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Personal Watercraft Laws

Author / Coordinator: Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben
March 2007

The popularity of personal watercraft (wet jets, wave runners, sea dogs, jet skis) has exploded over the last several years. Unfortunately, along with this popularity has come a dramatic increase in injuries.

Minnesota Laws

ALL personal watercraft are considered motorboats. Thus, laws that govern any other motorboats also apply to personal watercraft. The following is a summary of current Minnesota laws regarding personal watercraft:

Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft is required to wear a Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III or V life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).

  •   It is unlawful to operate a personal watercraft while intoxicated.
  •   Personal watercraft may be operated between 9:30 a.m. and one hour before sunset.
  •   Nothing greater than a slow, no-wake speed (lowest speed necessary to maintain steerage but not more than five miles per hour) is legal at any time within 150 feet of any shoreline, swimmer, dock, raft, any anchored or moored watercraft, or non-motorized watercraft.
  •   If a person is being towed on any device, including water skis, there must be a second person on board the personal watercraft to serve as an observer unless the personal watercraft is equipped with factory specified or installed rearview mirrors.
  •   If the personal watercraft is equipped (by the manufacturer) with a lanyard-type engine cutoff switch, it must be attached to the person, life jacket or clothing of the operator when operating the machine.
  •   A personal watercraft may not be operated if any portion of the spring-loaded throttle system has been removed or tampered with so as to interfere with the return-to-idle system.
  •   You may not travel through emerging or floating vegetation at greater than slow no-wake speed.
  •   It is illegal to chase or harass wildlife.
  •   It is illegal to operate a personal watercraft in a manner that unnecessarily or unreasonably endangers life, limb or property.
  •   It is illegal to weave through congested traffic or jump the wake of another watercraft within 150 feet of the other watercraft, including other personal watercraft.
  •   All personal watercraft must display valid registration decals and registration numbers on both sides of the forward half of the machine.
  •   The watercraft license card must be on board at all times while the craft is in use.
  •   All personal watercraft with an enclosed engine must carry a fully charged, readily accessible, Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher.

Who Can Legally Operate a Personal Watercraft in Minnesota?

  •   Under 13 Years Old
    NO person under the age of 13, even with an adult on board, may operate a personal watercraft.
  •   Age 13
    13 year olds who operate a personal watercraft without an adult on board must have a watercraft operator’s permit (permits are available through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) and must be in visual supervision of someone at least 21.
  •   Ages 13-17
    13-17 year olds may legally operate a personal watercraft without a watercraft operator’s permit if accompanied onboard the craft by someone at least 21.
  •   Ages 14-17
    Any person at least 14 years old, but less than 18 years of age, may legally operate a personal watercraft by him/herself, regardless of horsepower, if the individual has a valid watercraft operator’s permit.

It is unlawful for the owner of a personal watercraft to allow it to be operated in violation of the above listed age restrictions.

Please note: The above list of laws is simply a summary of the actual State of Minnesota Laws pertaining to personal watercraft. Keep in mind that any additional regulations that govern other motorboats also govern personal watercraft. For more information, contact:

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Boat & Water Safety Section
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4046
1-800-766-6000 (Greater Minnesota toll free)
651-296-5484 (TDD)
1-800-657-3929 (toll free TDD)

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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