Personal watercraft (PWC)

This page outlines the rules relating to personal watercraft (PWC) usage, exclusion zones, restriction zones, no-go areas and riding after sunset.

A personal watercraft (PWC) is a vessel with a fully enclosed hull that may be driven standing up, lying down, sitting astride or kneeling, and includes jet powered surfboards. Regardless of the type of PWC, it is important to remember they are just another form of powerboat and are generally subject to similar regulations and laws. However, some special rules do apply to the use of these craft:

  • A PWC driving licence is required to drive a PWC at any speed
  • All PWC must be registered on NSW waterways
  • Everyone on a PWC must wear a lifejacket at all times.

PWC exclusion zone

The PWC exclusion zone includes all waters of Sydney Harbour, including the waters of all tidal bays, river and tributaries and also includes the Parramatta River, Middle Harbour and Lane Cove River.

PWC are not permitted to be driven in the exclusion zone at any time, unless exempt.

Penalties apply.

No-go PWC areas

There are some areas throughout the state in which PWC use is prohibited. PWC are not permitted to be driven in these areas at any time, unless exempt.

See PWC operating areas or the relevant boating maps for details.

Penalties apply.

PWC restriction zone

This zone encompasses the bays, rivers and other waterways within the Sydney basin area which lies between Port Hacking, Wamberal and the Blue Mountains, but does not include open (ocean) waters.

PWC are not permitted to be operated in an ‘irregular manner’ within 200 metres of the shoreline of the above.

Warning sign - irregular driving is prohibited within 200 metres of the shore

Irregular driving

Examples of operating in an irregular manner include, but are not limited to:

  • Driving in a circle or other pattern
  • Weaving or diverting
  • Surfing down or jumping over or across any swell, wave or wash.

This means that PWC are required to be operated generally in a straight line within 200 metres of the shoreline.

All other navigable waters

In all navigable waters, other than in the PWC Restriction Zone and including all of the NSW coast, ‘operating in an irregular manner’ is not permitted within 200 metres of the shoreline where one or more dwellings are visible from the water and located within 200 metres of that shore.

After sunset

Driving a PWC between sunset and sunrise is prohibited, regardless of whether navigation lights are fitted.

Tow-in surfing

Tow-in surfing is a technique where a person operating a PWC tows a surfer onto a breaking wave. In NSW the following conditions apply to tow-in surfing:

  • Tow-in surfing is only permitted on open (ocean) waters at surf breaks where no other (non-towed) surfboard riders are present
  • Both the driver of the PWC and the surfboard rider must have a current PWC licence, current First Aid certificate, wear an appropriate lifejacket (can be a lifejacket Level 50S or greater) and have attended any course or passed any examination required by Roads and Maritime.

When tow-in surfing, the driver of the PWC:

  • Must not tow more than one person at a time
  • Must yield right of way to all other boating or recreation activities
  • Must maintain a distance of at least 200 metres from all vessels and people in the water
  • Must carry dive fins and a safety knife.

When tow-in surfing, the PWC is to be equipped with a:

  • Rescue sled
  • Spare kill switch lanyard wrapped around the handlebars
  • Two-way communication device
  • Toolkit
  • Quick release floating tow rope with a minimum length of seven metres
  • Bow tow-line with a minimum length of seven metres.

No observer is required on the PWC provided there is compliance with the above conditions at all times.

Only PWC may be used for tow-in surfing.

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