounds. Skin injuries from a jet ski accident can be caused by the rider hitting the water at low speed, the rider hitting the jet ski itself, or another person.
Types of jet ski skin injuries:
- Impact marks
- Small puncture wounds
Jet ski skeletal injuries are a bit more serious than skin injuries from jet ski accidents because they involve bones. Broken bones take a lot more time to mend and you have to be very careful about making the injury worse or creating more problems.
Because jet skis often go so fast, they can potentially be far more dangerous than other PWCs. At such high speeds the force of any impact can break, fracture and/or even shatter bones. Bones in the hands and feet are the ones that most often get broken in jet ski accidents.
Types of jet ski skeletal injuries:
- Broken bones
- Fractured bones
- Shattered bones
The most serious types of jet ski injuries involve the nervous system, so they’re neurological in nature or neuroskeletal. These injuries result from an extremely strong force of impact that disrupts the nervous system.
This could be a head injury, neck or spinal cord injury or all three. The effects could run the gamut from limited mobility to death, with degrees of paralysis and diminished neurological functioning in between.
Types of jet ski neurological injuries:
- Nerve damage
- Broken neck
- Severed spinal cord
- Brain damage
Another item of concern with jet skis is the water propulsion system. When riders fall off or are thrown from a jet ski, the jet propulsion system is so forceful that the water from it can cause major internal and/or orifice damage.
The problem is that the warnings of the risks of riding on jet skis are not emphasized enough, nor are the types of accidents that happen or the resulting injuries warned about enough. There needs to be a lot more instruction given to renters and new owners about these risks and the safety precautions that need to be taken.
FAQs About Jet Ski Accidents
To dispel some doubts, we’ve collected some frequently asked questions and answers about jet ski accidents.
Are jet skis dangerous?
All motorsports are considered dangerous activities and jet skiing is not an exception. Every jet ski can be dangerous if it’s operated by an irresponsible or reckless rider. However, riding a jet ski is still much safer than riding a motorbike.
Why are jet skis dangerous?
Most of the jet skis weigh around 500-1000 pounds while they’re powered with 100-300 HP engines. This means they accelerate fast and can quickly reach 60-70 mph top speed. At this speed, things happen quickly, so probably the main reason why jet skis are dangerous is their high performance.
Can you get hurt on a jet ski?
You can get hurt on a jet ski in many ways, especially if you have an accident. These injuries can range from small strains to even death. That’s why it’s highly recommended you learn how a jet ski works and how to operate it safely.
Which part of the jet ski can cause severe injuries?
The handlebar is one of the parts which can cause serious injuries on a jet ski, as you can hit your chest or head into it after a huge wave jump. Another dangerous jet ski part is the pump itself. This is because if your passenger falls behind the jet ski, the squirting water can be forced into his/her orifices.
How common are jet ski accidents?
According to the U.S. Coast Guard Accidents Statistics, there are around 600-700 reported jet ski accidents in the United States every year. Roughly 90% of all jet ski accidents result in injuries, with 5-6% of these proving fatal.
What is the leading cause of jet ski accidents?
According to BoatUS, the leading cause of jet ski accidents is the operator’s inexperience. Moreover, the majority of accidents are not caused by owners, but by their relatives and friends. That’s why it’s so risky to loan out your jet ski!
Conclusion – Are Jet Skis Dangerous?
As you know now, jet skis can be a lot to handle and dangerous when being operated by someone with little or no experience or someone irresponsible and reckless. Before launching it is very important that you have a good understanding of how a jet ski operates, know how to correctly operate it and that you gain a little experience with an instructor or tour guide.
Along with your life jacket, you should also wear shoes, goggles, gloves and perhaps a helmet for your safety. You also need to have onboard all the legally required safety equipment.
With the knowledge you’ll gain from taking the safety course for your jet ski license, all the necessary safety gear and a cautious riding style you can lower your risks of an accident and jet ski injuries.
If you’re still asking, “Are jet skis dangerous?” you should go to your local rental shop and test one out. Many of these rental shops have special riding areas for beginners. This is a specified area on the water where you can safely ride under the supervision of an instructor.
Another way to start out safely would be to book a guided jet ski tour. With this, an expert guide would ride with you the entire time.
We hope that you found our compilation of the risks of jet ski riding and the types of jet ski injuries that can result from accidents helpful.
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