Personal Watercraft Guide: Jet Skis, Sea-Doos, WaveRunners

If you’re looking to buy a personal watercraft (PWC) – chances are you’re a bit of an adrenaline junky with a need for speed, drawn to the thrill of zooming over the water at high velocity. That or your children have convinced you to purchase one because they’ve decided they can’t live without it! Either way, if you’re looking at Jet Ski, Sea-Doo, Waverunner for sale for use on the lake, river, or ocean – there’s one clear fact: you’re procuring this watercraft for pure enjoyment and adventure! This guide will walk you through the different types of personal watercraft for sale on the market and help you decide which brand and model may be best for you.

Personal Watercraft PWC
An experienced rider driving a personal watercraft or PWC

Personal Watercraft Basics

Personal watercraft, also called water scooters, generally come in two different types: “sit-downs” and “stand-ups”. Sit-downs, also known as runabouts, are mainly driven by a rider who is seated on the vessel. Stand-ups, as the name implies, are driven by a standing rider. Stand-ups are geared more towards competitive racing and tricks, and only hold one rider, whereas sit-down models usually hold 2-3 people (sometimes up to 4). PWC’s are powered by inboard engines that drive a pump-jet or hydrojet that creates thrust for propulsion and steering.

A Rider Navigates Buoys on a PWC in the Bahamas
A rider navigates buoys on a PWC in the Bahamas

Some of the most appealing factors about these types of watercraft are that they are easy to maneuver, don’t require experience or a license, and for the most part, are easy to handle on the water. Whereas a boat is much larger and is more difficult to maneuver, PWC’s allow you to cruise around the waters quickly in a much more relaxed manner. As always, the more passengers on the vessel, the slower you’re bound to go! Of course, you’ll need a little practice and you’ll need to know the waters/general rules about boating.

Learning To Drive A Jet Ski / PWC

If you’re thinking about buying a personal watercraft/Jet Ski, but have not actually driven or ridden one before, it’s best to test one out on a sea trial a few times before you buy so you can learn how to drive a PWC safely. PWC’s are easily available to rent in many places around the world. The activity has been quite popular for many years and is accessible at most vacation destinations by water, whether it be an ocean beach, river or lake. Rental companies don’t usually require any sort of experience or licensing to rent and drive one, and on average cost about $50 per hour. Costs vary, but this is a good median price. Before you buy your own, make sure you get out there and take one for a real life test drive!

Buying Your First PWC: What’s The Best Brand For You?

Once you’ve done some test drives and are comfortable operating a PWC, you can take a hard look at your options. First things first, you’ll want to buy from a reputable brand. But how do you narrow down your choice to find the best brand/manufacturer for you? The most popular brands are Jet Ski (Kawasaki), WaveRunner (Yamaha) and Sea-Doo (Bombardier) – each bringing a different value to their models. Let’s take a closer look at each of these manufacturers.

Kawaski Jet Ski: The Flashy Speed Demon

Kawasaki Jet Skis are made for speed demons! The company has a reputation for creating the fastest personal watercraft on the water. If you’re looking to be a trickster and beat all your friends in a Jet Ski race, this is the option for you! This would definitely be considered the “Bentley” of PWC’s if you know what I mean!

Jet Skis are probably the best known brand of PWC
Kawasaki Jet Skis are probably the best known brand of personal watercraft

The term Jet Ski is frequently used in a generic manner to refer to all types of recreational personal watercraft, and probably has the best brand name recognition of all the PWC manufacturers.

Kawasaki Jet Skis are known to be clean looking and super-fast. Unlike some other brands, they come with speakers so that you can ride in style! Because of their fanciness, they’ll cost you a bit more – usually Jet Skis for sale start around $10,000. If you’re looking to show off, this is definitely the choice for you!

Sea-Doo: Keep It In The Budget

Although Kawasaki’s Jet Ski may be the better-known brand name, the first and oldest jet-propelled personal watercraft brand was actually Bombardier’s Sea-Doo. Invented in the 1960’s by Clayton Jacobson, a well-known motorcycle racer, the first prototype designs were referred to as “motorcycles for the water” and looked a lot like a powered water ski.

Sea-Doo led the way in the PWC market with their Intelligent Brake and Reverse system.
Sea-Doo led the way in the PWC market with their Intelligent Brake and Reverse system.

Sea-Doos are now probably the most affordable personal watercraft out there and are a great option for first-time buyers. Besides being affordable, Sea-Doos are also generally light and easy to maneuver. If you’re a beginner in the PWC world, this is a great option to learn on and get comfortable with. Pricing varies, however you can find some models of used Sea-Doos for sale as low as $5,000. If you’re on a budget, this is definitely the option for you, keep in mind there’s always a time and place for an upgrade!

Yamaha: WaveRunner Has Got Your Back

Yamaha also creates a great, trustworthy and reliable PWC called the WaveRunner, much like their other motor crafts. Being such a reputable brand, Yamaha has some great options starting from about $7,000. The benefits of purchasing a Yamaha is that they’re reliable, great for the family, and still offer a lot of speed out on the water.

Yamaha's TR-1 powerplant in the EX line of personal watercraft
Yamaha’s TR-1 WaveRunner powerplant in their EX line of personal watercraft

The Yamaha brand is huge, thus there’s more access to parts and mechanics that know the product. Should you have an issue and you own a Yamaha, you can feel assured that someone close by will know how to repair it! There are plenty of both new and used Yamaha WaveRunners for sale on the Boat Trader website.

Narrowing It Down: What Model Is Made For Me?

Once you’ve chosen the brand you want to go with, you’ll have to narrow down the model that is most appealing to you. Are you a family man? Do you plan on cruising around with your two kids or wife? Do you have the need for speed? Will you be racing against your friends? Or are you just looking for something safe and reliable, with good speed that offers some other options for family activities?

Different PWC models offer different features like extra seating and storage.

There are tons of different models, offering different factors and features to consider like extra seating, storage size, fuel tank size, hull type, handlebar comfort, engine size, the weight of your jet ski and much more. Depending on your intended use for your new water ride, you will have to figure out what model best suits you.

Ocean Rider: Get All The Bells And Whistles!

Say you’re looking to do long-distance fishing trips with your buddies in the ocean, you’ll want to make sure you have a good amount of storage for your equipment. You will also want to make sure that you have a large fuel tank. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of the ocean with no gas!

Different PWC models offer different features like extra seating and storage
Important features are handlebar comfort and seat ergonomics for choppy water

Another important feature would be handlebar comfort, if you plan on traveling far distances, you’ll want to make sure your butt and your hands are comfortable for the long ride ahead! Don’t forget that when riding in the ocean, you often have unpredictable waters that sometimes can be quite choppy. So you’ll want a Jet Ski with more of a deep V over a flat bottom hull, that will ensure a smooth ride as you cut through the waves.

All in all, if you’re planning on riding in the ocean, it’s best to buy the safest option with ample storage, high comfort-level, and large engine & fuel tank.

Lake Life: Keep It Simple And Within The Budget

Jet-skiing on rivers or lakes is quite the opposite – you don’t need to worry much about your hull, storage or really any of the other items mentioned above. If you’re just planning to use your jet ski recreationally on the river or lake, something basic will do.

Yamaha superjet PWC on a lake
Yamaha Superjet is a stand-up PWC great for lakes

A deep-v hull is not necessary, nor is an ample amount of storage or a large gas tank. Generally speaking, you’ll be traveling shorter distances while on a lake or river, and are usually close to most resources that you’d need. Thus, this is a great place to save on your Jet Ski budget. If you plan on staying on the lake or river you can save some money by avoiding those extra items that are necessary for ocean rides.

Speed, Engines & Safety: What To Expect From Your PWC

You might be asking yourself… “How fast is fast?”. Depending on the PWC that you purchase, your max speed could be anywhere from 40 MPH to 70 MPH. While you may never actually reach 70 MPH, it’s important to know what your Jet Ski is capable of. The average speed that would be considered “fast enough” is around 50 MPH, and even this is considered quite fast.

Speed is an important factor to consider, even if you aren’t a speed demon. When you hit a certain speed level the watercraft becomes increasingly difficult to operate and you can’t slow down quickly should there be a hazard in your way. If you plan on traveling long distances, you may need to consider a PWC that can get you there quickly, which means you’d want to consider having a higher MPH limit. If you plan on having your kids cruise around, you may want to stay at that 40 MPH speed limit, as things get a little trickier to control the faster you’re going!

Speed demons like jet skis
The faster the speed the harder it is to control a personal watercraft

As mentioned above, all PWC’s have inboard jet engines, which is a blessing when riding in shallow waters as you do not have to worry about your engines slamming on reefs or shallow sand. It also allows for easy parking by just driving the jet ski straight up onto the sand. You can have more of a carefree ride knowing that your engine won’t rip out should you accidentally hit something below you.

Jet Ski / PWC Safety Tips

Personal watercraft engines have a high-powered jet that basically shoots the water back, causing the watercraft to propel forward. It’s unlike a boat, but more like a jet plane or jet rocket, sounds cool, huh?! But just like anything with an engine or anything that moves in general, you must be more cautious when traveling at high speeds or maneuvering around other people or boats. Life jackets are always necessary and required while riding a Jet Ski, Sea-Doo or WaveRunner.

Even if you’re a professional swimmer, its the law to wear one at all times. PWC’s are great for people to get comfortable operating machinery on the water and are a great step before operating larger motor-powered engines out on the water, such as a boat. PWC’s are literally built for a good time. You buy one to have fun, so it’s important to remember that despite having fun, safety must always be in the forefront of your mind.

Post Purchase: Jet Ski / PWC Life

Upon purchasing your personal watercraft vessel, your life will open up many doors for adventure, activity, and exploration! PWC’s can basically all go into those shallow waters, little crevasses and nooks that boats are too large to access. Jet-skiing can be used for both leisure and sport. From racing to tricks, if you are the athletic and competitive type, there is a possibility to show your talents off in the sport of jet skiing.

Yamaha WaveRunner at on an ocean sandbar at dawn
A Yamaha WaveRunner at on an ocean sandbar at dawn

PWC’s can also be used to tow wakeboards, and tubes, basically giving you access to many things a boat can do! If you are a fisherman, why not throw a line off your Jet Ski!? Fishing would be a little more difficult to do on a PWC, as you don’t have the same amount of space. However, it’s completely do-able! Grab a cooler, strap it to the back, attach a fishing rod holder to it and you’re good to go! As long as you’re good with being solo, fishing on a Jet Ski is no problem!

Owning a personal watercraft is a luxury. It’s great for kids and great for entertainment, with a touch of functionality when using it for fishing, cruising, or perhaps even as your means of transportation! While there may be no “perfect” PWC out there for every purpose, at the end of the day you’ll certainly enjoy your watercraft no matter which one you buy – as they’re all made for enjoyment! Happy riding!

Personal Watercraft FAQ

Do You Need A License To Drive A Jet Ski?

Personal watercraft / Jet Skis are considered small vessels, thus are governed by the same state and federal laws as all other small vessels. However, state laws vary, and many do not require a separate boating license for these types of small vessels. There are a variety of factors such as age, length, year/manufacture date, passenger capacity and horsepower/top speed. If your state requires a boating license and you operate a PWC without it, you may be fined as a result.

What’s The Fastest Personal Watercraft?

Three of the fastest PWC’s on the market are Yamaha’s FX series, Kawasaki’s Ultra 310LX Jet Ski and Sea-Doo’s RXP-300.

How Fast Can A Jet Ski Go?

The fastest speed ever recorded for a PWC was 92 miles per hour, on a HSR-Benelli Series R, although generally speaking the top speed of most PWC’s is between 65-70 MPH.

Do You Need Insurance For A PWC / Jet Ski?

Requirements for personal watercraft insurance vary by state. Some states require at least basic liability insurance coverage in order to operate the watercraft on public waterways. As always, it’s your legal responsibility to know and understand the applicable laws in your area before operating any vessel to be sure you are in full compliance. And of course, we would recommend PWC insurance for all riders, regardless of whether or not it is required in your state.

How Much Does It Cost To Insure A PWC?

Generally insuring your personal watercraft will cost between $100-$500 per year, so it is well worth the price tag for peace of mind. Of course, your costs will depend on various factors including your location, manufacture date, model, engine horsepower and maximum speed.

What Does PWC Insurance Cover?

Personal watercraft insurance policies generally cover the following:

  • Damage you cause to another person’s property
  • Bodily injury or death in which you are found responsible
  • Physical damage to your own watercraft
  • Any injuries you incur from an accident caused by another uninsured boater
  • Liability coverage for towing water skiers and water sports activities
  • Towing/removing your PWC in case transport is needed
  • Basic trailer coverage

Written by: Tatjana Chahine

Tatjana Chahine is USCG-licensed boat captain and writer who regularly contributes to, YachtWorld and Boat Trader. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she now resides in Nassau, Bahamas where she operates a Bahamas boat charter and excursion company that helps tourists visit the 700 islands & cays and experience the local culture. Bahamian-owned, the company partners with Bahamians for custom-tailored, guided tours and supports local businesses and community building efforts.


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