Your experience on a jet ski (personal watercraft, or PWC) all depends on which jet ski you’re on.
Some are designed for cutting through the waves at high speeds. Others for trick-riding.
Some are all about relaxation.
When it comes to picking the right jet ski, you should consider utility first and take your search from there.
While we can’t tell you the right personal watercraft for you, we have chosen our top jet skis of 2021 to help you narrow down your options and get an idea of what’s currently out there on the market.
Without further ado, our best jet skis of 2021 are –
Best Beginner Jet Ski
If you’re new to jet skiing, you need a craft that is both easy to manage and provides stability.
You also probably wouldn’t mind something at a reasonable price point until you’re sure owning a personal watercraft is something that truly suits you.
Those two things come together somewhere in the Rec-Lite and Recreation categories.
For beginners, we like the (Rec-Lite) Yamaha WaveRunner EX and the (Recreation) Sea-Doo GTI 90.
The WaveRunner EX has slightly more horsepower than the GTI 90, 100 hp to 90, and comes in 90 pounds lighter, so it’s got a little more get up and go.
But, for beginners, more engine isn’t necessarily better.
Still, those are impressive numbers for the $6,999 starting price tag.
The Sea-Doo GTI 90 is a smidge longer with molded seats and Sea-Doo’s intelligent braking/reverse system (iBR) included. (To get braking/reverse in the EX (Yamaha’s RiDE), you have to upgrade to the EX Deluxe at $8,999.)
The edge goes to… the Sea-Doo GTI 90.
Pretty much for the seat alone.
If you upgrade to the WaveRunner EX Deluxe with RiDE, the Yamaha WaveRunner EX and Sea-Doo GTI 90 offer very similar driving experiences.
But when you’re first learning to drive a PWC you don’t need your passengers sliding into you. A molded seat can make all the difference.
What’s wrong with the Sea-Doo SPARK for beginners?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
It’s just a little bit light.
While the light weight and price point (cheapest on the market for the 2-Up) make it desirable in terms of budget and portability, it simply doesn’t hold up as well in currents.
This can make for a fun slippy-slidey day on the water for those familiar with driving PWC, but, for those new to jet skiing, the SPARK can be a bit of a toss-about in the waves.
Plus, it has no brakes.
We like the slightly heavier crafts with braking systems for stability and new-rider comfort.
Best Family Jet Ski
When it comes to family outings on the water, it’s all about comfort and having the space to enjoy yourselves.
Though, a reasonable price tag never hurt anyone.
A slightly upgraded Recreation model fits this bill perfectly.
For families, we like the Sea-Doo GTX 170 and the Yamaha WaveRunner VX Cruiser.
The Sea-Doo GTX 170 is marketed as a touring model and features the largest swim platform on any PWC, as well as removable seats, creating ample space for relaxing.
It comes standard with molded seating, a 170-horsepower engine, and Sea-Doo’s intelligent braking system.
The Yamaha WaveRunner VX Cruiser also features molded seats and comes standard with Yamaha’s RiDE braking system.
It has a little less power (100 hp), but weighs 80 pounds less, so it all comes out in the wash.
The edge goes to… the Yamaha WaveRunner VX Cruiser.
And, again, it has a lot to do with the seats.
The “middle seat” on both crafts are small, but the Sea-Doo GTX’s front and back seats are a little tight too.
Best Freestyle Jet Ski (Sit-Down)
If you want to be able to ride freestyle and pull a few tricks on a sit-down PWC, you need a PWC lightweight enough to get into the air, and no other brand comes close to Sea-Doo when it comes to putting the “Lite” in Rec-Lite models.
The Sea-Doo SPARK and Sea-Doo SPARK TRIXX weigh in at 410 and 428 pounds (dry weight without fuel), respectively, which is 150 pounds lighter than their next lightest competitor, the Yamaha EX.
The Sea-Doo SPARK 2 up (the craft’s 2-seater version) is the least expensive PWC model from the big three manufacturers (Sea-Doo, Yamaha, and Kawasaki) at $5,499 retail, and comes standard with a 60-horsepower engine capable of reaching speeds up to 40 mph.
The Sea-Doo SPARK TRIXX 2 up is a little pricier at $7,699 retail, but comes standard with a 90-horsepower engine capable of speeds up to 50 mph and Sea-Doo’s intelligent braking system (iBR). iBR is an additional cost on the SPARK.
The edge goes to… the Sea-Doo SPARK TRIXX.
Though, it’s not an edge, it’s more of a landslide.
With step wedges and more driver control, the SPARK TRIXX is the one built for freestyle riding and it shows.
Best Stand-Up Jet Ski
When you’re in the market for a stand-up jet ski, you only have two real choices as a consumer – the Yamaha SuperJet and the Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R. (Relatively new PWC company, Krash Industries, exclusively makes stand-up models, but their two-stroke engines run afoul of environmental regulations, making them only permitted for competition use in the U.S.)
The Yamaha SuperJet is the lighter of the two consumer stand-ups at just over 400 pounds all fueled up, and comes in $500 cheaper than the Jet Ski SX-R.
The Jet Ski SX-R is heavy at 550 pounds, but has the more powerful engine, managing top speeds about 10 mph higher than the SuperJet – nearly 65 mph to the SuperJet’s 55 mph.
The edge goes to… both.
If you want to throw up tricks, get a SuperJet.
If you want more speed and stability, go with the Jet Ski SX-R.
Best Jet Ski for Ocean
Any brand and model of personal watercraft can be ridden in the ocean.
Though, some are more stable than others in the waves and currents.
But when it comes to maintenance and worry, if you’ll be doing most of your jet skiing in saltwater, you should take a long, hard look at Sea-Doo’s line before turning to any other brand.
Sea-Doo’s claim on the ocean lies in its closed-loop cooling system.
Unlike other brands, which use open-loop systems that pull in water from the surrounding environment (lake, river, ocean) and run it through the engine compartment, Sea-Doo’s closed-loop system diverts water away from the engine compartment, reducing the potential for corrosion.
That doesn’t mean saltwater can’t do damage to a Sea-Doo’s drivetrain or even its engine, but, generally speaking, Sea-Doo’s cooling system will save you on maintenance and provide some peace of mind.
Best Jet Ski for Tow Sports
When it comes to towing with a PWC, you need enough power for the added drag and enough space to store equipment and get set up.
Sea-Doo and Yamaha both make models that put towing at the forefront.
Sea-Doo makes two trims of its tow-specific craft, the WAKE and the WAKE PRO.
Both models feature flattened swim platforms to make standing and gearing up easier, and include built-in towing components, like a retractable ski pylon, a wakeboard storage rack, and “ski mode,” which is a sort of auto-throttle and provides precise acceleration and speed.
The WAKE PRO is a little bit longer, a little bit heavier, and has a more powerful engine – 230 horsepower vs the WAKE’s 170 hp.
It also includes Sea-Doo’s built-in bluetooth audio system.
Yamaha has determined their VX Limited their best jet ski for pulling a tube, and includes an accessory pack with a color-matched tube, rope, inflator, holder, rope bag, and cover.
Like the WAKE PRO, the Yamaha VX Limited has a built-in sound system, but it’s engine is less powerful.
The edge goes to… it depends.
And both models will get the job done.
We really like the “ski mode” on the WAKE and WAKE PRO, especially if you’re new to tow sports on a jet ski.
Spelling it out plainly helps new drivers get a handle on towing.
But the same feature exists in the VX Limited. It just isn’t called that.
You can keep a consistent speed in the VX Limited with Yamaha’s Cruise Assist function, and those Yamaha seats are roomy and the kind of padded that can let you stay out on the water awhile.
For us, we favor the Yamaha VX Limited just a smidge for its comfort factor.
But they’re all good machines.
Best Jet Ski for Racing
We doubt any professional jet skiers are going to end up on this page.
They, no doubt, know which machines are best for modding and racing better than we do.
But for consumers whose main interest is how fast their jet skis can go, we offer a showdown between the fastest PWC on the market.
When it comes to speed, it’s largely about engine output.
But it’s not just that.
While three of our top four racing models, the Jet Ski Ultra 310R, Sea-Doo RXP-X 300, and Belassi Burrasca, have engines that top 300 hp – 310, 300 and 320 hp, respectively – one model, the Yamaha GP1800 R SVHO, does not.
The Yamaha GP1800 R SVHO’s engine produces only 250 hp and still manages to keep up with its competitors.
How do they do it? Through hull design and weight.
The Yamaha GP1800 R SVHO is the lightest of these crafts at 810 pounds (estimated curb weight), and though it’s only 10 pounds lighter than the Sea-Doo RXP-X 300, it’s high-output engine and hull design are enough to compensate.
On the heavy end, the Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R weighs in at a whopping 1,048 pounds, but its powerful engine still makes it the fastest PWC on the North American market.
Outside the North American market, consumers have the option of the Belassi Burrasca (North Americans can buy one too, if they don’t mind the shipping costs and potential hassle of customs).
The Belassi Burrasca is, hands down, the fastest jet ski in the world, topping the Jet Ski Ultra 310R by 15 to 20 mph through sheer design and horsepower alone.
It does this while remaining light at only 870 pounds.
The edge for best racer goes to… the Belassi Burrasca on the face of it.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Jet ski racers don’t typically leave their machines as-is. Instead, they mod them with aftermarket kits that eliminate speed limiters and increase engine performance.
A top-line performance jet ski from Kawasaki, Yamaha, or Sea-Doo can be brought in line with the more powerful Burrasca with some well-placed mods.
And they have the benefit of being more readily available in North America.
For North American consumers, the edge goes to… again, it depends.
The Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R is undeniably the fastest, but it’s got serious bulk that can either keep you steady or create drag on turns.
The Yamaha GP1800 R SVHO and Sea-Doo RXP-X 300 are lighter, but don’t have as much power.
The best performer really depends on riding style and course.
Best Budget Jet Ski
For many of us, it’s not about the bells and whistles.
We just want a good, reliable vehicle we can count on in the water.
The big three North American PWC companies – Sea-Doo, Yamaha, and Kawasaki – all produce good, reliable machines, which is how they’ve risen to the top.
For best budget jet ski, we like the Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-160, the Yamaha WaveRunner VX-C, and the Sea-Doo SPARK 3 up.
The Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-160 is the most powerful of the bunch, featuring a 160-horsepower engine right out of the gate, and has the kind of molded seating typically found on more expensive crafts. It seats three with a load capacity (weight limit) of 496 pounds, and costs $9,799.
The Yamaha WaveRunner VX-C has a slightly up-charged engine at 110 horsepower, and generous, softly molded seating.
It seats three with a load capacity of 550 pounds (estimated), and costs $9,149.
The Sea-Doo SPARK 3 up has the weakest engine at 90 horsepower and a similar seat to the Yamaha VX-C, gently molded with very little division.
But the SPARK 3 up is shorter in length, so everything on the craft, including the seat, is just a little bit tighter.
It seats three with a load capacity of 450 pounds, and costs $7,199.
The edge goes to… the Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-160.
We simply love the power you get for under $10,000 – it gives you somewhere to go once you get comfortable with how it handles – and the well-defined seating.
That said, if you need a higher weight limit, the Yamaha WaveRunner VX-C is a quality ride, and if a $2,600 savings sounds too good to pass up, and you don’t mind the tighter seats and reduced weight limit, there is nothing at all wrong with the SPARK 3 up.
Whatever you buy, enjoy the ride.