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Is It Allowed To Drive A Jet Ski At Night?

People do stupid things, especially when put them on a personal watercraft (PWC).

Riding PWCs is a new thing for many people, often the only experience they get is from renting them. This is okay, but with PWCs getting more powerful and more playful every year, they’re getting more dangerous.

What is interesting is that people are reckless… even during the day. Even when the sun is out, the air is clear, they still do stupid things. I’ve had someone hit me on my Sea-Doo, on a clear-bright-day. I’ve even seen the aftermath of two kids playing chicken on their PWCs.

The problem is that these antics don’t stop when the sun has set. That is generally why we have such rules for only PWCs. In this post, I want to break it down even more and explain why such rules exist.

Can You Drive A Jet Ski At Night?

For the most part, when it comes to jet skis you cannot drive them between sunset and sunrise. But there are still some places that allow it or simply ignore it.

You can do whatever you want, but overall with a jet ski… I suggest you not drive during the night.

There is no need to email me or leave a comment that this or that place allows it, I’m stuck in this position after seeing the worst of the worst happen. Feel free to see what your local laws states, but most US states don’t allow it, a few say to use common sense (and we all know how that goes) and an even smaller amount simply don’t care.

List Of Reasons

1. Too Small

Jet skis are harder to see in the dark due to their compact size. Even with navigation lights, they tend to cause more confusion for other vessels, particularly when viewed from a distance.

It’s not just about their length… their width is significantly narrower compared to other boats of similar size, adding to the visibility issue. It’s like seeing a darting arrow during night with tiny nav lights – it’s hard to focus on which leads to the next point.

2. Quick Movements

Jet skis’ high-speed capabilities and ability to swiftly change direction frequently cause confusion among other boaters.

Their compact dimensions further exacerbate this potential for misunderstandings on the water.

There isn’t streetlights or reflectors on the water: often, it’s pitch black and difficult to see someone darting around. At least with motorcycles they’re small, but go on roads that have lines, reflectors in those lines, streetlights, and follow the rules of the road. On the water, there are no lines, and while there are rules for the water, not enough people follow them, especially jet skiers… we’ll cover this reckless part in a few.

3. They Go Too Fast

At night, it’s important to proceed with caution and go slow!!! I cannot stress this enough… no matter the boat, go slow during the night!

Slowing down is critical because obstacles such as floating logs, rocks, shallow waters, and other hazards become much more difficult to detect. What may already be challenging in daylight becomes nearly impossible after sunset, emphasizing the necessity of maintaining a cautious pace for safety.

It’s not just an issue of hitting them and damaging your hull, but also sucking them up and killing the jet pump and leaving you in the water.

Which leads us to the next point…

4. Jet-Skiers Are More Reckless

Considering that even in broad daylight, some individuals engage in reckless behaviors they absolutely shouldn’t, it’s a safe bet that such antics don’t stop when night falls. (No matter how many lights you strap to the craft)

Under the cover of darkness, these reckless actions not only become more dangerous but also significantly complicate rescue and assistance efforts.

From seeing the consequences of many crashes, particularly from dangerous games like playing chicken, leaves no doubt in my mind about the severity of such recklessness.

If such foolish behavior occurs in daylight, there’s every reason to believe it would continue, if not worsen, after dark. There is a reason why boaters don’t like jet skiers, and one of the leading reasons why skis can’t run past sunset.

5. No Reflectors?

There are no reflectors on anything (even on life jackets) so when falling off, no one sees anyone in the water!

Falling off the craft happens often, which is another reason to avoid riding past sunset!

And no: adding reflectors to your life jacket or ski won’t fix this or be legal, either.

6. No visual Cues

Many models feature visual enhancements tailored to increase visibility to other boaters during daylight hours.

For example, the distinctive rooster tail spray and vibrant colors on life jackets are deliberate industry choices aimed at enhancing visibility.

However, the issue arises during the night when these visual cues lose effectiveness, rendering them invisible in darkness.

Another cue is that jet skis tend to be louder than other boats. This could help other boaters see you during the day, but when it’s nighttime, hearing something isn’t as useful as actually seeing the thing to confirm it.

What If You’re Trapped after Sunset?

If caught on the water after dark, head directly to the nearest boat launch or shore. Personal watercraft lack lighting, rendering you virtually invisible when it’s dark out.

It’s crucial to reach land where you’re more likely to be seen and safer.

Get Your Towed Back In

Use your boat towing membership, I suggest giving them a call and let them tow the machine back.

Reach out to a friend or family member with a boat to help tow your craft back home. However, be aware that many people are not keen on navigating a boat when it’s night either, as it’s generally agreed to be an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.

Use Your Phone To Call For Help

The silver lining is that most people now carry smartphones.

With your smartphone in hand, you could easily call for assistance, utilize GPS for navigation, or signal for help, offering a beacon of safety in challenging situations.

DJ Khaled got stuck after dark, and it’s easy to see how confusing it is. I know it’s funny now, but it’s a legit problem for him.

The Special Watercraft

Some skis run in the dark, but they’re not available for purchase by the average customer. They’re reserved for search and rescue teams (and other commercial use).

One example is the Sea-Doo SAR, it has navigation lights for running any time. This craft is also much larger, slower, and sturdier than your normal ski. It’s almost twice the cost, too!!!

Sometimes a PWC is needed in rescue missions, and sometimes these missions happen during the night. You may find some used when the state or commercial company decides to retire them. The sad part is that these were not a huge hit, even though it was a great machine, it was too costly and many of these teams opted for the cheaper versions.

Author

Steven

I started working at a power sports dealership in 2007, I worked in parts, service counter, and as a technician before moving to sales in 2013. I created StevenInSales.com in 2014 to answer common watercraft questions I would get from people. Now managing the site full-time, I continue to provide advice and web tools for my readers about watercraft. I've owned several watercraft, with a Sea-Doo Spark as my current main PWC.

6 thoughts on “Is It Allowed To Drive A Jet Ski At Night?”

  1. Last month we got to the boat ramp about 30 minutes before dark with a few boats ahead of us in line, no big deal we thought. Figured we would wait 10 minutes or so for our turn, nothing unusual and everyone was happily loading up their boats after a day out on the water. All of the sudden, 12 jet skis (must have been some sort of club) come flying through the no wake zone at 20 knots and cut off everyone at the boat ramp. Literally zipped up right in front of boats approaching the ramp and cut everyone off like it was their private boat ramp and they were entitled to special privileges (and not to mention the near collisions they almost caused by cutting off moving boats who had to abruptly cut throttle and the slam into reverse). They then proceeded to tie up both lanes of the boat ramp up for almost an hour while taking their time getting their trailers backed in and skis loaded up.

    This of course after seeing them earlier in the day running wide open inside a 6 knot zone in a swimming area where people were swimming.

    For those of you who like to push the time limits and head back just before dark, remember that you getting back before dark doesn’t give you special rights on the water – maritime navigational rules, rights of way, and speed limits still apply. You’re not entitled to special treatment because you’re on a jet ski and out of time due to poor planning. Also, had they been present, I don’t think DNR would have minded at all if there were jet skis patiently waiting on the water at the ramp after dark but they definitely would have issued fines (if not made arrests) for the dangerous and ignorant behavior of these jet skiers.

    80% of PWC operators are consummate professionals on the water but the other 20% are absolute degenerates who are so dangerous on the water that almost every state has had to impose restrictions on PWC usage. When you wonder why there are draconian laws applied to you operating your PWC, just take a look around next time you’re out and when you see one or two PWC operators doing something so completely asinine that you know the state is going to have to pass a law about it, that’s why.

    Reply
    • What state? I’d be surprised they’d pull that in South Carolina. Some of these good ole boys with boats would have knocked a few PWC guys out cold if they pulled that stunt here.

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    • The last time I checked the Sealver didn’t have nav lights. But even then I would side on no because it would ultimately be up to water patrol and I have a good feeling they would not allow it.

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  2. Good information.

    Sadly, I see a lot of PWC operators break laws designed to make PWC ownership a safe, fun activity. Driving at night is one of them.

    My biggest pet peeve is adults letting their children drive a PWC alone. For some reason, some adults think their child is immune to the laws of physics. They aren’t.

    There is a reason there are rules about operating watercraft. Just like with ATVs, it’s sad some children have to pay the price for an adult’s bad, irresponsible decision.

    Reply

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