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Minnesota Personal Watercraft Laws

Author / Coordinator: MN DNR
March 2007


Many boaters in Minnesota enjoy the exciting sport of riding personal watercraft (PWC). These speedy little craft now make up over four percent of registered boats in the state.

Although the number of personal watercraft accidents is declining, inexperienced riders still seem to account for many mishaps. They may not be aware of the unique handling characteristics of PWC or the special laws that apply to these craft.

Collisions are the most common kind of personal watercraft accident. PWCs collide with swimming rafts, and other watercraft. How do you avoid a collision on your personal watercraft?

Keep your throttle depressed while turning. Many PWC operators heading towards a hazard panic and release the throttle or pull the cutoff lanyard, causing the engine to stop. HUGE MISTAKE! When the engine stops, the water jet that propels and steers the craft stops and the craft continues in the same direction it was moving at the time the power was cut, regardless of any attempts to steer by the operator. The simple message is; In order to turn, even in an emergency, you must keep the throttle depressed.

Don ’t ride too close to other boats especially other personal watercraft.

Make gradual turns. Turning too sharply can cause you to spin out and stop, giving any boat following you ample time to run you down!

Look before turning. If someone is in the process of passing you, you could turn right into them.


Every personal watercraft operator has the legal responsibility to know the law, so please take a few minutes to review the following regulations.


A personal watercraft (sometimes called PWC or by brand names such as Jet Ski, Wave Runner, Sea Doo, etc.) is defined by law as a boat powered by an inboard motor powering a jet pump or by an outboard or propeller driven motor and is designed to be operated by a per-docks, son sitting, standing or kneeling on the craft, rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside a motorboat.

Personal watercraft are considered motorboats under the law so they must follow all the regulations that govern other motorboats. In addition, personal watercraft…

  • Are required to have a rules decal (provided at no charge by the DNR) in full view of the operator.
  • Operators and passengers must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (life vest).
  • Are required to carry a USCG approved fire extinguisher.
  • Must travel at slow-no wake speed (5 mph or less) within 150 feet of: shore (except when a PWC is launching or landing a water skier by the most direct route to open water), docks, swimmers, swimming rafts, any moored or anchored watercraft, or non-motorized watercraft.
  • While towing a person on water skis or other device, must have an additional person onboard to act as observer. Wide-angle rearview mirrors may be substituted for an observer but they must be factory-installed or specified by the PWC manufacturer.
  • Cutoff lanyards must be properly used and attached to the person, life vest or clothing of the operator.
  • May only operate between 9:30 am and one hour before sunset (see sunset schedule).

You may not …

  • Chase or harass wildlife.
  • Operate while facing backward.
  • Operate in a way that endangers life, limb or property.
  • Operate a personal watercraft if the spring-loaded throttle mechanism has been removed or tampered with so it interferes with the return-to-idle system.
  • Weave through congested watercraft traffic or jump the wake of another craft within 150 feet of the other boat.
  • Travel through emergent or floating vegetation at greater than a slow-no wake speed.


Contact the MN DNR at the address at the end of this pamphlet for home-study materials for a youth watercraft operator ’s permit.

It is unlawful for a PWC owner to permit its operation in violation of the age restrictions.
(See chart on next column.)


Personal watercraft dealers are required to distribute a summary of the laws governing PWC operation. Upon request by a purchaser, they must also provide instruction regarding the laws and safe operation of the craft.

People who provide PWCs for rent must also provide a summary of the personal watercraft laws and instruction for the safe operation of the craft.

PWC dealers and rental operations are required to keep a signature record of people who buy or rent PWCs, acknowledging they have been provided a copy of the PWC laws and rules. People under the age of 18 who rent PWCs must show their watercraft operator ’s permit before renting a PWC and the rental agency must record this information on the signature record. Rental operators must also supply a U.S. Coast Guard approved life vest to everyone who rents a PWC as well as all other required safety equipment (fire extinguisher, etc.) at no additional charge.


There are some other pieces of gear that can make your outing more comfortable such as:

  • Eye protection. Sunglasses with a safety strap or goggles can help protect your eyes from wind, spray and insects.
  • Footwear. Soft soled shoes or water socks will help protect your feet from sharp rocks, ease boarding and help you lean to steer.
  • Wetsuit. A wetsuit is much more effective than thin bathing suit material at protecting you from cold water, as well as what safety experts call “severe lower body orifice trauma ” that results from a seat-first water landing at 40 mph.


Keep the neighborhood peace and quiet in mind. Try not to ride for long periods in a small area. Instead, do your riding out in the lake and away from shore and other boaters.

Talk to your neighbors. See if your riding bothers them. Sometimes, just taking them out for a short ride will help them understand the fun of personal watercraft riding.

Don’t modify your machine or do anything to make it louder. It ’s illegal and discourteous to others around the lake.

Steer clear of illegal drugs and alcohol. Intoxicated operation of a watercraft is not only illegal, it ’s also highly dangerous.

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