How to ride a jet ski with a child: an essential safety guide


A lot of kids will absolutely love the idea of going on a jet ski with a guardian. In some cases, you might notice that they are overexcited, and you might be too. During this excitement of taking your child on a jet ski with you, it is vital to keep in mind all safety precautions. So, let’s take a look at how to ride a PWC with a child.

When taking your child on a personal watercraft, they must never sit in front of the driver. It is best if they sit between two adults or behind the driver. Children younger than 12 years old may not drive a jet ski, and children between 12 and 15 may operate a jet ski if supervised by someone older than 18.

I don’t want this article to scare you away from the idea of taking your child with you on a jet ski. Jet skis are great fun for kids and adults. However,it would be best if you did so responsibly, and in this article, I cover things you need to know.

Can Children Drive a Personal Watercraft?

Depending on the child’s age, different rules apply. Children above 15 years old can drive a jet ski. Most states require that people who operate any motorized watercraftt have license. So, be sure to check the laws of your state.

Children between the age of 12 and 16 can drive a PWC. However, they may or may not be able to do so unsupervised. This depends on the regulations of your state. Children under the age of 12 may only be a passenger on a PWC.

To sum everything up, children under the age of 16 may not operate a jet ski or a boat unsupervised. They can ride as long as they are accompanied by someone over the age of 18 who can legally operate a PWC.

Where Should Your Child Sit on a two-seater jet ski?

On a normal two-seater, your child should sit behind you. They should constantly have their arms around you. It may be tempting to have them hold on to the back of the jet ski, but it makes it easier for you to know if there are any problems when they hold on to you. See my personal story near the end of this post.

Try and teach them not to pull or push on you out of excitement. Instead, the child should find a safe spot to hold onto on your life jacket.

No passenger should ever be seated in front of the driver. It can be dangerous for both of you. Obviously, this applies to children and adults. Even if you can see over your child, there are risks involved. Making a sudden evasive move with the handlebars becomes harder with someone in front of you. You may misjudge a wave, and the rider can hit their face on the bars or dash.

Where Should a Child Sit on a three Seater watercraft?

If there are two adults on the Jet Ski and one child, the child should be seated in between the two adults; this is the safest way of riding a jet ski and if you do want to take your child out on the water, having two adults is advisable although we know it is not always possible.

Again, remember the driver must be seated in the front. If a wave might knock you back, you don’t want the child’s head to hit the driver. In an event where you get knocked forward, the last thing you want is for a child to hit their head on the handlebars.

Riding with a Child on a PWC: Wear the Right Lifejacket

The most important thing about getting a life jacket on your kid is to make sure that it fits appropriately. I know that this does apply to everyone, but for your kids, you want to take extra precautions. A life jacket should be snug, but it should never restrict any movement.

You also get different life jackets, and you want one with a bit of a pillow at the back for younger kids. Not only will this give them extra support on the jet ski, but if they end up in the water, it also helps the child face upward, which, in an emergency, can be critical. As prepared as your kid may be, you don’t know how they will react in a panic or if mildly injured.

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Infants Should Not Ride on a PWC

It is recommended that you not take children under two years old with you on the jet ski. If your children are between 3 and 7 years old, you need to think about how they will handle being on a jet ski, and it is up to you to decide whether or not it is a good idea.

Even if there are two adults on the jet ski, you still want to consider leaving the infant behind. If the passenger has to hold the child and hold on to something else, this could quickly overwhelm the passenger if something were to go wrong. So, it is just a good idea to keep that in mind.

What If a Child Goes Overboard on a PWC?

If your child falls into the water, hopefully, there are two adults on the jet ski. The job of the driver should be to kill the engine immediately. The passenger should look for any traffic or potential hazards and then get into the water to get to the child. While this is going on, the driver should always keep an eye on the child and not take your eyes off them.

If there are only two on the ski, cut speed immediately and brake if your ski has them. Then quickly check surroundings for other boats and craft. Once it looks safe, circle back to the child’s spot, approaching them slowly. Pull alongside then cut the motor. Although jet ski propulsion comes from a propeller deep in a tube (an impeller), there are moving parts for steering, speed and brakes that can still cause injury when the ski is running.

Once the ski and passenger are back together, have the child climb back on from the rear if possible. Many modern skis have a fold down step in the rear for exactly this use. Your second option is to have the child climb the side of the ski while you shift weight towards the other side to maintain balance of the ski. You can still assist them by pulling. The life jacket is a great place to grab and tug to prevent elbow and wrist injuries, especially in younger kids.

Once the child and the passenger get back to the jet ski, help them get back on board and carry on with your jet skiing. It is essential to remember that if you are in the ocean, there could also be hazards lurking in the water, and in cases like this, you want to make sure that you keep your eye not only on any threats above water but also below the surface.

Take Your Child on a Safe Boating Course

If you know that you and your child will be going on a jet ski, it could help both of you if you go on a boating safety course, even if you have already been on one. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for you and your child to bond, but it also teaches them how to act as a passenger and you to act as a driver.

They will learn valuable information on the boating course, such as keeping their hands away from any propellers or intakes. Among everything that you as a driver will learn, you will be taught what to do in the case of an emergency. Most importantly, you will be taught how to avoid emergencies. You can also help them by reading my article How to Ride a Jet Ski as a Passenger: 11 practical tips.

It helps to have someone on shore, another jet ski or boater

I know that this is not always possible, but if you can, you should always have an extra set of eyes and ears. Be sure that they know that they should keep their eyes on you at all times. Or you can jet ski in a group, which can help prevent getting lost and can help if someone needs assistance.

I’ve told this story elsewhere here, but several years ago my kids and I rented Waverunners in the Bahamas. My son was old enough to drive but my daughter rode with me. After our 30 minutes of fun, I headed back to the beach.

When I got back and handed the ski to the owner, he asked if I had fun. Of course! I’ll never forget the next question: “uh, didn’t you have a passenger with you when you left?” Why yes, yes I did. Wonder where she is. Our view was blocked by a large rock, so I stood there for a minute wondering what to do and contemplating my failures as a parent. A few seconds later, my 15 year old son came around the rock with his sister on the back of his ski.

Apparently I had dumped her off the rear a few hundred yards off shore around the bend. I never even felt her fall off. Luckily we had a second skier with us following but not too closely and off to the side. He picked her up on his way back in. If you’re a parent, you already know the rest of the story. 14 year old girls aren’t “forgive and forget types.” And 15 year old boys love to give their dad hell.

So I still hear about this one 10 years later. And I suspect I’ll eventually hear it from grandkids. I’m a generational legend, but only as an example of what not to do! But all of us had life jackets, which are mandatory. My kids were both championship caliber swimmers. But even then, life jackets are mandatory. You never know when an injury will happen as you fall off the ski, preventing you from swimming or staying on surface.

If you want to be extra cautious, you can equip them with everything they would need in the case of an emergency, such as emergency numbers.

Conclusion

Hopefully, I have answered any questions you may have had about taking your child on a jet ski. Also, hopefully, now you can take your child on a jet ski and do so safely without leaving one in the middle of the ocean like your humble author.

Remember to bookmark this page and keep it as a reference and maybe read it one more time an hour or two before going on the jet ski. Or if you want to show your friends what bad parenting looks like!

Seriously though. Stay safe, get out there and have fun.

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding, with wakeboards and kitesurfing the next challenges for my adult kids. Click the photo for a lot more.

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