Personal Watercraft and Rescue Sleds
“Personal watercraft (PWC) have been around since the late 1960s, but adding a rescue sled for watercraft rescue is fairly new. Mostly used for recreational use on lakes and oceans, they come in a variety of sizes and are used for a variety of purposes. The term “personal,” however, is dated, as these craft can carry from one to four people. Most states consider personal watercraft a boat. Manufacturers have expanded the original recreational model to include racing and towing for water sport use, such as wakeboarding, tubing, tow rescue and tow surf by use of a tow board.
The personal water craft is small, powerful and agile, and can be used for rescue in many different environments. First make a few changes to a PWC like adding a tow in board, or ski rescue sled for tow rescue purposes. Then add a trained operator educated in a watercraft safety course and you have an extremely diverse water-rescue response tool. A PWC rescue sled is essential for watercraft safety.
The advantages of PWC rescue sleds over regular rescue boats are endless. PWC rescue sleds have a shallow draft (waterline to lowest part of the craft) of 3 to 10 inches, while outboard engines draft 2 or more feet. Most rescue craft 16 feet or less max out around 50 hp, while PWC with an attached rescue board can exceed 250 hp. The hp is very important for safe control with tow in boards in dynamic water environments, such as currents and within the impact zone of surf.
The first physical modification characteristic is a three-point connected rescue board towed behind the craft. Although rescuing victims from the water can easily be achieved with a standard PWC, a rescue board makes it much easier. The towed rescue board makes a fast and efficient rescue platform for picking up conscious or unconscious victims and deploying rescuers. Thanks to the surfing community, rescue boards are now easily available, as are engineered conversion kits to fit the boards to any PWC. Rescue boards have come a long way and have quickly replaced the use of a tow board litter. They’re durable, light and extremely buoyant.
Other common modifications when converting a PWC to an rescue water craft include identification and hull protection. RWC rarely have lights and sirens unless they deal with high- volume boating traffic.
PWC And Rescue Sled Specifics
These audio and visual devices often become cumbersome to work around and are a maintenance nightmare. Instead, we rely on lettering and other agency marking on the watercraft, as well as on the operator. Sometimes craft have limited surface area for identification. Fortunately, the Coast Guard exempts RWC from displaying bow numbers when easily identifiable as such.
After-market hull changes are another very common addition to RWC. Not many fire departments have a skilled fiberglass repairman! After-market aluminum hulls can be purchased to protect the fiberglass hull and increase stability of the craft. More common hull protection involves the use of adhesives. Rubber keel guards are cheap and easy to acquire, install and replace. More advanced methods, especially for the swiftwater/flood rescue environment with attitude a rescue sled, take advantage of new developments in spray-on bed liners, such as Line-X or Rhino lining. These liners are made with marine-grade applicants and come in a variety of thicknesses and colors. Spray-on liners dramatically increase hull durability with only a minor increase in drag and minor changes in weight and maneuverability. For half the cost of a pick-up truck bed, the firefighter-resistant protected hull is a no-brainer. In addition, these applications can be cheaply repaired when dinged or nicked.
Surface waters, such as lakes and ponds, account for the majority of recreational water rescues. PWC with an attached rescue sled provide fast access and are efficient for quick-grab rescues. The PWC’s low draft allows for shallow water search, and the operator can safely stand, increasing their visual range. As a result, PWC operators are often sought after for staffing swimming and paddle board competitions. Because most swimming competitions occur in surface water, swimmers can see an PWC rescue sled with their operators ready to provide assistance. Trained PWC operators watch for the simple, yet often mistaken, characteristics of a drowning person, then quickly steer in and pull that swimmer from the environment onto the tow board without causing a great deal of disruption to the event.
Swiftwater environments demand powerful and agile watercraft. PWC are underutilized in these environments. PWC rescue sleds in swiftwater are beneficial during hasty search and size-up, and provide a dynamic platform for operations or safety officers.
In swiftwater rescue, there is no such thing as too much power, just too much throttle. In fact, high horsepower makes navigation in a water current safer for all involved. “Slow is pro” in swift water navigation especially with an attached tow board, and the ability to cautiously navigate fast currents, large waves and difficult gradients is paramount. The RWC’s low draft means less underwater obstruction contact and the ability to operate at lower water levels than outboard engines without decreasing performance. Obstructions become more difficult to identify during downstream navigation, and operators in the standard PWC standing position can identify obstructions easier and earlier than other watercraft. The combination of low draft and no exposed prop also allows PWC to maneuver closer to obstructions for search or rescue operations.
There are few crafts that have the power, rigidity and versatility to be used against the pounding, relentless force of small to large surf. With an inboard jet engine rather than an exposed prop, PWC can be readied on a wide tire beach dolly and pushed into the surf by one operator. The operator can mount, confidently start and power off of the transport, quickly responding to a person in need of assistance or jet ski rescue with a craft that will perform flawlessly within the surf and have a platform to support a rescuer or persons in need. The weight and rigid design of the PWC makes it ideal for punching through large waves. Its floatation-to-weight ratio allows the operator to move over swells easily.
Final Considerations with PWC Rescue Sleds
When you make the commitment to purchase a rescue watercraft, you may choose to purchase your leased model or buy a new craft. Remember to look at your objectives and what you expect from the craft. Discuss surf rescue equipment, jet ski equipment or jet ski accessories, along with dealer installed extras such as rear boarding steps, rescue paddle board, mirrors, foot well traction mats, depth finders and more. Have the dealer work with the rescue board or rescue sled company to purchase and properly install anchor points for the specific model you choose. Fiberglass repair can be difficult, so invest early in quality marine-grade spray-on hull protectant like Line-X.
RWC with a lifeguard rescue board in the surf and swiftwater environments should also have hood and seat straps to prevent the compartments from opening in an unexpected roll. Intake grates, impellers, sponsons, and ride plates can all be changed or adjusted to suit the needs of the agency and the water they operate in. While emergency and navigation lights are not commonplace, they can easily be added.
Purchase spare keys and keep a spare one secured to the craft at all times. If purchasing two or more craft, the ignition keys can be made to be interchangeable.
The bottom line: A jet ski rescue sled, or PWC with a water rescue sled can be a valuable, versatile asset for departments that respond to water rescues with a water rescue board. If you’re currently relying on an inflatable or hard-bottomed boat, it might be time to give the rescue water craft with a rescue sled a look.”
Rescue Sleds Haleiwa, HIHSA’s “Made In The USA”.
WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY
"We did receive the board. The overall experience dealing with you guys and your products have been exceptional. We are very pleased with the product. I am putting together some photos and as soon as I get them I will email them over too you guys. Thanks again"James C. Stultz,
"I finally moved up to the bigger waves yesterday. We went to “landfill lefts” at the electric company on the west side which was too big for my skill level. 15′ Hawaiian easy. Looked too hard to rescue. Went to Cambells , where west shore meets south shore with an unbelievable 4 hour session. 10 foot sets. Felt like windsurfing catching the huge swells so early. Anyhow, my partner thinks I’m a genius when during a rescue, I picked him up and had no choice but to try to go up a wave. I got pitched off flipping backwards, ended up way away from the ski. He hung onto the rescue sled, hopped on the ski, put the emergency lanyard key and got out of the impact zone just in time. Picked me up and we continued to surf. Actually I gave you the credit for making our ski rig very safe. The investment just paid for itself. A mile off shore, no ski, huge surf = no fun. thanks again."Charlie Price
"More often than not, our rescues are performed in hairy conditions where there is no place for equipment failure. We are excited that High Surf Accessories is making a rescue board that will hold up to the elements day in and day out"Archie Kalepa,
"Hawaii, at times has the most hazardous ocean conditions in the world. Our lifeguards put there lives on the line every day and rely on their equipment. A lot of people are alive today due to the dedication of our ocean safety team and the state of the art rescue equipment. Our rescue program relies on the high surf accessories because of the strength and durability."Kalani Vierra- Kauai Fire Department,
"My colleague and I recently attended an Ocean SafetyTraining Course, run by Mike, from High Surf Rescue. The course was comprehensive and informative, covering a range of learning styles and teaching methods. Set at a good pace, Mike made us feel relaxed and at ease, especially during the more stressful moments and showed us how teach and learn from each other!"Zack Jordan - Hawaii Trials Adventures