Jet skis are a whole lot of fun. From taking a trip out to a deep-sea fishing spot to towing a friend on a wakeboard, a Personal Watercraft (PWC) is a great way to enjoy plenty of activities out on the lake, river, or ocean.
However, they are expensive pieces of machinery. Buying a new jet ski, even an entry-level model like the Sea-Doo Spark can cost you upwards of $5,500. This kind of price point might be out of your reach, but never fear; you can still achieve your dream of powering your way across the water on a jet ski.
PWCs have a robust secondary market, and the chances are you can pick up a pre-owned model for half the price of a new ski. Even if you can afford $5,500+ for a new model, using that same budget in the secondary market could land you a deal for a premium ski that retails for $10,000 or more when new.
Buying pre-owned makes a lot of sense when considering the additional value you can get in the deal. However, purchasing a pre-owned jet ski presents a set of risks in the deal that you don’t get when buying from the dealer.
It’s very similar to buying a used car. You have great deals, and you have lemons. So, you need to know what you’re doing when you’re considering any pre-owned jet ski.
This post unpacks everything you need to know about how to buy a used jet ski. We’ll look at what you need to know when inspecting the PWC and the other costs involved with its maintenance and use.
- Where Can You Find Pre-Owned Jet Skis?
- When Is the Best Time of Year to Buy a Used Jet Ski?
- Before You Buy – Set Your Budget and Look Around
- Use a Professional Inspection Service
- Ask to See the Service History of the Jet Ski
- Check the Engine Hours
- Take the Jet Ski for a Test Drive
- Running Costs for Your Pre-Owned Jet Ski
- Wrapping Up Don’t forget the Insurance, Registration, and Licensing Fees
Where Can You Find Pre-Owned Jet Skis?
There are several options for finding a pre-owned jet ski. The first place to look is online. You’ll find dozens of listings on classified sites like Craigslist, and there are plenty of dedicated boating sites offering classified listings from owners looking to get rid of their boats.
The second option is to take a trip to the local marina or yacht club. Many owners looking to sell their PWC will leave the details with the harbormaster. They may also leave a listing on the communal message boards in yachting or boat clubs, describing the jet ski and the asking price.
Finally, you have the option of going to a dealer. The dealer might have pre-owned models available from owners that traded in their ski for the latest model on the market.
We always recommend going with private listings over dealers. Sure, the dealer may give you a year’s warranty on your purchase, but they’ll typically price the ski at 20% to 30% above what you can find in the private market. The dealer has to pay for their showroom expenses, and they frontload those costs into their inventory.
Buying on the private market also leaves you room for negotiation. Depending on the buyer’s motivation, you could end up scoring a deal that’s 20% or more below the owner’s asking price. Cash is king, and it’s surprising what people are willing to do when they know they can have the cash in hand in a few minutes after closing the deal.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Buy a Used Jet Ski?
The time of year also makes a big difference in the purchase price. At the end of the season, when winter rolls around, you’ll find plenty of fresh listings. Most owners looking to sell will get rid of it at the end of the season rather than paying the servicing costs and storage of the PWC over the winter.
As a result, you could land a great deal from a motivated buyer. It’s also a good idea to check on the listings in late July early August as there are plenty of skis available from those couples getting divorced.
The owner may want to sell the ski to avoid their spouse seizing it as part of the settlement. Or, someone could get the ski in the settlement and want to sell it because it reminds them of their partner, landing you a great deal.
Before You Buy – Set Your Budget and Look Around
Before you dive into the listings to see what’s available, it’s a good idea to settle on your budget. Plan to spend around 10% more than you initially plan because you could find a great deal that’s just outside of your budget range.
Spend time going through the listings to see what’s available. Every deal in the secondary market is unique, and you’ll find hundreds of listings with different accessories offered to sweeten the pot for the buyer.
The thing with accessories is that they hold no additional value in the secondary market. For instance, if you have one owner selling a Sea-Doo Spark with no additions or optional extras from the dealer, they’ll usually be selling it for the same price as a model that comes fully kitted with all the optional extras.
The owner is willing to list it at the same price to incentivize potential buyers to take their modified ski over someone else base model. In some cases, the seller might ask just a few hundred dollars more for extras that cost them thousands of dollars. So, it pays to shop around.
Some of the questions you need to consider when buying a pre-owned ski are the following.
- What are the manufacturing brands you’re interested in buying?
- What is the engine capacity? Is it a two or four-stroke model?
- Does the engine have any performance upgrades?
- What are the accessories included with the boat? (Optional extras from the dealer, anchors, docking lines, PDFs, etc.).
- What kind of storage space is available?
- Is there a boarding step?
- Is there a tow hook for watersports?
- Does it have a GPS or fish finder included in the deal?
- Does the ski have mirrors?
If the listing is ambiguous, we suggest calling the owner. Not everyone is a marketing genius, and they might fail to list all of the jet ski’s features, so it’s worth giving the owner a call to clarify.
Use a Professional Inspection Service
Are you a jet ski mechanic? We didn’t think so. So, it’s probably a good idea to hire a professional inspection service to assess the PWC before you payout your hard-earned money to the owner for a lemon.
The inspection service will assess the condition of the boat and the motor, ensuring that you have a full understanding of what you’re buying. Failing to adhere to this part of the buying procedure could end up with you making a catastrophic mistake.
If the motor is damaged, you could have to fork out thousands of dollars for a replacement. So, hiring a professional to look over the jet ski is necessary. Here’s what the inspection service will look for when assessing the ski.
The hull of the jet ski needs to be intact. A professional has a keen eye, and they will spot areas where the owner repaired any damage in the past. They’ll also know which dents or cracks are repairable and how much you can expect to pay in repairs.
The hardware around the boat needs to be free of rust. If there are rusty components, it’s a sign that the owner didn’t put much effort into cleaning and maintaining the boat, and that means that the engine is likely behind on servicing and in need of major maintenance.
Leaving a jet ski out in the sun all day will fade the paint and crack the seat material. Seats aren’t expensive to fix, but it’s another sign that the owners care for the PWC. A heavy seat means the fabric is waterlogged, and excessive wear, while not a sign of neglect., means that you’ll have to replace it.
The engine is the most critical component of the PWC. Jet Skis use jet propulsion motors mounted into the rear of the boat, under the seat. You’ll need specialized tools to open the engine bay and asses the motor.
A professional will know what to look for when assessing the motor. They’ll check the mechanical and electrical components to ensure it is in working order and give you an idea of the engine’s condition and the remaining service life.
Ask to See the Service History of the Jet Ski
Ask the owner for the service history. If the owner serviced it with the dealer, you know you’re getting a great deal, provided they kept up with the maintenance schedule. If the owner skipped services, you might run into trouble with the engine later.
If the owner says they serviced the ski themselves and aren’t a qualified mechanic, that’s a big red flag. However, the inspection service will likely pick up any problems with the motor or electrical system during the assessment of the PWC.
Check the Engine Hours
Cars have an odometer to check the mileage on the vehicle. Jet skis have “hour clocks” that show you the total running time of the motor to date. The average annual use is around 30-hours. Most jet skis will have no issues for the first 300-hours of use.
If you’re buying a ski over this hour limit, consider another deal.
The older the motor, the higher the chance of problems occurring further down the road, even if the engine is in good shape.
Take the Jet Ski for a Test Drive
Sure, you could fire up the motor while the jet ski is on the trailer, but that’s not going to be a reliable indicator of performance. Ask the owner to take it out for a test drive on the water. If you live close to the lake, river, or ocean, the owner should have no problem letting you take it for a test drive.
If the owner protests your request, it’s another red flag, and you should walk away from the deal. When you get the ski out onto the water, open the engine all the way. Check for any strange knocking noises or sputtering from the motor. Ensure that no warning lights appear on the console.
Check the gauges are operating properly and there is no smell of fuel leaking from the gas tank. The Ski should maintain RPMs at speed and have a clean power curve and smooth acceleration. Check the handling and performance and head back to the dock.
Running Costs for Your Pre-Owned Jet Ski
The costs of jet ski ownership don’t end after closing the deal. You’ll need to keep these additional running costs and maintenance duties in mind.
The servicing costs of your jet ski can vary, depending on its maintenance requirements and how many hours are on the clock. In most cases, an oil change costs around $100, and a basic service with spark plugs, filters, and oil will cost around $200 to $250.
Most jet skis run on 87-octane fuel. Depending on how often you use the ski, your consumption may vary.
Batteries don’t last forever, and they will eventually need replacing. The inspection service will check the jet skis electrical system and note the battery performance. You can usually pick up a new lithium-ion battery for under $200.
Jet Ski Trailers
All PWCs in the secondary market should come with a trailer. Check the HIN of the trailer to ensure it’s not stolen, and look for signs of rust damage. Check that the taillights work and look at the condition of the tires. If anything is out of order, you can use it as leverage to negotiate a better price with the owner.
Wrapping Up Don’t forget the Insurance, Registration, and Licensing Fees
PWCs are targets for thieves. They are easy to steal and easy to sell. So make sure you run a check on the HIN number to ensure you’re not buying a stolen jet ski.
You’ll also need to consider the costs of insuring the PWC against theft, damage, and fire. In most cases, a policy will cost you around $1,000 for this type of cover.
Each state has different laws for the registration and licensing of PWCs. Check with your local authorities to see what you need to comply with to keep your ski legal. In most cases, you’ll pay no more than $100 for the registration and licensing of the jet ski and the trailer.