Riding a jet ski looks like a lot of fun, right? Watching those guys do flips off the backs of waves in the ocean is impressive; maybe you have a lust for thrill-seeking, and that sort of high-performance sport riding appeals to you?
Or maybe you’re thinking about a PWC for fishing? Spending time out on the water with a friend as you angle off the side of the ski is a great way to spend a few hours on the weekend. Whatever your reason for getting out on the water in a jet ski, you need to know the basics of the watercraft before taking to the waves or the lake.
This guide gives you everything you need to know about riding a jet ski.
- Before You Get Started
- Take the Right Gear With You
- Driving Your Jet Ski for The First Time
- After Your Ride
- Buy The Right Jet Ski For Your Skill Level and Needs
Before You Get Started
What Equipment Do I Need for Riding Jet Skis?
Riding a jet ski requires you to have the right gear to stay safe out on the water and enjoy your experience with the machine and the environment. Follow these rules before you even think about launching the craft.
- Do you have a lifejacket for everyone using the PWC?
- Do you have a coast-guard approved fire extinguisher, and is it serviced?
- Do you have an air horn or whistle for emergencies?
- Do you have a safety-stop lanyard for the key?
- Do you have your registration papers and numbers printed on the vessel?
- Do you have mirrors if you’re planning on towing people for watersports?
- Do you have a dry bag for your licensing and documentation?
Additional Equipment For Riding Jet Skis
Some of the additional equipment you may need to carry with you when riding your jet ski include the following items.
- Your smartphone or a GPS.
- Medical kit for emergencies.
- Baylor or bilge pump.
- Flags for notifying craft of skiers in the water after a fall.
- A shock tube to prevent tow-ropes sucking into the intake.
- Skier down flag if you pull someone
- Shock tube if you pull someone and to avoid sucking up your tow rope
Obey Maritime Rules and Respect Others
When you’re out on the water, it’s important to respect others and follow maritime rules for the use of watercraft in inland and coastal waters. Follow these basic rules when taking out your jet ski.
- Don’t use alcohol; you wouldn’t do it in a car, right?
- Don’t drive your ski after sunset.
- Don’t start the PWC in water less than waist-deep.
- Don’t carry more people than the recommended limit for the jet ski.
Take A Boating Safety Course
To stay safe on the water, jet ski drivers should consider taking a boating course. This safety course teaches you how to react when emergencies happen on the water and who to contact for help.
Some states require PWC drivers to undergo a mandatory test before taking the craft out on the water. Some states may also have age limits for drivers.
The test is usually online, and it’s full of useful information to help you stay safe out on the water.
Obey No-Wake Zones
When you’re moving through a no-wake zone, you need to ensure you don’t travel over idling speed. You can tell if you’re in the no-wake zone by looking for the white buoy markers at the entrance to coves, marinas, or near beaches or islands.
Failing to adhere to the policies of reducing speed in the no-wake zone will land you plenty of bad looks from other people and a big fine from the marina police. Police take the no-wake zone seriously, and you’ll get a heavy penalty for breaking the rules.
Always Wear Your Life Jacket
The lifejacket is to the jet ski what the helmet is to the motorbike. The life jacket could very well end up saving your life out on the water. If you come off the ski and it renders you unconscious, you could drown if you don’t have a life jacket.
Life jackets also act as visibility tools in low light conditions and for skiers. Brightly colored life jackets make it easy to spot people riding on the water or in the water.
Take the Right Gear With You
When you’re ready to hit the water and have some fun on your jet ski, you need to prepare for the experience. Here’s what you need to take with you to ensure you have the most amount of fun possible.
Consider wearing a wetsuit if you’re out on the water for a long period and the wind is high. The suit traps a thin film of water between the suit and your skin, helping you stay warm. You also have options for gloves, booties, and hoods for use in cold water conditions.
A dry bag is essential for your phone and paperwork or licenses. The jet ski gets wet, and the spray gets everywhere. If you don’t stow your paperwork and electronics in dry bags, they’ll end up getting ruined.
Safety Stop Lanyard
The Safety stop lanyard is a small but incredibly important piece of equipment. The lanyard attaches to the key and your wrist. If you come off the ski while driving due to hitting a large wave or making a sharp turn, the lanyard pulls the key from the ignition, killing the motor. The last thing you need is the ski running away from you, leaving you out miles in the open ocean.
Driving Your Jet Ski for The First Time
Now that you have all your education, accessories, and gear in place, it’s time to discuss the act of driving the jet ski.
Understanding the Jet Ski Controls
Before you head out onto the water for some fun, take some time to understand the jet ski controls. There are dozens of YouTube videos online showing you the control setups for every brand and model of jet ski available.
Check the gauges and ensure that all your fluid levels are full before heading out onto the water. Ensure that there are no engine or gas lights on and learn the forward, reverse, and neutral controls. Some PWCs come with brakes, so it’s important to understand the setup of your model before first use.
Learning How to Handle the Throttle
The throttle on the jet ski is sensitive. Pulling back on the throttle to the max open position from standing is going to result in a hilarious result for onlookers as the jet ski throws you from your seat. Mastering the throttle control takes some experience and time, so start slow and work your way into engaging the throttle.
If your ski comes with brakes, you’ll find that you have trigger controls to activate the function. Play around with the controls and get used to the brakes for the first few hours you spend out on the water.
Steering the Jet Ski
Driving a jet ski is a lot easier than you might think; even kids can do it. While the PWC is a very user-friendly watercraft, it does require an understanding of how to use it correctly. The steering function of the jet ski is very similar to a motorbikes controls.
Here are a few things you need to consider regarding the steering of your jet ski.
Many models start in the forward-moving position, so prepare for the movement and don’t let it throw you from the ski. Jet skis with iBR have a neutral gear and start in this position.
You’ll find that you’ll have to engage the throttle while making turns, and it might take a while to learn how to power in and out of turns effectively. Some of the new models of PWCs come with “off-throttle assisted steering” that handles the application of throttle during turns.
Ensure that you keep a safe distance from people and other watercraft when using the PWC and when starting it.
Stay alert and make sure you know who and what is around you at all times. Jet skis are like the motorbikes of the aquatic environment. They move fast, and other boats might not see you in time to make rapid adjustments if there is danger.
Always assume that the person on the boat doesn’t see you. And stay alert; it could save your life on the water.
Braking the Jet Ski
Going fast and enjoying the speed of the jet ski is always a thrilling experience for new riders. However, it’s just as important to learn how to break the vessel and reduce your speed, especially in crises.
Learning to break the jet ski correctly also helps you perform some impressive high-performance maneuvers. It’s important to note that brakes and neutral are not the same thing on a PWC. It’s also important to note that some jet skis come with brakes while others rely on mastery of the reverse gear to slow the vessel down in the water.
When shifting the ski into the neutral position, the jet funnel moves as little as possible. However, most skis will move forward slightly, even in the neutral position.
Most jet skis can handle time out on the open ocean. Playing with your jet ski in the surf is risky, but it’s plenty of fun. It’s a good idea to ensure you have total mastery of your machine before you start attempting to ramp and launch waves.
When practicing your ramps and launches on the ski, make sure you’re in the standing position with your knees bent when you hit the wave. The impact will be substantial, so brace for the hit and keep a firm grip on the handlebars.
Avoid high-traffic areas with other watercraft when you’re playing in the waves, and make sure there are no swimmers nearby or people towing skiers. When you’re approaching the wave, make sure you do it from a head-on position. Going side-on into waves could roll the ski, capsizing it.
If you do go out to play in the waves, consider wearing a helmet. If you come off the ski, and every rider does eventually, you could end up with a wave tossing you around with the ski underwater. The last thing you need is the ski hitting you in the head, leaving you unconscious. A helmet might not look cool, but it could save your life.
Every jet ski rider eventually comes off their PWC at some point. It’s for this reason that the start/stop lanyard is so important. The lanyard kills the motor, preventing the ski from running away without you. However, when you come off the ski, it can have different effects on your body, depending on the speed.
High-speed falls can result in severe injuries, especially when you land wrong. When you’re at high speed, the water will feel like concrete when you land on it, not the softness you expect.
The number-one reason why people fall off their jet ski is due to the overloading of the vessel. The overloading of the ski places challenges on the balancing dynamic of the boat, leading to easier capsizing and poor maneuverability.
We recommend adding a reboarding step to the back of the jet ski to make it easy to get back onto the ski after a fall. If the watercraft rolls over during a crash, follow the instructions for rolling it back over. Don’t leave a 4-stroke jet ski capsized for too long, or you’ll get engine and fuel problems.
After you recover and approach the jet ski to get back on, you’ll need some upper body strength to get back onto the ski, especially if it’s a smaller vessel. When attempting to get back on board the ski from the water, it’s common for the nose to rise out of the water.
Place your knees on the step and then shift to your feet for the easiest method of getting back onto the jet ski after a fall. The craft may feel unstable when you get back on it, depending on the size of the vessel.
The large jet ski models are incredibly stable, even when standing. However, the hard part is actually getting back on the ski after falling. Doing it from land is easy. However, it’s different when you’re in the water, and you’re wearing a saturated wetsuit.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more you practice with your jet ski, the better you get at riding. Find a place where you can enjoy a few hours on the ski without bothering anyone. When you’re riding for the first time, move away from everyone else. Find a spot where you can play around with the controls to get used to the handling of the PWC. Search on Facebook and find a local PWC club. Most of them plan ride-outs into different locations each week, and it’s a great way to make some new friends.
After Your Ride
Docking And Trailer Loading
After you finish with your fun on the water, it’s time to pack everything up and head home. Docking is one of the most challenging aspects of navigating a jet ski for new riders. The trick with successful docking is to take it slowly the first couple of times you try it out.
If your ski has brakes or reverse gears, use them to slow the vessel as you approach the dock. Tap the controls rather than pull on them for better accuracy in your speed control. The more you practice your docking skill, the better you get.
If your PWC doesn’t have reverse gear or brakes, spin in a tight circle without applying any throttle before you approach the dock. The spinning action kills the inertia and momentum in the jet ski, slowing you down effectively to give you better control for docking.
As you approach the dock, kill the engine and drift gently into the side of the dock, trying not to scrape the side of the ski.
The final act of the day is to load your jet ski onto the trailer. Loading the ski is similar to docking, just line it up and come off the throttle, coasting gently into the trailer. It’s ideal to position the trailer into the water when loading and to unload the boat, allowing the water to do the hard work for you.
Buy The Right Jet Ski For Your Skill Level and Needs
There are plenty of different models and makes of jet skis from several world-class manufacturers. Typically the larger models are suitable for things like deep-sea fishing and longer ocean-going trips and excursions. These models can carry anywhere up to five people, and they have powerful engines adapted to cruising.
The smaller, lighter models are better for people looking for high-performance skis for stunts and fun in the waves. These models come in single or double-seater versions, and they have better maneuverability than the larger models but less stability.
Speak to the dealer about the right model to suit your needs. It’s also a good idea to do some research on jet ski forums to find recommendations on the best models to suit your jet ski experience.