For Safety's Sake
When it comes to taking a jet ski into the ocean to go fishing, most people fall into two camps…first being your mothers response of “you’re crazy, why would you do that, you’re going to get eaten.” And second would more likely come from that friend who always agrees with your best (and worst) ideas. Just because we all know which voice of reason we’ll end up listening to, doesn’t mean that we can’t at least try to make mom sleep well at night, so let’s talk a bit about water safety.
To start things off one of the questions and/or remarks that puzzles me the most is the misconception that taking a jet ski into the ocean is dangerous. There is a reason that jet skis are used for big surf competitions, and rough/swift water rescue operations. They are incredibly nimble, maneuverable, and with the right platform, very stable. The horsepower to weight ratio is unequalled, and they can get you out of a bad spot much faster than any other water craft out there. Now don’t confuse this opinion with the idea that the ocean can’t be dangerous on a jet ski…but given any rough water scenario, I would take either a jet ski or a 70+ foot yacht over your typical sport fishing boat any day of the week.
One does however need to prepare for the operating environment that comes with the Jet Ski. First and foremost, it is a wet ride. There is not really a practical way around this. You will need to dress for submersion. In the Pacific Northwest, this means either a dry suit with proper layering underneath or a wet suit.
There are several companies out there that make really good products in this department, but I’d like to highlight a couple from right here in the great northwest. For a dry suit, I’ve used the USIA Pro Rafter suit for 5 years and have no complaints, these are purpose built dry suits with reinforced double layer protection in all the areas you need it to keep from making holes with hooks. On the Wet suit side, NRS has some great options and have been helping water sport enthusiasts enjoy the cold waters of the northwest for 45 years. no matter which you choose you will want something with a relief zipper for when nature calls, and something durable enough to withstand the fishing environment (hooks, fin spikes, knives, etc.).
Here's something that most people don’t think about – swimming flippers. I know, right about now, you’re thinking “huh, what’s this guy getting at?” I thought the same thing while talking with the owner of USIA at the Saltwater Sportsman Show. He went on to explain why he had the coast guard rescue teams he was training on jet ski rescue operations wear them…what happens when you come off the ski in rough, windy, or fast moving water…and it’s traveling across the top of the water just a little bit faster than you can swim? For Bar crossings where river/bay currents are present, or in windy conditions, wear them. Otherwise, having a set strapped to your thighs isn’t a bad idea if you find you’re in need.
Obviously to comply with water safety regulations you’re going to need a life vest. One of the steps I overlooked coming from the kayak fishing world was the compatibility of a life vest meant for kayak fishing to use on a jet ski. A 40 mph fall into the water is nothing like a 4 mph fall. You will want something that is impact rated and USCG approved. From there, it gets a bit more tricky, since you are fishing…in the ocean…you’re likely going to want a VHF radio, dive knife, whistle, and strobe light readily accessible if the need arises. Your life vest is a great place to put those, but impact rated life vests with places to put those aren’t so easy to come by. Try looking for search and rescue vests. You’ll find these have all the pocket space, maneuverability, and impact rating that you need.
While we’re on the subject of regulations, check with your local authorities for required gear to take a PWC (this often falls into a motorized vessel less than 16 foot) into the open ocean. At the minimum, carry a whistle and flares. And I would highly recommend a VHF radio that is DSC compatible, a submersible strobe light and signal flag, as well as an EPLB (emergency personal locator beacon). But I’m also not an expert on the requirements in all states, that’s what your local authorities are for. Prior to venturing out, please take advantage of the coast guard auxiliaries free vessel inspection (if your area has one). They will help you identify the items you need and/or should have before venturing into the big pond.
Now let’s focus on the Jet Ski. This isn’t the lake you visit on summer vacations where you spend your day looking for wakes from ski boats for something to do. If you intend on taking your jet ski across the surf, you’ll want to make sure it will survive. Here we look to the pro’s that have been doing this for a long time at big surf competitions. One of the things you’ll notice is they have straps holding down their seats and hatches. The last thing you want is for one of these to break open when a wave crashes onto it or if you have to bail in the surf. If your seat or front hatch come off, you’ll likely never see your jet ski again. A simple strap assembly can help prevent this and give you piece of mind while running surf conditions.
Next on the ski would be tow straps. Again, looking to what the big surf rescue riders do, have a tow strap attached to the front tow hook on the ski, and easily accessible – short enough it will not get sucked into the pump, long enough to secure within reach of the driver’s seat. Likewise have a tow line that can be quickly attached in the rear. With both of these ready to go, no matter which side of this equation you land on, you’re ready for a quick extraction in the surf zone or crossing a bar.
All of the above accomplish several things – one you’re ready if things ever go south while you’re out on the water, and two, if/when you get inspected, you already have your gear in order and above the standard, so you’ll get a lot less mom conversations from the authorities and on lookers at the boat ramp.