Also called water scooters, jet skis provide loads of fun and excitement for the whole family. These ultra fast personal watercrafts can tow water toys and skiers so you can do more while you’re out on the waves. They’re versatile, exhilarating, and bring tons of enjoyment for everyone in the group.
But safety first! There are age restrictions imposed by law to keep jet ski users safe. As a responsible boater, it’s your job to make sure your group abides by these regulations not only for your safety, but for the safety of those around you. So how old do you have to be to drive a jet ski? Here’s a detailed break down of the regulations per state.
What Age Do You Have to Be to Drive a Jet Ski By Yourself?
Just for the sake of information, let’s talk about how fast a jet ski can go. Averaging 300 hp, a jet ski engine can reach speeds of up to 90 mph. Now, imagine a pre-teen handling that kind of speed and power, and you’ll see why age is a problem when it comes to operating a jet ski.
Kids and teens tend to be more impulsive and have poor decision making skills especially when they’re in a new situation. They’re also more likely to try dangerous stunts, which is why the US Coast Guard has found it necessary to place age restrictions on who can drive a jet ski on their own.
But even then, there is no hard line that draws out the limits. Age restrictions vary from state to state, but in general, the legal age for driving a jet ski alone is between 12 to 18 years of age. Some states might require proof of boater education to drive a PWC if you’re a certain age.
Keep in mind though that aside from the age limit, there might be some height limits in place, too. For instance, some local areas might allow 12 year olds to drive a jet ski alone, but that’s only if they’re tall enough to reach the pedals.
What About Passengers on a Jet Ski?
The standard jet ski design can carry about three people, but there are jet skis designed for one, two, or even four riders. This just gives jet ski enthusiasts more opportunities for fun and frolic on the waves. It’s also why jet skis have earned a reputation as a rescue watercraft to save people who might be in accidents while in the water.
Again, we can’t generalize the regulations in each state. But collectively speaking, there is no age limit for passengers on a jet ski. Technically anyone can ride as a passenger regardless of their age. However, it’s almost always required that the individual be at least 36 inches in height to make sure that they can sit properly on the PWC.
Jet Ski Age Restrictions Per State
As indicated before, the rules change from state to state. So to define the lines between local rules and regulations, here’s a table of jet ski age restrictions for every state in the US.
Must be 12 or older to operate. Drivers 12 to 13 years old must have a licensed operator 21 years or older on board and within reach of the controls. Drivers aged 14 years and above can operate without a guardian.
Illegal for individuals 12 and below to operate a vessel that's 8hp or more UNLESS in case of an emergency or with a licensed operator at least 18 years of age on board.
Persons under 12 years old can only operate a watercraft (10hp or more) if accompanied by a parent or guardian that's at least 17 years of age.
Drivers 16 years old and over can independently operate a vessel 15hp or more. Individuals between the ages of 12 and 15 may operate with the supervision of a guardian 18 years or older.
Persons 14 to 15 years of age must complete a boating safety course to operate a vessel alone.
Must be at least 16 years old and must obtain a valid USCG issued vessel operator license or a valid boating certificate.
Must have proof of completion of a valid Boating Safety Course. Persons 14 to 15 years old must also have an adult on board.
At least 13 years of age. No education is required for operating a vessel below 16 feet.
14 years old
Individuals 16 years or older can operate a watercraft as long as they carry a valid photo ID. Drivers 12 to 15 years can operate a vessel less than 16 feet if they have completed a boating safety course and have an adult on board.
15 years old
At least 16 years old and wearing proper protective gear (helmet, shoes and life jacket) at all times.
Illegal for individuals under 10 years. Children between 10 and 12 years must be accompanied by an adult.
Operators 15 years of age must complete a boating safety course and should carry an ID issued by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Persons between 12 and 18 years old must carry an Iowa Watercraft Safety Certificate if operating a boat that's 10hp or higher.
12 years old to operate alone. Persons under 12 years must be supervised by a guardian at least 18 years of age.
Persons 12 to 17 years old must first complete a boating safety course.
16 years old.
Individuals between 16 and 18 years old can operate a PWC given that they have completed a boating safety course.
At least 16 years of age. Operators born on or after July 1, 1972 must also complete a boating safety course through a NASBLA-approved provider.
12 year olds must be accompanied by a competent adult 18 years or over. Operators must be at least 16 years old to drive alone.
Individuals 16 years and over and/or born after December 31, 1978 must carry a boating safety education certificate. Those born on or before the said date can operate without restrictions.
Operators between 13 and 17 years must possess a boating safety education certificate. Individuals 18 years and over can operate without restrictions.
14 years old.
Children 12 years of age must be accompanied by a guardian 18 years or older when operating a motor boat rated 10 hp or more.
All operators born after December 31, 1985 must possess a boating safety course certificate and a valid ID. Those born on or before the date can operate a jet ski without restrictions.
At least 14 years of age. If towing a person, the operator must be 16 years of age or 14-15 years of age with a guardian at least 18 years old on board.
16 years old and carrying a boating education card to operate a vessel 25hp or more.
16 years to operate alone. 18 years to operate a rented jet ski alone.
13 years old. Individuals 12 years or younger must carry a boating safety education certificate and must have a guardian on board at all times.
At least 14 years of age. All operators must complete a boating safety course regardless of age.
14 year olds may operate with the supervision of an adult 18 years or older.
Operators between 12 and 15 years must complete a boating safety course and carry a boater education card.
12 to 15 may operate with adult supervision and if they've completed a boating safety education course.
12 to 16 year olds may operate after completing a boating safety course, and must be supervised by an adult 18 years or older no more than 500 yards away.
16 and 17 year olds must be accompanied by an adult at least 18 years of age. Rented jet skis may not be operated by individuals below 18.
At least 12 years old to operate a motor boat rated 25hp or higher
16 years of age
Operators 15 and below must complete a boating safety course to operate a vessel rated 25hp or more.
Individuals 14 and below must be accompanied by an adult at least 18 years of age.
12 year olds may operate alone given that they have a boating safety course certificate. Individuals younger than 12 may operate under the supervision of an adult at least 18 years of age and with a boating safety certificate.
Children under 13 years of age can’t operate without having an adult at least 18 years of age on board.
People between 12 and 17 years old need to first complete a boating safety course. Anyone over 18 can operate without restrictions.
Persons under 12 years are restricted to motor boats rated 6hp or under. Individuals 16 years and over, and born after January 1, 1974 must complete a boating safety course to operate a PWC.
16 years old to operate without restrictions, or 14 to 15 years old with a valid boating safety course certificate.
Anyone over 14 can operate a jet ski given that they carry a certificate of boating safety education. Jet skis can only be rented to individuals 16 or over.
Illegal for children under the age of 12. individuals between 12 and 14 years old operating a motor boat rated 10hp or more must be supervised by an adult (18 years or over) on board.
At least 12 years old and with a boating safety education certificate.
Individuals under 16 must be supervised by an adult at least 18 years of age.
Are There Other Requirements for Riding a Jet Ski?
That depends on what state you’re in. Aside from a person’s age, some local laws might require that the operator be in possession of a valid boating safety education certificate. This makes sure that they’ve been instructed on all the safety protocol and practices to make them responsible PWC operators.
For a certificate to be considered valid, it must come from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Again, it depends on what state you’re in. Make sure to check local guidelines to find out whether you need one.
Another thing required by law when riding a jet ski is a life vest. In this case, you would need a USCG-approved type III life vest. All passengers need to wear the appropriate life vest to prevent injuries and drowning.
Aside from your personal flotation device, you might also want to consider donning a few other safety items. These might not be required by your state, but it helps to wear them nonetheless. These include:
- Eye protection
- Riding gloves
- Waterproof pouch for ID, licenses, mobile phone, etc.
How Many People Can Ride a Jet Ski?
That depends. Some jet skis can only accommodate one or two people. Others are designed for up to four. But the most common capacity for a jet ski rests at just three people. But it doesn’t really depend on how many you think you can squeeze on the seat.
The jet ski manufacturer should indicate how many people can ride at a time on the capacity plate. Do not exceed the passenger and weight capacity under any circumstances. If you get into an accident while you’re overloaded, you won’t be able to make an insurance claim, and you might not be able to make a claim on your warranty coverage if there was any damage to your jet ski.
Riding in Style and Safety
A jet ski can be loads of fun for the whole family. But how old do you have to be to drive a jet ski? The age restrictions change from state to state. So make sure you brush up on your local laws and regulations to make sure you’re staying within the limits. Following local guidelines should make it possible for you to enjoy your jet ski without having to worry about accidents and penalties.