Jet ski buying guide

Buying a personal watercraft (PWC) (or Jet Ski, which is a brand name for a personal watercraft) can be a rewarding summertime thrill. But there are some things to consider before taking the plunge. For example, you should think about buying a used Jet Ski versus a brand-new one to potentially save a bit more money. There are also certain costs of ownership to consider, including maintenance, storage, and towing.

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Buying a used Jet Ski vs. a new Jet Ski

A used Jet Ski can deliver just as much enjoyment as a brand-new one; the main difference is that buying a used Jet Ski requires a bit more due diligence to make sure you're getting a good deal. Here are a few things to look at before buying a used model:

  • Running hours: According to Weller Recreation, a 2-stroke engine can last anywhere from 200 to 300 hours, while a 4-stroke lasts from 300-400 hours. Anything above 100 hours is usually considered high mileage, but you could still get years of enjoyment out of an older Jet Ski. You can usually find the hour meter on the gauge cluster.
  • Exterior condition: A few scrapes on the hull are usually nothing to worry about, but punctures require repair work. You should also check the condition of the seat. A heavily cracked seat may need to be reupholstered.
  • Engine: Check the engine compartment for oil leaks and holes inside the hull. You should also check the oil and coolant levels.
  • Steering: Ensure the steering nozzle turns with the handlebar without any sticking or delay.
  • Intake & impeller: Inspect the intake grate from underneath, looking for damage to the impeller or debris stuck in the grate.
  • Service records: Any used Jet Ski should come with a detailed service history listing every time it was worked on. Standard maintenance includes changing the oil and spark plugs, as well as the battery every few years.
  • Take it for a spin: Just as you would with a used car, you should take the Jet Ski for a quick ride to make sure everything handles smoothly, especially the engine.

If you're buying a brand-new Jet Ski, then your considerations are a bit simpler. Think about:

  • Size: The bigger the PWC, the more passengers it can carry. Most new models can carry three people, but they may not be entirely comfortable with three adult passengers onboard. Try out a few different models before settling on one.
  • Model: There are a few different types of PWCs to consider. Rec-Lite (or Recreation Lite) models are the smallest and most affordable. Recreation models are a good mid-range, offering more speed, features, and towing capability. Then there are luxury and touring models that offer high speeds, touchscreen displays, more storage and range, and a bevy of other features.

What is the average cost of a Jet Ski?

According to J.D. Power, a new Jet Ski can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the model. A used Jet Ski is generally cheaper than an equivalent brand-new model, so if there's a specific model you're looking for, it's worth checking prices for a used one.

Pros and cons of owning a Jet Ski

Pros of a Jet Ski

  • Cost: PWCs are among the more affordable types of boats.
  • Convenience: PWCs are easy to transport and use, making them accessible to many.
  • Flexibility: PWCs usually have enough power to tow water sports equipment, and can even be used for cruising, depending on the length of your trip.

Cons of a Jet Ski

  • Small size: Size limitations affect the number of passengers and the ability to stretch out, bring extra cargo, or relax much on longer outings.
  • Exposure: You won't have much protection from inclement weather or rough seas if conditions turn rough once you're out on the water.

Are Jet Skis dangerous?

Personal watercraft (PWC) come with their share of risk but aren't the riskiest type of craft on the water. According to the United States Coast Guard 2022 Recreational Boating Safety report, PWCs were responsible for about 9% of boating fatalities.

Are Jet Skis worth it?

The answer to this question is personal and depends on what kind of boating experience you want to have. Consider the above pros and cons of owning a jet ski as you make your decision. PWCs require a license in many states, so you may need to get a boating license to drive your Jet Ski. Some states also require personal watercraft insurance, so be sure to check your state's boat insurance requirements before you buy. Additional budget considerations for a PWC include the cost of a trailer, and any required boating safety gear.

Pro tip:

Even if personal watercraft insurance isn't required in your state, it may be worth having a policy so you're potentially covered for liability in the event of an accident. You can also buy coverage for physical damage to your PWC, so you can avoid expensive repair bills or have your PWC replaced if it's stolen or lost in a covered incident.

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