Tennessee Jet Ski Laws: A Simple Cheat Sheet With All The Details


Jet skiing in the summertime is a recipe for a great time. In order to ensure you don’t come across any trouble, you have to be sure that you know the regulations for jet skiing in the state of Tennessee. Rules and regulations 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.

To be able to operate a PWC or any other motorized vehicle of more than 8.5 hp (and you are less than 12 years of age) you will need a supervisor on board who is at least 18 years of age. Those operating alone and they are 12 years of age and older will need a Tennessee Boater Education Certificate.

The Basics

PWC Rules and Regulations

  • Each person on board the PWC has to wear a PFD type 1, 2, or 3 and it must also be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard
  • The safety ignition switch must be fully functional and have a lanyard attached to it ensure it does not get lost or misplaced
  • You must have a whistle or horn on board your PWC that is also U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • You cannot remove any backfire flame arrestor or ventilator if it installed by your manufacturer
  • 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 operate a PWC within 500 feet of a designated swimming area
  • Reckless operation of your PWC is not allowed. examples of this are:
    • If you maneuver your PWC in a way that causes harm to others or your passengers
    • Last minute avoidance of collision
    • Weaving carelessly through vessel traffic
    • Jumping a wake too close to other vessels
    • Carrying more passengers on your PWC than is recommended

Alcohol and Drugs

Being under the influence of alcohol and drugs can have the following affect on you:

  • impaired balance
  • blurred vision
  • poor coordination
  • impaired judgment
  • slower reaction times

In the state of Tennessee, you are presumed to be under the influence if your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or more.

Once you are convicted of this you can be subjected to a fine for up to $2,500 on the first and second offense, but on your third, you fine will rise to $5,000.

Those convicted of BUI can receive a jail sentence of up to a year with mandatory probation and you will lose the privilege of operating a PWC or vessel for 1 to 10 years.

Reckless Operation of Your PWC

Failure to Regulate Your Speed

When you operate your vessel at a faster speed than recommended you are putting those around you and yourself in danger. Especially during vessel traffic, poor weather conditions, and closeness to shore you will need to follow the speed limit.

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 you or your vessel
Improper Distance Between Others

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

Unsafe Conditions

Not having enough PFDs, fire extinguishers, backfire flame arrestors, ventilation systems or navigational lights are putting yourself and others at risk

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

Reckless Operation Specifics

This is when you weave through traffic, swerve last minute to avoid any head-on collisions with other vessels, or even when you overload your vessel beyond the capacity recommended.

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 into the water. Do not allow any of your passengers or even yourself to sit on the seat backs, transom, a bow, gunwale, or on seats that are on raised decks.

Registering Your PWC

Tennessee Registration Fees

SIZE 1 YEAR2 YEARS3 YEARS
16 feet and under$13.00$24.00$35.00
Over 16 feet and less than 26 feet $25.00$48.00$71.00
26 feet and less than 40 feet$38.00$72.00$107.00
40 feet or more $51.00$97.00$142.00

This information was provided by the Tennessee State Government.

Numbers and Stickers

Once you receive your registration number and the validation stickers you must place these on a visible area of your PWC or vessel 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 and applied onto your vessel as a decal
  • you can also place it to be shown on both sides of the bow
  • each number must be in block letters and at least 3 inches high
  • the color of your numbers must be in contrast to the color of your vessel

Hull Identification Number

A Hull identification number, also known as HIN, is a 12-digit number that is assigned by the manufacturer to vessels built after the year 1972. HIN helps be able to determine the differences between multiple vessels.

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.

Fire Extinguishers

You can identify the type of fire extinguisher you have by looking at the letter and number symbol. The number helps you decipher the size of the extinguishers and the letter indicates the type of fire that is extinguished as well.

TYPE A FIRESthese types of fires are combustible solids such as wood
TYPE B FIRESthese types of fires are flammable liquids like gasoline or oil
TYPE C FIRESthis type of fire is mainly electrical fires

All vessels are legally required to have a Type B fire extinguishers on board your vessel in case of any extreme or dangerous situations occurring.

Your fire extinguisher should be placed somewhere easily accessible in the case of an emergency where it will be needed promptly.

What To Do in a Boating Accident

In the event of a boating or PWC accident you must do the following:

  • Stop the vessel immediately and safely
  • Assist the person who was injured and assess the injuries they have gotten
  • Give-in writing- the name of the person, their address, and the vessel identification number to the owner of the property that was damaged
  • To report an accident you can contact the sheriff’s or harbormaster’s office or any other police department nearby

Law Enforcement

The TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) is in charge of enforcing the provisions within the Tennessee Boating Safety Act. They help boaters as well as provide control of situations when needed.

They have the power to stop your vessel if they feel that they have enough evidence to do so. In order to avoid any potential fines follow the guidelines below:

Carry the Card: Anyone operating a PWC (and has completed the boater education course) must carry the card they received while they are on the PWC at all times. This is to ensure that they will have it available if they were to be stopped by an officer on the water.

Penalty: If you fail to carry your boater education card while riding a PWC and you are stopped by an officer you can receive a fine.

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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