how-to-drive-a-jet-ski

How to Drive a Jet Ski: A Step-by-step Guide for First-timers

With the wind in your hair and an adrenaline rush as you punch a throttle—nothing says “summer’s here” like a jet ski ride!

My first ride on a jet ski was amazing!

It opened my eyes to a whole new world and I never looked back.

It allows freedom to ride anywhere on a lake or bay, carrying only a few essentials without having to check off an entire launch list.

But if you’re new to the sport and feeling apprehensive, or you just have a few questions, here’s a guide with tips on how to drive a jet ski before you throttle up.

What Are Jet Skis?

You’ve seen them around, but what is this magical machine we call “jet ski”?

Well, if recreational boats are the cars of the water, then jet skis are the motorcycles.

The technical term for jet skis is personal watercraft or PWC, but they’re also often referred to by the trademarked brand names Jet Ski (Kawasaki), WaveRunner (Yamaha) and Sea-Doo.

Jet Ski Styles: Stand Ups vs Sit Downs

There are two types of jet skis: Stand ups and sit downs.

Both style jet skis have inboard engines that use water to create thrust for propulsion and steering. In other words, you can only control the watercraft when the throttle is on! (It’s important to note some of the newer models can maintain their steering without the application of the throttle.)

Stand up jet skis are almost like scooters on water and require a great deal of balance to ride. I don’t recommend your first ever jet ski ride being on a stand up. When I rode a stand up for the first time, I don’t even think I was able to stand up!

It’s tougher than it looks.

Personally, I like sit down jet skis the best. You have greater control, they’re comfortable to ride, and, if maneuvered correctly, you don’t even have to get wet!

Before You Head Out for a Jet Ski Ride

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Less experienced jet ski riders are more prone to injuries, which makes it even more important to familiarize yourself with the specific watercraft you’ll be riding.

Always make safety the main priority while riding a jet ski.

Know your machine’s controls and capabilities! Different jet skis have different controls, so make sure to know what’s the throttle and what’s the emergency shut off. In addition, some jet skis have braking systems, so make sure to locate that too.

Another important task is to inspect general maintenance issues before you ride to avoid a breakdown on the water!

What to Bring for Your First Jet Ski Ride

Jet skis are considered Class A vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard, so all rules and regulations for boats under 16 feet apply.

Before you take jet skis out for the first time, make sure it has all the required safety equipment. Not only for its Class A certification but for your safety!

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  • Wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets/PFDs. It’s law that you and passengers wear them at all times!
  • Check if your state requires a license while operating a PWC. If so, you’re going to need to take a jet ski safety course to familiarize yourself with how a jet ski works and handles in a safe space. Plus, the course may help you qualify for a PWC insurance discount!
  • Carry proper documentation such as vessel registration with properly displayed decals.
  • Secure a Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher onboard.
  • Carry a functioning backfire flame arrestor and ventilation system.
  • Carry a signaling device, such as a whistle or horn. In fact, it’s smart to carry a GPS device (or map, at the very least) in case you got lost.
  • Don’t forget to check your fuel gauge. Or else you might become stranded!

Whoever is operating the jet ski must wear a cord or lanyard around their wrist, which is attached to the key in the ignition also known as a kill switch cord. This will help turn off the engine in case the driver falls off.

Don’t forget to remove the cord when you dock the jet ski! This stops any unauthorized use, whether preventing theft or safely securing the jet ski from daring young teenage riders.

How to Drive a Jet Ski

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1. To get started, find a comfortable sitting position. Next, place hands on the handlebars and feet firmly in the footrests.

2. Turn the jet ski ignition switch (with the key attached to the lanyard, attached to your wrist).

3. Slowly begin to push the throttle.

4. Cruise around about 5 to 10 mph until you’re away from the shoreline. (Some people find it helpful to stay close to shore until they’re comfortable with the throttle’s sensitivity.)

5. After cruising a safe distance from the shoreline, heavy boat traffic and other obstacles, increase speed gradually (but within your comfort zone).

6. Next, maintain this steady, slow speed and lean toward the direction you wish to turn. (Have any passengers do the same.)

Keep in mind most jet skis require acceleration to turn, which is when most riders tend to capsize. To avoid capsizing a jet ski, keep the load balanced and centered!

Just remember to take things slow and always drive defensively. It’s so easy to lose control of a jet ski so make sure you and others around are safe.

Jumping wakes is extremely thrilling! But the first few jumps can be intimidating.

One great tip: Remember to always cross a wake or large waves at a 90° angle to maintain lateral stability.

Also, jump the waves rather than speeding through them at high speeds. Speeding on the water will only make jet skis push through waves.

In Case You Fall Off

You will inevitably fall off, so here’s what you do:

There’s no need to worry if you fall off a jet ski. Reboarding is a breeze if you follow these 4 steps!

1. If it’s capsized, turn your jet-ski upwards in one direction.

2. Swim to the stern (back) for re-boarding. Never re-board from the side because your watercraft could flip over onto you.

3. Grab the handle(s) on the back of the seat and hoist yourself up onto the boarding platform.

4. Move to the seat and reattach the safety lanyard.

Riding Jet Skis with Passengers

It’s no surprise family and friends will want to jump on for a spin! If so, here are some extra steps to follow with extra passengers:

  • Carry no more passengers than the jet ski permits. Even if your jet ski’s passenger limit is 3 passengers, you must follow the weight limit.
  • Sit all passengers behind the driver.
  • Whenever the jet ski’s moving, have passengers secure themselves onto the seat straps.
  • Make sure passengers never place their feet in the water during operation.
  • Demonstrate to passengers the basics of driving a jet-ski. Should the driver become injured, it could come in handy!
  • Maintain a proper lookout while turning and beware of blind spots.

Stick with It!

Riding jet skis is one of the summer’s greatest pastimes, but doing so properly and safely takes practice. The next time you get the chance, you’ll be fully prepared!

Be safe but have fun. Get out there and ride!