Riding a jet ski on a pristine lake is one of the best ways to enjoy the water on vacation.
Families often bring their kids along on these trips, which raises the question, how old do you have to be to drive a jet ski or personal watercraft (PWC)?
Although jet skiing is an activity the whole family can enjoy, it isn’t a lounging activity by any stretch of the imagination.
Some jet skis pack a whopping 300 horsepower into their engines, which can reach speeds of almost 70 mph.
With this sort of power, it’s no surprise driving a jet ski requires a license (you can get temporary ones for single-day use) and that there are minimum age limits for who can drive.
Yes, there are age limits for how old you have to be to drive a jet ski.
We’ll cover those, along with some precautions you can take to ensure everyone has a safe, exciting time on a PWC.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive a Jet Ski?
Before we get into driving, you may curious about age limits for jet ski passengers.
If you are looking to take a young family out on a PWC, you’re in luck.
There isn’t a hard age limit on who can ride on a PWC.
In most states, as long as the driver is over age of 18, they can take passengers of any age along with them.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should take your one-year-old out for a jet ski ride!
It’s legal by law, but for both you and your child’s safety, it’s best to avoid bringing toddlers on a PWC.
According to the BRP Sea-Doo owners guide, all passengers on a PWC should be able to reach the footwells with their feet.
For most PWC models, that means riders need to be at least 32 inches to 3 feet (36 inches) tall.
This is why most rental companies have height restrictions for passengers.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive a Jet Ski by Yourself?
Who can drive a jet ski unaccompanied varies from state to state, with every state and territory in the U.S. falling somewhere between 12 and 18 years old.
Even if your child is licensed in another state, local laws apply.
So, if you’re vacationing in a 16+ state with a 14-year-old, they cannot legally operate a PWC even if it’s legal in your home state.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive a Jet Ski with an Adult on Board?
Jet skiing isn’t like driving a car.
The laws aren’t hard and fast.
Instead, it’s like going to an R-rated movie.
An underage person can’t do it alone, but the rules change when an adult is present.
Most states don’t have any regulations or restrictions on age when an adult or parent is also on board a watercraft.
If you’re sharing a PWC and your kid wants to drive, you can legally allow them.
But you’ll be the responsible party in case of an accident or damage.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Operate a Rented Jet Ski?
You have to be at least 16 years old and present a valid form of ID in order to operate a jet ski rental.
No state allows jet ski rentals for anyone younger unless their parent or guardian signs a waiver.
If parents are around to sign off on a PWC rental, local laws regarding age limits apply.
Jet ski manufacturers recommend only allowing children over the age of 16 to operate a jet ski.
By the age of 16, the vast majority of kids can fully reach the footwells and handlebars and fit securely in the seat, which means a safer ride.
Age 16 is also the age by which most teenagers have had some experience operating other types of vehicles, like cars and motorcycles.
In states where it’s legal for younger children to drive a jet ski, it’s a judgment call.
You know your child’s experience with motor-powered vehicles better than anyone.
How Old You Have to Be to Drive a Jet Ski Alone—State by State
When it comes to what age a child has to be to drive a jet ski, it’s the states that set the limits.
Each state has its own rules and regulations when it comes to boating, and jet ski (personal watercraft) use is no different.
To make it easier to find the information you need, we’ve broken the states down into their specific regions.
The Northeast has the easiest to understand boating laws in the whole nation.
For example, New York state requires all drivers to have an adult on board unless the child acquires a boating license, which they can get once they turn 14.
The following states require their drivers to be at least 16 years old to drive a jet ski unsupervised:
Maine has regulations that state no minors can operate jet skis without an adult passenger aboard.
Pennsylvania states children must be at least 12 years old to operate a jet ski without an adult passenger, and may carry no other passengers under the age of 16.
For our purposes, the South is the largest region with the most diverse boating laws.
In Tennessee, the driver must hold a valid boater’s license.
In Florida, the unsupervised jet ski driving age is 14.
Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Delaware, and Georgia allow children over 16 to drive PWC by themselves, but younger people can drive a jet ski in both Delaware (14 years) and Georgia (12 years) if they are with an adult.
Kentucky has a jet ski driving minimum age of 18 unless a child passes an approved boating test, in which case the minimum age lowers to 12.
West Virginia‘s minimum age is 15 unless the child passes a boating test, in which case the age lowers, once again, to 12.
Oklahoma allows a person of any age to drive a jet ski as long they remain within visual contact of an adult.
The minimum age for unsupervised riding is 18.
The Midwest has some of the most relaxed boating laws in the nation.
Iowa has no age requirement for PWCs, but requires certification from the state before a driver can ride alone.
Next to the Northeast, the West has the simplest boating laws in the country. In the following states, children can drive a jet ski (PWC) without an adult passenger when they turn 16:
Though, some counties have set their own minimum ages.
Washington requires a boater education card.
In Montana, drivers must also hold a valid boating license.
Arizona has a minimum jet ski driving age of 12.
In Utah, no one under the age of 18 can drive a jet ski alone unless they pass the state boating course, in which case the age drops to 12.
In Hawaii, the minimum age for operating a PWC is 15.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aside from “how old do you have to be to drive a jet ski?”, there are other questions to consider when it comes to children and safe enjoyment on a personal watercraft.
Let’s talk about jet ski ridership and safety.
What Safety Equipment Do I Need on a Jet Ski Ride?
If you’re heading out for a day trip on a jet ski with children, there are some absolute essentials.
The most obvious piece of equipment you need is a personal flotation device (PFD), which is required by law for every passenger in most states and always required for children (minimum ages vary somewhat, so check local laws).
When buying your PFDs, make sure to purchase PFDs that fit properly according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) size guide.
Aside from the USCG’s required items and a (highly-recommended) life preserver, other essential items on a jet ski trip include:
- Riding gloves
- Baseball or bucket hat
- Eye protection
- Dry box or bag for phone, licenses, etc.
- Storable paddle
- First Aid kit
You’ll need most of these products to help you stay cool in the sun and protect you and any minors in your care from sunburns.
A storable paddle will come in handy if you run out of gas.
How Many People Can Ride on One Jet Ski?
Three. That’s it. If your family has more people than that, you’re going to need two jet skis.
Most sit-down personal watercraft (PWCs) have seating for three (though, a small number of models only seat two), and it’s not just a comfort thing.
It’s illegal to fit more people on a PWC than the PWC is designed to hold.
On top of that, jet skis don’t just have passenger limits, they have weight limits.
Smaller jet skis can carry maximum loads of as little as 350 pounds.
One 200-pound adult and one 150-pound adult and that weight limit is spent.
Larger jet skis typically have higher weight limits, up to around 600 pounds.
If you’ve got three people and some equipment, you’ll want a bigger jet ski.
In the question, “How old do you have to be to drive a jet ski?,” the answer varies from state to state.
As a general rule of thumb, the most lenient states allow kids to drive jet skis alone at age 12, while the strictest states don’t allow minors to drive personal watercraft at all.
But many states have additional requirements and exceptions.
Before embarking on a jet skiing vacation with your family, we highly recommend checking state (and even city or county) websites for local laws to ensure your jet ski riding is both safe and legal.