Definition of Personal Water Craft (PWC) Racing: Events, Classes and Basic Descriptions

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Personal Watercraft (PWC) Event Competition and Historical Background Information

Definition of Personal Water Craft for PWC Racing


Personal Water Craft of the acronym ‘PWC’, are small powered watercraft. They have been in production since the 1950’s however they came into mass production and gained popularity under a trademark product from Kawasaki Motors Corporation in 1974. As of 2014 there are 3 major manufacturers still engaged in production of various production models.

Internationally Personal Water Craft may be referred to as Moto d’ Agua, Aquabike, Motos de Acuaticas, Vandens Motociklu Sporto, Moto de Jet, Jet Ski Natique, Moto de Ski, Jet Sport Bot, Motosurf, or other common language description.

1. Sea-Doo® Bombardier Recreational Products

2. Waverunner® Yamaha Motor Corporation

3. JET SKI® Kawasaki Motors Corporation

Personal watercraft are defined as motorboats less than 16 feet in length that are powered by two stroke or four stroke inboard gasoline fueled engines utilizing a water-jet pump propulsion as its primary source of motive power. They do not use propellers. Whereas the person operating stands, kneels, or sits on, rather than inside the boat. PWC’s are operated by one person, and may have seating space for others with weight load limitations. Some models are approved for up to four riders (including the operator).

They are steered from the front directing a rear jet or fully enclosed prop drive system. They are defined as Class A inboard boats defined by the United States Coast Guard

Refer to: Manufacturer Make, Model and Year of Production regarding engine characteristics

1. Two Stroke

2. Four Stroke

Earlier production models prior to 1990 did not utilize a cut off kill switch lanyard. There are several formats for ignition and lanyard use. Lanyards are to be properly and securely affixed to a USCG proper fit and approved type of Lifejacket of the vessel operator, or around the left or right hand wrist of the operator.

1. Circular idle speed maneuver (rider less)

2. Cut off Switch (kill switch), lanyard

3. Digital ignition key

4. Digital remote control

Freestyle or free ride events using stand up PWC may not be required to have an ‘idle’ in use and older models may not have a cut-off switch.

For the purposes of Closed Course Competition formats and endurance style events, all PWC are required to have a cut-off switch and may be required to add to earlier models a modern equivalent for the purpose of safety on the race track.

Type of Watercraft Classifications

1. Stand Up (1 Person on board)

2. Sport (1-2 Persons on board)

3. Runabout (1-3 Persons on board)

4. Sport Utility Vessel (1-4 Persons on board)

Background of the History of JET SKI Racing

Kawasaki created the first race event in San Diego County in 1977. It was called ‘1st Annual Snug Harbor Jet Ski Regatta and was held on April 20, 1978. It was held at Snug Harbor Ski Hut owned by Fred and Lee Lathrop. Racers featured were early icons; Bob Phares, Doug Silverstein, and Terry Beaty. The first racing association was formed called the USJSBA under guidance of Kawasaki Motors Corporation USA, which evolved several times into the IJSBA known today as a stand-alone non-profit corporation. Today PWC racing is enjoyed in over 68 countries and is a widely recognized power boat sporting activity.

Three Competition Divisions

1. Ski

2. Sport

3. Runabout


The Ski Division includes PWC which are designed for one person to stand on and are controlled from a pivoting handle pole


The Sport Division includes PWC which are designed for one or more people and have a seat


The Runabout Division includes PWC which are designed for one or more people and have a seat

Competitor Classifications

Manufacturers recommend that operators are of the age of 16

1. Junior (8-14 years of age)

2. Beginner

3. Novice

4. Sportsman

5. Expert

6. Amateur

7. Pro

8. Pro-Am

9. Veterans

10. Masters

11. Women

12. Challenged-injured or wounded warriors with specific mobility disability

13. Team


Intended to promote interest in stock personal watercraft competition and to enable individuals to become active competitors with relatively modest investment and maintenance costs. Watercraft competing in these classes


Intended to promote interest in personal watercraft competition with a limited number of modifications, and to enable individuals to become active competitors with a relatively modest investment


Intended to promote interest in personal watercraft competition with a higher degree of modification


Competitors in this class are allowed modifications to gain maximum machine and engine performance


Competitors must start out on the basic level of competition status or licensing according to their rules and regulations in place. They must be in excellent physical condition, provide the proper Personal Protective Equipment, abide by all the vessel technical rules and inspections and endorse Sportsmanlike values and conduct at events or practice sessions as a representative of the PWC community.

If a competition license is required they will need to be in good standing with the governing body and provide proof of membership prior and during an event. Some classifications are broken down by age or by vessel descriptions as well as operator experience. A competitor may request to be reclassified under a category above or below their current standing by providing an official declaration letter to their governing body.

For example: A Pro rider may be moved back to Expert if it is determined by the promoter or sanctioning body that his/her riding skill is not Pro-class level.


As a general policy, riders should be 16 years old or older for all competition classes except for the Junior class that begins at 8 years of age. In general the age group of Juniors is 10-12 year old Ski Stock and Junior 13-15 year old Ski Stock and Limited. Boating laws in some countries require higher age minimums or allow lower age limits. A birth certificate and/or passport shall be presented to substantiate age.


The Beginner class is provided as an entry-level class for new riders who wish to experience the fun of racing. Beginner-class competitors may race Stock or Limited watercraft.


For an endurance competitor, this is a class that is offered on a one time basis as an introductory level, rather than a ‘beginner’ classification. Sportsman class competitors may race Stock or Limited watercraft.


Novice competitors are those with minimal racing experience. First-time competitors must participate in the Novice or Beginner class. Beginner-class competitors may race Stock or Limited watercraft.


Expert-class riders are those who demonstrate a skill level that has exceeded beyond that of a Novice-class rider.


The Amateur class is comprised of Novice- and Expert-level riders.


Pro riders are those who have substantial racing experience and have advanced competition skills.


The Pro-Am class is comprised of Expert- and Pro-level riders.


The Veterans Ski class is open to riders who are 30 years of age or older (35, beginning January 1, 2015). The Veterans Sport and Runabout classes are open to riders 35 years of age or older. Closed-course Veterans-class competitors may race Stock, Limited or Open watercraft.


The Masters Ski class is open to riders who are 40 years of age or older (45 beginning January 1, 2014). The Masters Sport and Runabout classes are open to riders 45 years of age or older. Closed-course Masters-class competitors may race Stock, Limited or Superstock watercraft.


Women’s classes in Novice, Expert and Pro categories are for female riders who elect to compete in them, generally for separate points, awards and/or purse. Closed-course Women-class competitors may race Stock or Limited watercraft.

Type of Known Personal Water Craft Competition Events

1. World Championship

2. Regional Championship

3. National Championship (Country of Origin)

Personal Water Craft racing or special events combine a variety of disciplines, track design and structure technical maneuvers or timed trials. Sometimes it is a single operator or a ranged event with multiple operators and may include pit crew support for logistical needs. Freestyle or free ride events may use environmental concepts such as surfline activities in coastal beach zones.

Types of Waterways Used for Special Events or Competitions:

1. Surf Zone of a beach

2. Inland Sea

3. River

4. Lake

5. Private Man Made Facility

Race Tracks commonly employing buoy turns or start/finish lines or ramps and obstacles:

• Closed Course

• Slalom

• Obstacle

• Drag Racing

• Special Event

• Ramp Jump

Special events that employ a series of technical maneuvers:

• Freestyle

• Free Ride

Endurance type events that have time or distance elements:

• Offshore

• Australian Pursuit

• Grand Prix

• Enduro

• Team Events

• Long Course

• Super Course

• Ovals

• Sprints


A closed-course event is a contest of speed and riding ability featuring multiple competitors negotiating multiple laps of a course consisting of left and/or right-hand turns. Obstacles (e.g., log jumps and/or ramps) may be present.


A slalom event is a timed event requiring a competitor to negotiate zig-zag right and left hand turns around stationary markers. Competing watercraft must meet IJSBA class specifications.


Freestyle events are intended to show a rider’s skill and expertise in executing difficult, challenging and creative maneuvers within a set period of time and scored by a panel of judges.


Endurance events are long-distance races which may or may not include required turns and be of more than one lap, may include pit teams or change of riders at different intervals of phases. These can be ‘ranged day’ events covering various disciplines with combined results for daily stages and/or overall status.


Drag-racing events can be either timed/single-elimination contests or bracket elimination-type events over a predetermined distance. Competing watercraft must meet IJSBA class specifications.


“Special events” are any type of watercraft event meeting governing body or sanctioning technical requirements that are not hazardous to participants. Examples: obstacle race, relay races, Australian Pursuit, or other fun-type event that encourages participation by riders and tests skills and performance of rider and machine. These events may be determined by the promoter.

Personal Water Craft Classifications

• Stock

• Lites

• Limited

• Super Stock

• Open Class

• Modified

Competition Track Identification Markers

• Penalty Buoy- Black

• Finish – black/white

• Red-Left Turn

• Yellow – Right Turn

• Blue or other-merge or lane designation

Types of Race Starts

• Le Mans

• Green Flag/Sound Signal Device

• Rubber Band Starting Line

• Dead Engine starts (sitting on watercraft)

• Driscoll Start

• Timed Start

• Running Start

Sample of Associate governing bodies

Sanctioning bodies, federations, associations or promoters have a variety of technical rules, competition rules, safety guidelines and staff requirements. Some of these may be environmentally or culturally influenced but not limited to insurance or permit requirements or governmental rules regulating boating activities or sports federation guidelines. Here are a few examples of known sanctioning bodies globally:

• IJSBA-International Jet Sports Boating Association


• JJSF-Japan Jet Sports Federation


• League of Champions


Endurance Personal Water Craft events are characterized by the type of water way being used for the race course terrain.

1. Inland body of water or River

2. Open Ocean

3. Inland Sea

These events can be produced using the following format:

A. Single Competitors

B. Pit Crew (1-10 persons for refueling/rider exchange. Can be done at the waterline or with vessel recovered to shore

C. Team Riders (exchange operating position on refuel pit stops)

Type of Race Craft

1. Stand Up

2. Sport

3. Runabout

Endurance PWC events are best vetted using Runabout type 3 seater personal watercraft due to safety concerns on buoy style format race tracks such as closed course or long course events. This is due to the increase of speeds in recent years, horsepower and hull configuration.

Promoter or sanctioning body determines the route and distances applied. The considerations involved are water conditions, refueling needs, staging, duration of hours and weather conditions.

Reference material is based on the information listed below:

1. CLASS A Watercraft

"Personal watercraft" means a vessel that uses an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of motor power and that is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel, rather than the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel, and includes vessels that are similar in appearance and operation but are powered by an outboard or propeller drive motor. (Section 1-2 of the Boat Registration and Safety Act [625 ILCS 45/1-2]) An example of a personal watercraft is a jet ski.

2. IJSBA Rulebook 2014

3. The PWC is classified as a "Class A" Inboard Boat (a boat less than 16 feet in length) by the U.S. Coast Guard. They are designed to carry from one to three persons, and to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling ON the watercraft. However, PWCs are exempt from many of the requirements that other boats must comply with, including:

- Display of capacity information

- Safe loading information

- Flotation requirements

- Electrical systems

- Fuel systems

- Powered ventilation


Homologation of competition craft: Approved water craft by associate governing body permitted to compete at sanctioned events (note these may not reflect current models or classifications). Typically a number of water craft units need to have been sold regionally, nationally or internationally to qualify:

Kawasaki Ski

JS300/300SX* JS440*





JS750SXi Pro

800 SX-R

Polaris Ski

Octane (776cc)

Yamaha Ski

SuperJet (633cc)

SuperJet (701cc)

SuperJet (701cc) (1996 and newer)

FX1 (701cc)

Hydrospace Ski

S4 (749cc)

S8 (1130cc- See Restrictions)

Kawasaki Sport

X2 (633cc)

X2 (800cc)

Polaris Sport

Hurricane (701cc)

Sea-Doo Sport

HX (720cc)


Yamaha Sport

WaveBlaster (701cc)

WaveBlaster 800 (784cc)

WaveJammer (500cc)

    • All Sport Division PWC manufactured through 2009 are homologated for worldwide use.

Honda Runabout

Aquatrax F-12 (1235cc)

Aquatrax F-12X (1235cc)

Aquatrax R-12X (1235cc)

Aquatrax F-15 (1470cc)

Aquatrax F-15X (1470cc)

Kawasaki Runabout

Tandem Sport (633cc)

750 SS (743cc)

750 SS Xi (743cc)

750 SS Xi (743cc)

750 ST (743cc)

750 STS (743cc)

750 XiR (743cc)

750 ZXi (743cc)

900 STX (891cc)

900 STX (891cc, 1999 and newer)

900 ZXi (891cc)

1100 STX (1070cc)

1100 STX (1070cc) (2000 and newer)

1200 STX-R (1176cc)

1100 ZXi (1070cc)

Ultra 130 DI (1070cc)

Ultra 150 (1176cc)

STX-12F (1199cc)

STX-15F (1498cc) Ultra 260 X (1498cc)

Ultra LX (1498cc)

Ultra 300 X (1498cc)

Ultra 300 LX (1498cc)


Genesis (1164cc)

Genesis I (1164cc)

Pro 1200 (1164cc)

SL 650/650 STD (647cc)

SL 700 (701cc)

SLT 700 (701cc)

SL 750 (744cc)

SLT 750 (744cc)

SL 780 (779cc)

SLT 780 (779cc)

SLX 780 (779cc)

SLX 785 Pro (779cc)

SLXH (1050cc)

SLX (1050cc/1165cc)

SL 900 (900cc)

SL 1050 (1051cc)

SLTH (701cc)

SLTX 1050/X-45 (1051cc/1165cc)

Virage (701cc)

Virage Freedom (701cc)

Virage TX (1164cc)

Virage TXi (1164cc)

Polaris MSX 140**** (1192cc)


3-D (Only in “Vert” or “Moto” configuration)

GS/GSi (720cc)

GT/GTS (580cc)

GTi (720cc)

GTi (720cc) (1997 and newer)

GTX (580cc)

GTX (650cc)

GTX (782cc)

GTX RFI (782cc)

GTX Limited (951cc)

GTX DI (951cc)

GSX (782cc)

GSX (786cc)

GSX RFI (782cc)

GSX Limited (951cc)

LRV (951cc)*

LRV DI (951cc)*

RX (951cc)

RX DI (951cc)


RXP-X (All Versions)

RXX (951cc)


RXT-X (All Versions)

SP/SPi (580cc)

SP (720cc)

SPX (580cc)

SPX (650cc)

SPX (720cc)

XP (580cc)

XP (650cc)

XP800/XP/SPX (782cc)

XP800/XP (786cc)

XP/XP Limited (951cc)

XP DI (951cc)

GTX 4-TEC (1494cc) GTX 4-TEC (Four Stroke All Versions)

GTI (Four Stroke All Versions)

GTS (Four Stroke All Versions)

Yamaha Runabout

VXR (633cc)

Pro VXR (701cc)

FX Cruiser High Output

FX High Output

WaveBlaster II (754cc)

WaveRaider Deluxe (760cc)

WaveRaider 700 (701cc)

WaveRaider 760 (754cc)

WaveRaider 1100 (1051cc)

WaveRunner 500 (500cc)

WaveRunner III (633cc)

WaveRunner III GP (701cc)

WaveRunner FZR (1812cc)***

WaveRunner FZS (1812cc)***

WaveRunner GP760 (754cc)

WaveRunner GP800 (784cc)

WaveRunner GP800R (784cc)

WaveRunner GP1200 (1131cc)

WaveRunner GP1200R (1176cc)

WaveRunner GP1300R*** (1296cc)

WaveRunner SUV (1131cc)*

WaveRunner VXS (1812cc)***

WaveRunner VXR (1812cc)***

WaveRunner XL800 (784cc)

WaveRunner XLT800 (784cc)

WaveRunner XL1200 (1131cc)

WaveRunner XL1200 Ltd. (1176cc)

WaveRunner XLT1200 (1176cc)

WaveRunner FX140 (998cc Four-Stroke)

WaveVenture 700 (701cc)

WaveVenture 1100 (1051cc)





  • Eligible for Endurance competition only.

      • Engine displacement is limited to OEM display

About the Author

Shawn Alladio was the first boating safety instructor certified by the National Safe Boating Council since 1998 specializing in RWC education. She is a world renowned Subject Matter Expert (SME) regarding Personal Water Craft or Rescue Water Craft for recreational safety and occupational use since 1989. Shawn is the highest awarded recipient of awards programs representing the RWC and PWC community and supports K38 affiliates in international communities; she is the founder of K38 and a long standing PWC professional racer.

Shawn specializes in program development and training courses for special events and International, Local, State and Federal public safety agencies and Maritime Security departments focusing on small power craft. She has been instructing and assisting in program development for special waterborne divisions of the US Navy and USMC from 1996 to present. She has received numerous awards for boating safety such as being an inductee of the National Safe Boating Councils prestigious Boating Safety Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Higgins & Langley special commendation award for swiftwater and flood rescue. She has also been awarded Regional and National awards for the prevention or reduction of drowning and accidents.