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What is a Jet Ski?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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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®.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Sports n' Hobbies, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon995756 — On May 23, 2016

This article helped me a lot with my research project. I advise anyone using jet skis to ride with caution as there can be many idiots out there who can mess it up for the rest of us.

By SarahSon — On Aug 26, 2012

If you love to be on the water, I think jet skis are cheaper than buying a boat. You can find some decent cheap jet skis if you look around for them.

We have two jet skis and our kids love to ride on innertubes behind them. This is a great way to spend a summer afternoon, and they don't take up nearly as much room as a boat does.

By Mykol — On Aug 26, 2012

Learning how to operate a jet ski is pretty easy. When we were on a cruise, we bought a jet ski package and this was the first time I had ever driven one myself.

Being on a jet ski in warm, tropical water with beautiful scenery really spoiled me. I know it wouldn't be like this all the time, but I went home wishing I could have my own jet ski.

I found some used jet skis for sale online, but I don't have anything to haul them around with or a place to store them. Even though it was kind of expensive to rent them like we did, I think the experience was well worth it.

By sunshined — On Aug 25, 2012

I have never been on a jet ski boat, but they sure look like a lot of fun. We have four kids, so it would be impractical for us to buy jet skis.

We have a pontoon boat that we take out on the lake and everyone can be on the boat at the same time. My kids would love to have jet skis, but they would be fighting over them all the time.

You sure see a lot of jet skis on the lake where we like to boat. Most of them are pretty cautious when they are on them, but there are always some people who are way too reckless.

By golf07 — On Aug 25, 2012

I could spend hours on the lake on my jet ski. My husband and I bought some used jet skis and a trailer, and we use them every chance we get.

This is something we both enjoy and it is so much more enjoyable if you have your own jet ski to drive instead of riding behind someone else.

By JackWhack — On Aug 24, 2012

@shell4life – It would be nice to be able to just buy a jet ski and take it with you on vacation. Those are really high rental rates, but many jet skis cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, so I see why vacationers pay these rates to ride one for awhile.

I think that beaches on the ocean and large lakes that are tourist hot spots charge higher rental fees than smaller lakes. I have seen jet skis for rent at a lake in my home state that isn't too well known for $75 an hour.

The more people who go to a certain spot, the more rental companies can expect to get away with charging for jet ski rentals. That's just the way it goes.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 24, 2012

The best jet ski experience I ever had was when I got to drive one on a peaceful lake. I had been on a jet ski before, but someone else was driving, and he went so fast that he terrified me. He jumped the waves, so it was a rough ride.

I was elated to have the chance to set my own pace. The owner of the jet ski showed me how to use it. He strapped a cord to my wrist that was connected to the key, and it would pull out if I fell off, automatically shutting down the engine.

I had no intention of going fast enough to fall off, though. I believe I went 5 mph, which was perfectly comfortable for me. I liked gliding slowly over the water and seeing the sights without feeling like my life was in danger.

By shell4life — On Aug 23, 2012

Jet ski rentals at the beach can be so expensive! My husband and I really wanted to rent one that we could both fit on, but the cost would have been over $100 an hour!

For that amount, we could rent a pontoon boat for four hours. We did that instead.

The jet ski rental prices for singles wasn't much better. For us to have rented two singles would have cost more than renting one double.

By StarJo — On Aug 23, 2012

@anon17674 – I'm so sorry to hear that you were injured on your jet ski! Reading about your experience with the dolphins brought tears to my eyes, because that is something I would love to do.

It's true that no matter how careful you are, you can't always avoid injury. Having said that, being able to experience things like having dolphins swim under you in the middle of the ocean is sometimes worth taking the risk. I would ride a jet ski in the ocean if I had one, no matter what might happen to me as a result.

By anon17674 — On Sep 04, 2008

You did a very good job of explaining about jetskis. I own a 2002 GTX RFI 3 seater Seadoo and I love it. I bought it brand new and rode like I was suppose to on the waters until one day a lady decided to be careless and she hit me from the back. She gave me a concussion, messed up my back and my shoulders. I had to have a 5 hour surgery on my back because of the accident. She told the Wildlife officers she was riding my slick behind my jetski, but of course I don't remember anything before the accident, because I partially came to in the lake and thank God for HIM and my lifejacket. This lady cost me 5 months wages because of her carelessness. I have always been a careful jetski driver and rider, but it only takes one careless person that will mess you up, just like on the highways. I have not been able to get back on the water with my jetski, because I now have two rods in my back and I am not sure of the damage it will cause me to ride my jetski. Anyway, my comment to everyone is, please be careful and be alert at all times of the riders around you, not only of the jetskis, but the boaters. You are not the only one on the water and you need to be respectful of that other person. Look at me, I was very careful and I still was hit by someone that was careless. As far as if there is anyone that is interested in purchasing a jetski, go ahead, you will not regret it. I have had some wonderful experiences on my jetski. I have even rode with the dolphins and also I turned it off and just sat there on the water and baby dolphins swam under me. I am so glad I have a jetski and who knows, maybe one day I will get back on and ride, but when the water is calm. Be safe and have fun!!! Many Smiles Upon You!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Sports n' Hobbies, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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