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PWCs: A Rethink on Enforcement

PWCs: A Rethink on Enforcement

Like many boaters, our observations of the common jet skiers are that they often ride flat out at breakneck speeds, and they ride around in circles creating chopping conditions for themselves and passersby, all of which looks as though they could become very bored in a short time if they don’t have a plan or a destination for the days travel.

As a boater, I am prejudiced against these personal water craft (PWC). While I personally have not experienced any run-ins or close-call accidents that are often described by local boaters, the truth is, when a jet ski crosses my path, the speed they travel scares the hell out of me.

I have a PWC license obtained at least 15 years ago, and I owned two early model stand-up style jet skis in the 1990s. But since then, my only exposure to the sit-on style PWC has been the occasional blast on a mate’s machine, or a few minutes rental at a resort in S.E. Asia, which I cannot clearly recall.


To better understand modern PWCs and the local experience, I signed up with local company, Jet Ski Safaris, for their 1.5-hour ultimate Jet Ski adventure to South Stradbroke Island, together with a few other mates. This day started with an in-depth safety induction on the working operation and characteristics of a jet ski and a safety briefing of the rules of the water and that of the safari.

Most of the information I knew very little about, and by the end of the 20-minute briefing, I felt empowered with PWC general knowledge and a better understanding of my responsibilities out on the water.


Our instructor repeatedly reminded us of the importance of safe distances between each PWC, and from swimmers, shoreline and structures.

There were two strikingly significant learnings that I gathered. The first is that a PWC travelling at high speed will take at least 50 metres to fully stop. The second is that the rider can only steer while accelerating; meaning, when the PWC releases the accelerator, steering the watercraft is no longer possible We mounted the PWCs and headed onto the Broadwater, where a team of instructors took us one-by-one for a competency test, and a ceremonial handing-over of our green slips, which confirmed, “I was 100% certain in my ability to operate a jet ski safely, and that I require no further practice.” We then took off in single file behind our guide, Mrs Tunya, who was extremely experienced, having previously guided an astonishing one thousand plus safaris.

My PWC was immediately able to reach a maximum speed of 70km/h. I instantly realised the thrill of being so close to the water, having the flexibility to steer as I pleased and get to where I wanted to go fast. I thought the speed was reasonably safe and the experience I would highly recommend to others. We even spotted two dolphin and some wallabies.

Interestingly, my old belief that these PWC-renters were dangerous on the water has now been dismissed. I realised that the most aware and best-informed boaters are those on these safaris. They would have completed a safety training and would be motivated by the guide to be highly alert of other vessels on the water and take evasive action to avoid a collision. (However, there may be rare exceptions, where a rider has not been properly identified as not having the required level of coordination to operate the PWC safely in certain situations.)

It is, in fact, the boat operator who claims he/ she is “experienced” but has not refreshed their boating knowledge in twenty years, who could be the real threat on the water – you know that type, like the driver who is not even sure which side of the channel they should be travelling!

Upon our return, it became evident that PWC riding was more a sport than a leisure activity like boating. Travelling at high speed across choppy waters, constantly adjusting position and lifting the body in reaction to the bumps and jumps, really does require exertion and physical effort.


PWC sales have skyrocketed in recent years, with over 500 units sold every month year-after-year in the South East Queensland area. These new registrations have created an obvious congestion of PWCs operating at high speed in the southern Broadwater.

The best example is the weekend traffic along the main channel fronting The Spit at Main Beach. On any given Sunday, you can witness a hundred jet skiers travelling at high speed only metres from one another, weaving and ducking in all directions. To add to the confusion, the new car parking at Doug Jennings Park now makes it very inviting for families to spend the day on the beach where they often tow young children on tubes and kneeboards behind speed boats, in the very same area. And to top off this bottleneck, a constant precession of big power cruisers, speed boats and charter vessels plough the channel at 40 knots on their way north to the Seaway and beyond.


At The Spit, in response to a request from the Gold Coast Water Police, the Gold Coast Waterways Authority has set out the yellow marker buoys to remind jet ski riders of the distance-off rules for their craft – 6 knots within 60 metres of the shore. Be aware that the Water Police and Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol are patrolling the area to check compliance with the distance-off rule. For boats, the rule is 6 knots within 30 metres of people in the water.

The southern Broadwater is a sight to behold. It can be so busy that it is often compared to Sydney Harbour. However, Sydney Harbour has strict exclusion zones where PWCs are not permitted to be driven at any time. Furthermore, PWCs are not permitted to be used for ‘irregular driving’ within 200 metres of a riverbank or shore when operating in the restriction zones. Examples of irregular driving are driving in a circle or other patterns, weaving or diverting, surfing down or jumping over or across any swell, wave or wash. This means that PWCs must be operated generally in a straight line within 200 metres of the shoreline – just like driving a car in regular traffic.

Of course, this sounds very extreme and somewhat restricting. However, Sydney city planners have been forced to adapt to an increased usage of the waterways by implementing these restrictions in an effort to ensure a safe boating environment, and to ultimately avoid the loss of life. As an analogy: one of the problems in recent years is traffic congestion in big cities. You cannot keep allowing new car registrations without building new roads and expect there will not eventually be traffic jams and gridlock. Likewise, you cannot have thousands of new PWC registrations on the Gold Coast every year, and expect no congestion problems on the water.

Mandy Brown of the Queensland Recreational Boating Council, who is an avid PWC-user herself, says that they do not want to restrict jet ski activities. “We want to make sure there is a safe boating environment, so we are recommending that there is no high-speed freestyling activities south of Wave Break Island only during the weekends of the summer months, and during summer school holidays. Yes, that might be inconvenient to some – riders may have to launch at Runaway Bay rather than The Spit during these peak times, but it will ensure everyone is safe.”

The success of the local PWC industry is a great story. It has given rise to a new demographic of local people who can enjoy boating on the waterways and outer reaches of the Broadwater. However, enforcement and community attitude must keep up with the increase in user numbers. As a community, we must adapt by understanding the carrying capacity of high-traffic areas at peak times.


By Andy Kancachian



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