Strictly speaking, Jet Ski® is the trademarked name of a personal watercraft (PWC) produced by the Kawasaki Motor Company, but the term has become a generic name for all types of personal watercraft. It is part water skiing device and part speedboat, with a definite hint of motorcycle during operation. Instead of the traditional propeller or screw motor, this PWC uses an enclosed gas-powered motor to literally push water out in a jet stream.
The jet ski operator straddles a central platform and assumes a shock-absorbing posture with knees slightly bent. The motor is electronically started with a toggle switch located in a column in front of the driver. All models should also have a dead man's switch — a connection between the driver and ignition system that should kill the motor instantly if the driver falls off.
Much like a motorcycle, acceleration is provided by a hand-powered throttle located on the right-side grip. By twisting the throttle, the driver can increase power to the motor. Steering requires a combination of pointing the front-mounted grips and maneuvering the body. Unlike a street motorcycle, this personal watercraft often requires significant acceleration to accomplish sharp turns in the water.
The use of a jet ski or any other personal watercraft is often limited by regional or local laws. There may be helmet, age, and flotation device regulations as well, so owners should always check before putting their PWCs in unfamiliar waters. Speedboats and other large recreational watercraft often cannot avoid collisions with smaller vessels, so drivers must pay attention to their surroundings. Irresponsible actions on a jet ski can also lead to dangerous encounters with swimmers and traditional water skiers. There is also a temptation for some drivers to deliberately drive through the wake of larger boats, which can be hazardous.
In the hands of an experienced driver, a jet ski can provide hours of excitement. Some PWCs can accommodate two or more riders, and have enough towing power for innertubes or water skis. They are also popular with ocean-based lifeguards and rescue squads.
While Kawasaki first marketed a Jet Ski® in 1973, a smaller company called Bombadier actually created a workable personal watercraft in the late 1960s. Years after the Kawasaki model became a household name, Bombadier came back with the Sea-Doo® and managed to make a dent in the personal watercraft marketplace. Another popular PWC model is called a WaveRunner®.