An Environmental Guide for Watercraft Operators
©Personal Watercraft Industry Association
All PWC operators and boaters participate in the ecosystem, a system created by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment. We are not separate from nature, but a part of it. As boaters, we cannot ignore the effect we have on the environment. The waters that we enjoy may be impacted by our actions. Every boater has a responsibility to learn and use environmentally safe boating practices that will protect the waters for the future.
As a watercraft rider, you are considered a boater. Watercraft are defined as inboard boats by the U.S. Coast Guard and are required to follow all boating regulations.
The Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA) encourages you to adopt the following simple guidelines to preserve our natural resources.
Beware and show you care by following these general rules.
Refuel on land to reduce any chances of spilling oil or gas into the water.
Fill the tank carefully. Do not over-fill the tank. If spillage occurs, catch any accidental spills with an absorbent pad. Dispose of the pad properly.
Check and clean your engine well away from shorelines. Water and fuel do not mix and can harm the water’s delicate micro-organisms as well as the animals that feed on them, potentially upsetting the entire food chain.
In shallow waters, boats may stir up the bottom and suspended sediments, which limit light penetration and deplete oxygen. This can affect fish and bird feeding. To avoid this effect, ride in main channels and limit riding in shallow water.
When it is necessary to ride in shallow water, keep vessel at an idle speed. In coastal areas be aware of low tide; the waters may be substantially more shallow at these times, revealing sea grass beds and other delicate vegetation.
Vegetation such as sea grasses are delicate nursery grounds where many of the fish in our waters originate.
Weeds, grasses and other plant life are not good for your vessel. Ingestion of these into your craft may cause engine or pump problems and reduce performance. Stay away!
When possible, operate a fair distance from the shore because wildlife tends to inhabit the vegetation along the edge of the shore. The best way to avoid disturbing the local ecosystem is to stay in the marked channels and the deeper areas of a lake or river when possible.
Be aware that the noise and movements of all boats may disturb bird populations. Stay clear of posted bird nesting areas.
Many migratory birds are easily stressed and are especially vulnerable during their migration periods. Birds will typically fly away from disturbing noises and any unnecessary expenditure of energy can harm a feeding or resting bird.
Bird rookeries are especially vulnerable to noise from boats. Nesting birds may fly from the nest, exposing unprotected eggs and hatchling to the sun’s heat or predators.
Do not chase wildlife or interrupt the feeding, nesting or resting of wildlife – it is illegal and can unduly stress wildlife. Harassment is defined as any action that may cause an animal to deviate from its normal behavior.
Mammals such as sea otters, sea lions, manatees and whales can be injured from direct impact by boats traveling at high speeds. Ride at controlled speeds so you can see any animals ahead of you. Avoid areas of high animal population. If you strike an animal, report it to your local wildlife commission as there may be a chance to save its life.
Excessive boat wakes may contribute to shoreline erosion, especially in narrow streams and inlets.
Erosion is a concern for all shorelines including rivers, lakes and oceans. The slow destruction of shorelines affects the habitats of plants and animals. When near the shore, avoid high speeds as they create wakes – be sure to observe posted no wake zones!
Wash your boat off after you use it to prevent the spread of exotic plants to other lakes and rivers. Exotics are plants and animals that are non-native to a specific area. Exotics have no natural enemies and spread easily, taking over an area to the exclusion of native species, thus decreasing important plant and animal diversity.
Docking / Beaching
When docking or beaching, look for evidence of turtles, birds, alligators, manatees and other animals along shore.
Avoid docking or beaching where plants such as weeds, grasses and mangroves are located. These plants are essential to the ecosystem because they control erosion and provide a nursery ground for small animals vital to the food chain, such as crustaceans, mollusks and small fish.
Many species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was created to protect these animals. It is illegal to trade, kill, hunt, collect, harass, harm, pursue, shoot, trap, wound or capture species designated as endangered or in danger of extinction, such as threatened, rare and species of concern. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for listing the hundreds of species in decline.
Be aware of the endangered species that are found in your riding area where a safe haven protects them from human development, and they are allowed to survive and flourish.
Here are just a few endangered animals you might encounter while riding: brown pelican, manatee, southern sea otter, wood, stork, American Alligator and whales.
Mangroves are a distinctive type of tree that have adapted to living in or near saltwater. There are four types of trees, two of which are threatened with extinction. Many shore birds such as pelicans and roseate spoonbills nest in mangrove forests and islands. Mangroves shelter other marine life, control erosion and filter runoff. They also build up the shoreline and serve as a buffer that protects the land from storms and winds.
Do not operate in unmarked mangrove channels – doing so disturbs mangroves, birds and other animals that reside in these areas.
Coral is a living organism which provides a safe haven for hundreds of marine creatures. This firm yet fragile species is vulnerable to the effects of human intrusion. If you are riding near coral, do not use an anchor and be careful when diving to avoid coming in contact with these delicate organisms.
Marine Plant Life
Kelp forests support a lush underwater community teeming with fish, invertebrates, sea urchins and sea otters. Found close to shore, the kelp canopy covers the surface of the water and extends down (sometimes thousands of feet) to the bottom of the ocean floor. In warm months, this seaweed can grow as much as a foot a day.
Sea grasses are nursery grounds normally found in protected waters called estuaries where fresh water and salt water meet. Most of the world’s fish have their beginnings in estuaries and their associated sea grass habitat. Sea grasses are very delicate and their destruction can lead to degradation of the entire marine cycle.
As a responsible vessel operator, stay away from both of these environmentally sensitive areas.
You Can Make a Difference
We all have a duty to the next generation to protect our bountiful natural resources.
Take a moment to learn what the environmental concerns are in your riding area.
If you’re interested in observing wildlife while riding, keep an idle speed to reduce wake, noise and turbidity (stirring up the bottom).
Know your riding area for the safety of the environment, for your own protection and for your vessel.
The Personal Watercraft Industry Association is a trade organization dedicated to promoting safe and responsible riding; this includes following safe boating rules and operating to protect the environment from harm due to rider carelessness.
The Personal Watercraft Industry Association provides this information to inform riders how to ride harmoniously with the environment. Refer to pwia.org for further information.