There’s nothing like a jet ski for getting out on the water and forgetting all about your troubles. The best jet skis are easy to transport back and forth from the water, easy to maneuver on the water, and are great fun for individuals or the whole family.
If you’re thinking about getting one, there are a lot of things to consider. You need to think about what the best jet ski is for your needs, the budget you have, and what you want out of your watercraft.
Before you spring for a big purchase, think about what they are, the pros and cons of owning one, how they work, and whether you’ll be able to do some basic repairs and maintenance by yourself. You should also know about the associated costs of ownership.
All that said, however, we can highly recommend a jet ski to anyone. Almost 95% of the American population lives within a couple hour’s drive of a navigable body of water, and the best jet skis let you take full advantage of that.
What Is a Jet Ski?
Technically, the term “jet ski” is actually a brand name. The brand name belongs to the Kawasaki company, but it’s become so ubiquitous that most people use it interchangeable when they want to refer to a personal watercraft; which is what a jet ski is.
A personal watercraft, then, is a vehicle that runs on water and can hold from one to three people. The people sit on it much as they would on a bike or motorcycle, and the vast majority of these personal watercraft are used for recreational purposes.
The History of the Jet Ski
It might not seem like it, but these watercraft have actually been around for more than 50 years. The first versions were called water scooters, and they were first introduced in the 1950s and were popular in Europe.
Their main purpose was to provide a way for motorcycle manufacturers to expand the market for their products. They made a valiant try: the British Vincent company made 2,000 of the things in 1955, but they just never caught on.
Despite that failure, European companies kept trying throughout the 50s and 60s. An Italian company called Mival started making what they called the Nautical Pleasure Cruiser. We’re not sure how pleasurable it really was since you actually had to hang on from behind in order to use it.
The idea was sound, but the execution was lacking, so an Italian motorcycle racer named Jacobsen made his own version that you could stand up on. He also took away the outboard motor and replaced it with a pump. This changed everything.
Jacobsen’s idea was great, but he was having trouble getting anyone interested in it. He sold his patent to a company that made snowmobiles, but nothing came of it. So Jacobsen went to Japan and offered the idea to Kawasaki.
In 1973, Kawasaki bought the patent and named it the jet ski. The first jet skis were very popular with their limited client base: people who wanted to waterski but didn’t want to buy a whole boat. The problem was that these early water skis were hard to stay on when seas were choppy.
Kawasaki kept innovating, and the designs came back around to allow riders to actually sit down. These newer designs were also more stable and could allow for two riders at a time.
Rise of Sea-Doo
Meanwhile, the snowmobile company that had Jacobsen’s patent originally decided the time was right to make their move. They called their watercraft Sea-Doo, and Sea-Doo has long been the most popular brand of personal watercraft in the world.
Since then, jet skis have only continued to advance. The best jet skis can go as fast as 60mph and hold up to three people and their gear, and in modern times more of the best jet skis are sold every year than any brand of boat on the market.
How Do Jet Skis Work?
Jet skis are motor powered, but there are a couple of things that make the best jet skis unique. First, the engine is capable of continuing operation on its own, and one unique element that water skis have is a way of letting water in to cool the engine.
Most engines need a separate cooling system, so having a water-cooled engine of this sort allows jet skis to stay small yet have a powerful engine.
The other unique thing about the best jet skis is the special pin that connects to the rider. When the pin is in place, the jet ski will run. When the pin comes out, the engine will stop running. If the rider is thrown from the craft, the engine stops automatically.
If you look at a typical outboard motor, you’ll see propellors that push water out of the way in order to push the boat forward. The best jet skis work in the opposite way. They have impellers rather than propellers, and these pull water in.
The water gets sucked in and then show out the rear of the jet ski through a steering nozzle. The pressure of this water expulsion is so high that it actually pushes the watercraft forward.
The best jet skis can also be reversed. In reverse mode they are slow, but they can move backward in order to maneuver.
The jet ski handles connect to the steering nozzles that expel the water. By pulling the handles to the left or right, the rider can pull the ski in the same direction. In the best jet ski models, you can put pressure on the handlebars and make a very sharp turn. This allows the jet ski to maneuver a lot like a motorcycle.
Why You Should Get One
We could just say: “Jet skis are awesome” and be done with it, but we’ll give you some more concrete reasons.
Jet Skis Are Awesome
They are! They’re fun, enticing, exciting, and a lot more interesting than a boat or a paddle board. If you’ve never been on one, then you don’t understand how much fun they are.
To find out, get a jet ski rental and test out some of the best jet skis for yourself. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how engaging and fun they are.
They Are Cheap
Of course, “cheap” is a relative term. It does cost some money to get one, but in terms of initial expense, insurance, storage, transport, and operation costs, a jet ski is far more economical than most boats.
Because of their size and power, they can also get away with smaller fuel tanks, yet give you plenty of fun for the amount of fuel they expend. They are also easier to clean and maintain than most boats.
They Are Easy to Tote
If you have a boat, you might need a truck or Jeep in order to take it back and forth from the beach. To haul even a three-seat jet ski, you only need an ordinary car.
If you’ve ever experienced an issue trying to launch a boat (or seen anyone else having a problem), you’ll be ready to appreciate just how easy it is to maneuver a jet ski into the water.
The Price/Fun Ratio Is Awesome
Boats cost a lot of money. Jet skis cost a lot less money, yet they provide nearly the same amount of fun. You can go somewhere by yourself, take a friend or two on the back, or hook up a tow-tube and give the kids the ride of their lives.
The Re-Sale Value Is Great
Since Kawasaki put out their original jet skis, the market for the best jet skis has been pretty high consistently. As long as you keep your jet ski in good shape, you won’t have a problem selling it.
Types of Jet Skis
If you look up this question on the Internet, you’ll get quite a few different answers. There’s no one answer to the question except: lots. That said, we can broadly divide jet skis into three major types, and there are variations within these types.
These are jet skis designed to meet the needs of the average person. They aren’t the fastest you can buy; neither are they the most luxurious. But if you just want to get out on the water and have some fun with friends or family, these are the most cost-effective option.
These jet skis also make for a great entry into the world of jet skis. They can tow people, they’re easy on beginner riders, and they are a lot of fun for the whole family.
Some people buy a jet ski like this and keep it for years. Others use this type of jet ski as a launching pad to something more luxurious or expensive. One of the defining features of these jet skis is how responsive and nimble they are.
These have big engines, but speed and acceleration aren’t their primary purpose. The big engine is there to carry around a larger hull and offer riders a really smooth experience. These aren’t as agile as the recreational or performance skis we’ll talk about in a moment, but you can’t get anything more comfortable unless you pony up for a large boat.
These are built to be fast and powerful. They accelerate quickly, have the highest top speeds, and are extremely maneuverable. They cost more than recreation skis and as much as some performance jet skis.
These jet skis will cost a bit more to maintain as well as to buy because the performance parts they use are expensive. However, if you want a more economical jet ski with the power and responsiveness of a performance ski, you can get a stand-up version.
Stand up performance skis are as cheap as recreation skis, but they have the same performance and responsiveness as other performance skis. You’ll just need to remember that these stand-up performance skis are trickier to operate. You need a bit of practice to really enjoy them.
Most Popular Jet Ski Brands
Possibly the most popular jet ski is the Sea-Doo. Sea-Doo jet skis have a reputation for quality at reasonable prices. They also have the greatest variety of models out there.
Makers of the original “jet ski,” Kawasaki has excellent motor vehicles of all sorts, from street bikes to motorcycles. They put the best of their tech and innovation into their jet skis.
Kawasaki jet skis are a bit pricier than other manufacturers, but they also have the highest quality available and the acknowledged best jet skis on the market.
The third major player in the world of the best jet skis is Yamaha. Their offerings are always good quality, whether you’re talking about their jet skis, their motorcycles, or their pianos.
The outstanding feature of the Yamaha is their reliability. They require little maintenance and last for years.
The Best Jet Skis
- Sea-Doo GTI 130
- Sea-Doo GTI Limited 155
- Yamaha FX Cruiser SHO
- Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310X SE
- Yamaha Waverunner Superjet
- Kawasaki STX-15F
- Sea-Doo RSP-X 260
- Kawasaki Ultra 310X
- Sea-Doo Spark
- Yamaha EX
- Yamaha EX Sport
- Yamaha EXR
Parts of a Jet Ski
- Jet (Steering) Nozzle
- Reverse Bucket
- Intake Grate
- Bond Line
- Safety Lanyard
- Drive Shaft
Pros and Cons of a Jet Ski
As with anything, there are pros and cons to owning a jet ski. Knowing what some of those are before you buy will, help you make an informed choice and resist the temptation to impulse buy.
Simple to Own
If you’ve always wanted to get out on the water but don’t have the finances or the resources to buy a boat, store it, or get it to and from the water, a jet ski could be the answer. They cost less in every respect.
When you ride a jet ski, you are in complete control. You can make tighter maneuvers and feel the responsiveness of your craft in ways you’ll never experience on a boat.
When you go around in your car at 30 or 40mph, it doesn’t seem all that fast. When you skim along close to the top of the water at those speeds, it feels magical.
Compared to a boat, you’ll get incredible fuel economy on a jet ski. The average jet ski can give you between three and four hours of continuous running even at full open throttle the whole time.
Unlike with a boat, you can do all kinds of tricks on the best jet skis, from flipping to spinning, to jumps of sorts.
Easy to Service
If you have the tools and know how to use them, it’s not hard to service a jet ski. They are also much easier to clean than a bit boat.
If you’re a couple, you get to hold on to each other while you ride. That’s something special that you don’t really get with a boat (though of course, you can hold each other if you want)
You Need a License
A simple driver’s license is enough, but you will need that. In many states, if you’re under a certain age, you’ll need to take a safety course before you can operate a jet ski.
It’s fairly easy to get lost out on the open water: easier than you would think. If you lose sight of land, you can get in trouble. After all, there are no roads out there.
When you get a jet ski, you normally won’t get a trailer to go with it. You’ll need to buy that separately, and that can be pricey. You’ll also need to check how much weight your car can tow before you start laying out money.
They Can Cost
The average jet ski is a lot cheaper than a boat, but the price is not totally insignificant. There are a few models of See-Doos that run below $10,000, but the average price is more than that.
You’re not allowed to run a jet ski on the water after the sun goes down: even if you put lights on it.
Some Aren’t Stable
The cheaper you go, the more likely it is that you’ll have trouble maneuvering your jet ski. It may be less stable than you expect, and you’ll need time and skill to get used to it.
The Associated Costs
Just buying your jet ski isn’t the only expense you’ll have, so you want to factor in other expenses when figuring a budget. The last thing you want is to buy something you love and find you can’t afford to keep it!
This might be the most expensive extra cost that you’ll have with your jet ski. You might pay anything from $1,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on your age and the model you buy.
The more expensive your jet ski and the more horsepower it has, the more it will cost to insure it. Ditto if you’ve made some modifications to get more out of it. On the other hand, if you take some safety courses, you can bring your insurance costs down.
No matter what type or brand you buy, you’ll need to maintain your jet ski. If you buy an older model, you might end up doing a lot more in terms of maintenance than you would if you bought a new one.
It normally costs around $100-$200 a year to maintain a jet ski, and older models might take more in terms of winterizing and dealing with minor breakdowns. However, you can always save money by learning to do some maintenance, like oil changes, by yourself.
You’re going to have to put gas in the tank, and that gas is going to cost some money. Once again, you have to balance the initial cost with ongoing costs.
A used, older jet ski will cost less to buy, but it will more be as fuel efficient as the newer models. If you’ve found a model that interests you, do some background research into how much fuel it’s going to burn up and what it will cost to maintain.
You’ll need a way to take your baby around, and this means getting a jet ski trailer. You can pay anything from $300 to $1500 for one of these, and that cost will depend on what the trailer can do.
The more your trailer can hold, and the easier it is to hook up and to load and unload, the more expensive it will be. Once you buy it, though, you’ll really only need to worry about occasional tire changes.
If you don’t have a place to put your jet ski during the off-season, you’ll need to keep it somewhere safe. Continuous exposure to sun destroys the paint, the seats, and the mat. You also don’t want it sitting out in the rain and snow.
A storage unit can also offer you humidity control, which will prolong the life of your jet ski. If you’ve already paid for the best jet ski, you certainly don’t want to lose it because you didn’t store it carefully.
What to Think About When Buying
These are general tips that will apply whether you buy used or new. Don’t worry: in a minute we’ll go into the pros and cons of buying used and new.
Will You Be Able to Drive It?
If you try too hard to save costs and get the cheapest jet ski you can, you’re liable to end up with something you’ll struggle to control if you’re not an expert. You can offset this by taking a course, spending some time on rental units until you get the hang of it, of getting a nicer watercraft that’s easier to control.
What Will You Do about Maintenance?
You can do it yourself if you know what you’re doing. You can ask your Uncle Ed to take care of it if you have an uncle like that. Or, you can take it in for maintenance (often to the same place where you have it stored).
How Much Will You Use It?
If you live far from the water and would only use a jet ski for an occasional vacation, you might not want to spend too much (or you might want to stick to renting). If you love to be on the water and do it often, then it’s probably worth spending some money.
What Will You Use It For?
Think about how you’ll typically use your jet ski once you’ve got it on the water. Will you use it to explore inlets? Will you take the kids on their tubes? Will you pull skiers? Will you take on the ocean or on calm lakes? Will you want storage to pack lunches and gear? Do you want it to race around as quickly as possible?
All these questions will affect how powerful your jet ski should be, how nimble, and how many riders it can hold. It’s always a good idea to test drive some units before you buy.
How Much Will It Cost to Insure?
The bigger and more flashy your jet ski, the more your insurance company will demand to insure it. Make sure you find out the costs before you buy so you get the unit that will actually fit your lifestyle and goals.
Can Your Vehicle Handle the Weight?
One of the best things about a jet ski is that you need a lot less to tow them than if you had a boat. But that doesn’t mean you need NOTHING to tow them. Some cars are simply not made to tow anything.
Be sure to check with your vehicle’s manufacturer or check the user manual to make sure that it will be able to haul the size of the jet ski and the trailer you’ll need to haul it.
Jet Ski Accessories
Here’s where things get fun. You can buy nearly anything you can imagine to go with your jet ski: so calm down.
There are some accessories that are “must-haves” and some that are just nice to have when you can afford them.
A Bungee Dock Line
You’ll need to secure your jet ski to a dock at some point. Even if you have a trailer, you might go exploring. You also might end up using your jet ski to visit restaurants and bars you can only get to by boat. Bungees are so much more convenient than ropes.
If you didn’t realize that things on your personal watercraft are going to get wet, it’s time to face reality. They will, and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t have a way to keep everything dry. Even on the biggest jet skis, there is only so much waterproof storage. Get a dry bag to hold essentials like a flashlight and towel.
Unlike the paddle on your canoe or kayak, you can get special telescoping paddles that store (or even attach) to your personal watercraft. This is a must-have tool in case of breakdowns or a, ahem, miscalculation of gas mileage.
The purpose of an anchor is to hold your jet ski in place so you can explore the water around it. You can get a good anchor pretty cheaply, and when you want to pop on your goggles and have a look around, you’ll be glad you have one.
Yes, on a jet ski you’re out on the water. What a lot of people don’t really appreciate is that water hit at speed is rock hard. It’s not at all uncommon for people to break ribs when they get thrown off a jet ski at speed, and it’s no easier on your head.
If you want a luxury model to tool around in style at low speeds, you might not have to worry. But if you want to zoom around on your floating motorcycle, do get a helmet.
There are two things you want to be protected from: water and sun. Polarized goggles will protect you from UV rays and glare so you can enjoy yourself, see where you’re going, and avoid headaches at the end of the day.
Goggles will also keep the water (and possibly your hair) out of your eyes. Until you experience the annoyance, you won’t know how important this is.
Imagine this: you’ve paid for the best jet ski, and now it’s tied up to the dock. You’re enjoying a martini when someone else comes zooming up and creates a wake that keeps smacking your expensive investment into the dock.
You can avoid this problem by getting a simple and inexpensive fender that will absorb those blows for you.
No matter how well you can swim, you need a life jacket: and in most places, you’ll have to wear one by law. That doesn’t mean you have to get an enormous, bulky, orange monstrosity that will get in the way of your movement.
These days you can get extremely low profile vests that allow you full mobility and even look cool. Don’t worry about visibility, though. If you end up in the water in trouble, you can always activate a light.
The last thing you can’t do without is a good cover. You’ll want it for storing your jet ski, but you’ll also want it when you transport it to and from the water. This is one of the simplest possible ways to protect your investment.
These aren’t things you have to have, but when you can afford them, they’re definitely things you’ll want to consider.
If your jet ski is big enough to pull some people, then having a tow tube is the perfect way to share your watercraft with people you love. A great tow tube is designed so that even small kids can stay on it without trouble.
If you like to explore with your snorkeling gear, a sea scooter is an amazing way to make the most of your time underwater. Sea-Doo makes these, and they will maximize the amount of your space you can explore in your time frame.
Not everyone needs these. If you have a boat, you’ll want one, but since a jet ski sits lower on the water, you’ll be able to get away without one if you like. They are still great to have, though. They are very extremely lightweight, and if you are tired or in choppy water, you’ll be really glad you have one.
If you’re enjoying your time on the water, you’ll want to have a way to record it all. A Go Pro or similar camera lets you take smooth video even when you’re racing along in choppy water.
Waterproof Phone Case
These little beauties will also hold your wallet and keys, and they hang around your neck. While the dry bag or your storage compartment can also hold items like these, this is super handy for valuables you want to keep near you.
Jet Ski Safety
Let’s just acknowledge it: people who love to ride jet skis tend to be risk-takers. That’s fine, but there’s a difference between taking a risk and risking your life.
A jet ski crash is a serious thing, so here are some rules to live by:
Never Drink and “Drive”
It’s never smart to operate any vehicle when you’ve been drinking, and water vehicles are no exception.
Wear the Kill Cord
The jet ski comes with a kill cord that attaches to you. If you fall off, the cord drags a pin out of the jet ski and deactivates the engine. Without this, the jet ski could just keep going: into you or someone else.
Take a Course
You’ll have a lot more and get a lot more out of your experience with your jet ski if you take a safety course. You’ll have a chance to put one through the paces in a closed environment and perfect safety. There’s no better way to ensure you stay safe than to feel exactly how your jet ski is going to handle.
Be a Defensive Driver
Don’t assume that other boaters are watching out for you. You should watch out for them. Be aware of how long it takes your boat to stop, and watch out for swimmers and boaters.
Don’t Overload It
If your jet ski is rated for just two people, don’t stick other passengers on there. It might cause the craft to do things you don’t expect or respond in ways you’re ready for. If you have an accident, your insurance might not cover you.
Tips and Tricks for an Amazing Ride
Get Used to the Ocean
Riding on rivers is a lot of fun. It really is, and there are plenty of inlets and water paths to explore. But there’s just nothing like the ocean. There’s no end to the opportunities to jump or do tricks once you’re on the sea. Just be sure to spend some time getting used to it before you go running out there.
Don’t Skip Winterizing
If you winterize your jet ski, you’ll get to use it for a lot longer. Not only that, but when it comes time to bring it out for the season, it will take a lot less time and effort to get it up to speed. To winterize, you’ll need to:
Use It to Go Camping
Research places you can only get to by boat and then visit them for amazing camping experiences. Not only will it be fun and novel, but the fact that people can only get there by boat will mean you have a lot of it to yourself.
Get a GPS
Let’s rephrase that: don’t just get one. You also need to learn how to use it. A GPS could save your life if you need to get back to shore in bad weather. It can also let you mark your favorite spots, so you know where to get back and find that coral.
Speed Things Up
You can get your jet ski to go faster, though you don’t want to end up spending too much to do too little. Here are some simple and inexpensive ways to get things faster:
Take Off the Intake Grate
Not only will it go faster, but you’ll also get a better ride when the water is rough. And yes, the intake grate is there to protect you from things jamming your ride: but that’s going to occasionally happen anyway.
It’s up to you to decide if you want to remove that grate or not, and you should talk to some experienced riders before you make the final decision. You might also look into a lighter weight upgraded grate.
This will make a small but noticeable difference to your speed. Some of these work by increasing the final top speed of your ride, while others increase the acceleration. A new accelerator will make your ride between two and three miles per hour more speedy.
Check Your Weight
It should go without saying that weight matters. The heavier your ride, the slower it will go. If you aren’t taking things along for a picnic or camping trip, streamline your ride with as few added things as possible.
If speed is your greatest goal, you’ll want to shed all the extra weight and only keep a bit of gas in the tank.
In the end, it’s all about having fun; and no one can help but to have fun on a jet ski. The more tricks you learn and fun things you try, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Don’t forget to share the experience with your friends and family. Everything is better when you do it together!