By Mike Milne

Canada has a massive supply of fresh water rivers, lakes and waterways, so plenty of personal watercraft (PWC) riders never see salt water, let alone experience the joys and challenges of ocean navigation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no salt-encrusted sea-dog, but extended riding time in recent years around Prince Edward Island and the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the summer and in southwest Florida’s Gulf of Mexico in late spring, have given me a new perspective. P.E.I.’s summer weather is usually like a cool but sunny spell on the Great Lakes. Florida’s spring weather is more like a hot sunny summer day in southern Ontario.

Florida’s sunshine meant covering up with lightweight clothing for sun protection if you’re out riding or relaxing for long periods of time, while P.E.I.’s weather might mean covering up to keep warm!

Planning is much the same for any new riding area: check local marine charts and guide books, decide what you’d like to see and where you can stop for food, fuel or exploration. Also, locate local launch ramps and marinas.

With salt water planning, you also have to research tide tables to find the height and timing of tides where and when you plan to ride, since they will affect your riding.

Once you know where you want to go, plan how to do that safely, given likely weather, wave and wind conditions. Running offshore is fun in good conditions.  Find out how far local cell phone service extends. A handheld VHF radio is always a good idea, especially if you’re not with another PWC or a group. Know who to call if you do get into trouble — the Coast Guard for big trouble, local marinas or towing services (especially in Florida) if you run out of fuel or have mechanical problems. At your launch point, seek local knowledge. Talk to local boaters about your riding plans.

In P.E.I., we had relatives with local boating experience and in the commercial fishery. In Florida, the busiest boating state in the U.S.A., there were plenty of guidebooks and helpful marina staff. P.E.I. has lighthouses and navigation aids, while Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway and passes to the Gulf of Mexico are well-marked.

Our Canadian explorations gave us a chance to experience much of the northwestern shore of P.E.I., especially the bays and channels behind a series of barrier islands known as the Sandbanks, including Hog Island. In Florida, we roamed over the Intracoastal Waterway from Venice in the north to North Captiva Island in the south, with plenty of runs “outside” on the Gulf on relatively calm days. Highlights were joining the busy local boaters’ sandbar scene at Stump Pass, hot days on the almost deserted Gulf shore beaches of Cayo Costa state park and very close encounters with dolphins, bat rays and sea turtles.

Practical considerations include flushing salt water from our Sea-Doo’s exhaust and jet-pump with fresh water after every cruise (Yamaha WaveRunners and Kawasaki Jet Skis have to flush engine cooling systems as well). Salt spray must also be hosed off.

The daily cleanup is a bit more rigourous than in fresh water, but well worth the payoff in being able to experience a very different marine environment. The world’s oceans are rich with marine life and PWC offer a chance to experience it at close range. It’s well worth the extra effort.

This article is featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Boats&Places.