Personal watercraft (PWCs) are some of the most popular recreational options in and around America’s waterways. Commonly referred to as jet skis, PWCs can be found in abundance, from beachside or lake rental operations to personally-owned vehicles. It is estimated that over 40,000 new PWCs are sold each year in the United States alone. These crafts are exciting to operate, but do come with certain risks. Owners of rental businesses must manage these risks through jet ski rental insurance and a clear understanding of the potential risk in injuries and property damage when operating PWCs. Here is an overview of some of the most common risks, including jet ski accidents and injuries – with the goal of helping your rental operation clients avoid the risk exposures inherent with jet ski rentals. 

What Are Jet Skis?

The term “jet ski” began as the trade name for PWCs manufactured by the Japanese company Kawasaki. Today, the term is used to refer to a broad class of small, personally-operated craft, typically under 13 feet in length and with gasoline engines producing from 60 to 300 or more horsepower. They are propelled by a jet of water – hence the name. PWCs may also be referred to by other trade and nicknames, including waverunners and ski-doos. These watercraft may carry up to four passengers in most cases, but are more commonly found in single- or tandem-rider configurations. 

What Are Common Injuries from Jet Ski Use?

Operating a PWC like a jet ski requires minimal training and experience; in rental operations, a brief familiarization of the controls is all it takes for a new rider to take to the seas aboard a PWC. While the vast majority of jet ski uses are safe, there are certain risks rental operators need to be aware of. Common injuries from jet ski accidents include:

  • Burns – contact with hot engine parts can severely burn riders. In a crash, the PWC could ignite, also causing burn injuries. 
  • Spinal cord injuries – crashes of PWCs, including collisions with other vessels or docks, can result in the rider being thrown from the craft. High-speed wipeouts may also be a source of back and neck injuries.
  • Concussions – perhaps the most common injury associated with PWC operation, concussions may occur in crashes or when the rider is thrown from the vessel at high speeds.
  • Broken bones – these injuries typically occur as a result of a collision with other vessels or stationary objects in the water (rocks, docks, and piers).
  • Sprains and strains – being thrown from a PWC at speed can result in joint injuries, including sprains and strains of tendons and ligaments.

Although far less common, the powerful jet of water that propels PWCs can also cause severe and even life-threatening injuries. In 2018, a passenger aboard a PWC fell from the back of the craft; the water jet entered her body and caused significant internal damage to her organs. The victim underwent multiple extensive surgeries to repair the damage, and continues to struggle with the consequences of her injuries. 

Protecting Riders From Injuries

Jet ski rental operators face numerous risks when providing PWCs to rental clients. The damage or loss from vessels in accidents can be extremely costly, even with jet ski rental insurance policies in place. Add to those risks the chance of a rental client becoming injured, and it is easy to see that these operations have sizeable liability exposures. To minimize the risks, rental operations should put rider safety at the forefront of their considerations. Safety in jet ski rental businesses include:

  • Ensuring all riders wear life jackets while operating PWCs.
  • Providing safety training and orientation to all riders before allowing them to operate PWCs. Safety training should be conducted regardless of a rider’s experience level.
  • Forbidding the use of alcohol or drugs when operating rental PWCs.
  • Maintaining PWCS in peak condition to avoid costly breakdowns or loss of control that may result in collisions.
  • Requiring “kill switches” to cut power to the PWC engine if a rider were to be thrown from the craft during operation. 

Of course, the foundation of liability protection for rental operations is that of jet ski rental insurance. Rental operators must obtain this valuable insurance, which is designed to protect the business from financial impacts related to property damage, vessel damage or loss, and injury liabilities. With the right insurance and the right coverage levels, PWC rental operators can continue to provide fun and entertainment for their water-loving clients. 

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.