North Carolina Jet Ski Laws: A Cheat Sheet With All The Details


Jet skis are a great way to spend time on the water in the summertime and create some memorable times with family and friends. Though jet ski laws can vary from state to state and it is a need-to-know in order to be able to enjoy your time on the water.

Any one younger than 14 years of age cannot legally operate a personal watercraft vehicle. They can operate a PWC if there is a person 18 years of age or older also on board the watercraft. Anyone 16 years of age or older can operate a PWC with a horsepower of 10 or greater only they follow the requirements for operating a PWC.

It is important to be aware of the following regulations and laws for riding a jet ski on the water within the state of North Carolina. By doing so you are responsibly following the law and that will guarantee you have an adventurous and stress-free time on your jet ski with family and friends.

Registering Your PWC

Fees

1-YEAR REGISTRATION FEE
Vessels less than 26 feet$30.00
Vessels 26 feet or greater $50.00
3-YEAR REGISTRATION FEE
Vessels less than 26 feet $90.00
Vessels 26 feet or greater $150.00
TITLING FEE
New or transfer title $30.00

Numbers and Stickers

Once you receive your registration number and the validation stickers you must display these items in the following ways:

  • There cannot be any other numbers shown on the bow of your vessel
  • The letters have to be separated from the numbers with space or hyphen
  • Each number has to be painted, applied onto your vessel as a decal, or place to be shown on both sides of the bow
  • The numbers must be read from left to right on both sides
  • Each number must be in block letters and three-inches high
  • The color of your numbers must also be in contrast with the background of your vessel

Hull Identification Number

A Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12-digit number that is assigned by the manufacturer to vessels built after 1972. They help be able to determine the difference between multiple vessels.

In case your vessel is stolen you should write down your HIN number and put it somewhere safe.

The Basics

Personal Watercraft Rules and Regulations

  • You cannot operate a personal watercraft vehicle within 500 feet of a designated swim area
  • Reckless operation of a PWC is not allowed. Examples of this:
    • Jumping a wake too close to other vessels
    • Last minute avoidance of collision
    • Weaving carelessly through vessel traffic
    • Carrying more passengers on your PWC than is recommended
    • If your maneuver your PWC in such a way that it can cause unreasonable harm to you or your passengers
  • Each person on the PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved type 1,2, or 3 personal flotation device
  • It is illegal to operate a personal watercraft vehicle between the hours of sunset and sunrise especially when your vision is a bit restricted
  • You cannot remove any backfire flame arrestor or ventilator if it is installed by your manufacturer
  • You must have a whistle or horn on board your PWC that is U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • The safety ignition switch must be fully functional and have a lanyard attached to it ensure it does not get lost or misplaced

Reckless Operation of a Vessel

Failure to Regulate Your Speed

This is operating your vessel at a faster rate than recommended, especially during vessel traffic, poor weather condition, and closeness to shore. Some examples of this are:

  • Operating your vessel at extreme speed in the close vicinity of another vessel, PWCs, or dangerous waters
  • Operating at a greater speed than “slow, no wake speed” that is posted in a “no wake” zone
  • Going faster than the speed limit posted near the body of water you are operating on
  • Going at a speed that can be harmful to your vessel

Improper Distance Between Others

If you are operating your vessel faster than 5 mph while operating within 100 feet of the shore, dock, pier, raft, float, or an anchored or moored vessel you are operating your vessel improperly an putting others around you at risk.

Riding on the Bow, Deck or Gunwale of a Vessel

Riding on anything that is not equipped with fixed seating can lead to the potential of falling overboard. Do not allow your passengers or yourself to sit on seat back, transom, gunwale, seats on raised decks or a bow.

Reckless Operation Specifics

this is when you weave through traffic, swerve last minute to avoid a head-on collision with another vessel, or overload your vessel beyond the capacity it states on the plate.

Unsafe Conditions

Not having enough personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, backfire flame arrestors, ventilation systems, or navigational lights are putting yourself and others abroad your vessel at risk.

You also put yourself and others in danger when you overload or overpower your boat, or when if you are operating the vehicle while intoxicated.

Alcohol and Drugs

In the state of North Carolina, you are prohibited to operate any of the following vehicles if you are found to be under the influence:

  • boat
  • sailboat
  • personal watercraft
  • water skis
  • surfboard

Being under the influence can cause you to experience one of the following impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment, and slower reaction times.

You are considered to be under the influence of alcohol if your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or greater.

You can be subjected to fines and jail time if you are arrested and convicted of boating under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Required Equipment

Personal Flotation Devices

Type 1Offshore Life Jackets This vest can turn an unconscious person in the water to face up in the water. It was made for rough waters and for situations where rescue might take a long time.
Type 2Near-Shore VestsThis vest is fit for calmer waters and faster rescues. If you were to wear this while unconscious it may not be able to turn your face up in the water.
Type 3Flotation AidsThis vest can also be a full-sleeved jacket and it is great for calm waters and fast rescues. This will definitely not turn your face up in rough waters. This is generally worn for water sports.
Type 4Throw able DevicesThis type of flotation device is a cushion or ring buoys and are typically used to throw at someone in trouble. They are not made to last for long hours in the waters, or non-swimmers, or the unconscious.
Type 5Special-Use DevicesThis type of flotation device was made for activities like kayaking, water-skiing These typically look like white water vests, deck suits, and personal flotation device hybrids.

Personal Flotation Device Requirements

  • All PFDs have to be in a serviceable condition and easily accessible
  • Any person that is on board a PWC must wear a PFD that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard
  • Vessels have to have one of the 5 personal flotation devices, they also must be wearable and a proper sized so anyone can wear it
  • The inflatable flotation devices can be used if the person is 16 years of age or older, can be activated by a pull and if it is U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • It is California law that children who are 12 years old must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation device in a vessel that is 26 feet long or less
  • Type 4 PFD that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard must be on board a vessel that is 16 feet or longer and must be easily accessible for emergency use

Fire Extinguishers

You can classify your fire extinguisher by letter and number symbol. The number helps you decipher the size of the extinguisher, and the letter indicates the type of fire that is extinguished as well.

Type A Fires – Are of combustible solids such as wood

Type B Fires – These are flammable liquids like gasoline or oil

Type C Fires – This is mainly electrical fires

All vessels are required to have a Type B fire extinguishers on board in the case of any extreme or dangerous situations occurring. Your fire extinguisher should be placed somewhere easily accessible in the case of a situation where it needs to be used immediately.

Enforcement

The boating laws and regulations are enforced by the wildlife enforcement officers of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, officers of the Department of Environmental and National Resources an U.S. Coast Guard officers.

  • Any vessel that is being approached by an enforcement office must come to a slow speed to where the vessel can maintain steerage to be able to alter course if told.
  • If an officer finds they have enough probably cause to believe you are violating a law, they have the authority to board your vessel.
  • Officers are also authorized to order the owner/operator of an unsafe vessel to move to shore.
  • A vessel ordered to stop by an officer must do so immediately and permit the officer to come alongside their vessel.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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