Have you tried jet skiing and fell in love with the sport?
Maybe after renting a few times, you’re starting to wonder if it’s time to finally make a big purchase.
But is buying a personal watercraft (PWC) worth it?
Should you take the plunge and invest in your very own jet ski, available for you to use any time you want?
Or is it better to continue to rent a machine whenever you want to enjoy some time on the water?
To make a jet ski purchase worth your while (and money), it’s ideal to live somewhere with regular access to the water.
Or have a holiday home with water access.
Like most of the things we buy, whether or not buying a jet ski, as opposed to renting, is worth it heavily depends on your circumstances and what matters most to you in your PWC usage.
A personal watercraft (PWC) or jet ski is a big-ticket item.
The prices for new jet skis starts at over $5,000, and rise significantly from there.
Higher-end jet skis by Kawasaki, Sea-Doo, and Yamaha (the big three PWC companies) reach prices of nearly $20,000.
That’s more than some new cars! Which makes sense. A new PWC is very much like a new vehicle.
It has an engine, requires fuel. Basically, many of the working components are the same.
As if jet ski prices aren’t high enough on their own, base prices typically don’t include any accessories, some of which (fire extinguisher, personal flotation devices) you are required to have on board.
Nor does it include a trailer, which unless you live directly at the water’s edge, is a necessity too.
Some activity-specific models of PWC do include a few extras (a cooler, a tube), but these are higher-end models, which presses you closer and closer to those new car prices.
Cheap Jet Skis
There are some relatively cheap jet skis on the market.
The least expensive new PWC available in 2021 is the Sea-Doo Spark with a base retail price of $5,499. (Yamaha’s cheapest Rec-Lite model is the WaveRunner EX at $6,999, and Kawasaki doesn’t offer a Rec-Lite option.)
But how cheap is cheap?
You can certainly find some models on the used PWC marketplace, but be cautious about jet skis that seem surprisingly or suspiciously cheap.
First, you have to worry about engine hours.
A jet ski’s engine only lasts so long (300-500 hours for a four-stroke engine).
So, the more time a previous owner has spent on the PWC, the sooner you’ll have to replace the engine.
A used jet ski is also a jet ski with an uncertain maintenance history.
You can end up with a dud and have the cost of almost immediate repairs.
That doesn’t mean there are no good used jet skis out there, and, hey, we’re all about reusing and recycling.
But make sure you know a little bit about any personal watercraft’s ownership and maintenance history before you get dazzled by a low price.
If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Jet Ski Maintenance Costs
Along with the accessories you’ll need for your PWC, you’re going to have some definite maintenance and operational costs.
Operationally, you’ll need to put gas and oil into your jet ski on a regular basis.
The Sea-Doo Spark has a fuel capacity of roughly 8 gallons and should be able to perform well on basic unleaded gasoline.
Still, in states where gas prices are high (California just hit $4.00!), you’re going to be spending $30 every time you fill the tank.
That fuel tank will get you about 3 to 4 hours on the water.
As far as the oil goes, it needs changed annually.
You can expect to pay $20 for good oil, or, if you get the oil changed at a shop, at least $50 for the oil change.
When it comes to maintenance, you’ll at the very least have the expenses of cleaning, flushing, and storing your jet ski.
Jet Ski Cleaning Costs
Your PWC should be cleaned and flushed after every ride.
This is more important if you are riding it in salt water.
That’s right, even though it’s designed to ride in it, those working components (and even the haul of a jet ski) are damaged by salt water just like any other vehicle would be.
A good bottle of marine soap will cost you $10 or more.
Depending on how often you ride, you might need more than one per season.
A good wax (which will keep the hull in prime condition) runs just a little bit higher.
Expect to pay $15 to just upwards of $20.
You’ll also need a good soft rag and a water supply.
Estimated seasonal cost: $50-200
Jet Ski Flushing Costs
Like the exterior of your PWC, saltwater will damage the engine if it’s left in the engine compartment.
That’s why you should flush your jet ski after a ride.
On most models, you can flush your jet ski with a hose and water.
But manufacturers typically recommend their own flushing kits.
These flushing kits are fairly inexpensive, around $20.
If you’ll be flushing in a place where you don’t want saltwater seeping into the ground (keep saltwater away from plants!), you’ll also want a bucket for the water removed from the jet ski.
You should be able to get one for under $10.
Estimated seasonal cost: $30-40 the first season; <$10 per season after that
Jet Ski Winterizing Costs
If you live anywhere that gets cold weather in the winter months, you’ll need to winterize your jet ski for winter storage. (It honestly doesn’t hurt to do all the same things to a jet ski in warmer climates if it will be stored for an extended period of time.)
Winterizing your jet ski involves draining out the fluids (fuel and oil), spiffing it up, and keeping it warm, dry, and rodent-free.
To keep it warm, dry, and rodent-free, you’ll need a few supplies.
Some you should have on hand for your regular maintenance, but you will also need a stand on which to place your jet ski in storage and a jet ski cover or tarp.
Jet ski stands start around $150 and go up from there, with the most durable stands over $200, while the best covers cost $100 and up.
The good news is, if you buy a quality stand and cover, it should last for the life of your PWC.
Estimated one-time cost: $300-500
A jet ski is best stored inside a garage or shed. It doesn’t have to be, but it is ideal.
If you don’t have a good place to store your jet ski, either inside or outside, you’ll want to consider a storage unit or garage rental.
The price of small vehicle storage at storage facilities differs from state to state, but you should be able to squeak in for under $100/month.
Estimated seasonal cost: $1000+
Additional Maintenance Costs
Since saltwater does do damage to your PWC’s internal components, it’s almost inevitable that you will need to replace some parts on your jet ski during its lifetime.
Gaskets, studs, grips, dials.
Something is bound to break.
On top of that, there are some definite part maintenance expenses on a jet ski.
Spark plugs on your PWC should be changed out annually, like the oil, or more often if you use it a lot throughout the season.
Luckily, they’re cheap, only about $2. It’s a good idea to keep 5 or 6 on hand.
The battery on your PWC lasts a bit longer, 3 years or more (as long as you remove it when stored for an extended period).
Most replacement batteries for jet skis come in between $100 and just north of $200.
Then, there is the big replacement part on a jet ski – the engine.
A jet ski engine will last only so many hours, no matter what make or model you have or how you ride it.
Though, in general, the engine in a leisurely-driven PWC will last longer than one pushed to its limits.
The cost of replacing a jet ski engine when it dies can vary wildly, depending on your specific craft.
Recreational models tend to start out at just under $500, while performance jet ski engines cost $2,500-4,000.
On a plus note, replacing the engine when it dies can extend the life of your PWC for years.
You might have to fork out $2,500 to get it running again, but you won’t have to rebuy an entire $15,000 machine.
If you can’t (or don’t want to) replace the parts on your PWC yourself, you also need to factor in the labor of a certified technician for any maintenance work you need done.
Estimated cost: varies wildly by model
Jet Ski Licensing and Registration Costs
As far as the U.S. Coast Guard is concerned, a personal watercraft is a small boat, and, therefore, must be registered with the state of primary use.
It’s pretty cheap to get legal. Many states PWC/small boat registration is between $20 and $30, with some even lower than that.
Some states also require a PWC driver to hold a boating license, which means passing an approved boating course.
This can add to the cost, but not by much.
Estimated cost: <$50 all in for most states
Jet Ski Insurance Costs
Like any pricey vehicle, you must insure your jet ski.
How much you will pay to insure your jet ski can depend on many different factors.
These factors include:
- Your PWC’s model, make, and year
- The craft’s maximum speed, engine type, and horsepower
- Whether it has been modified in any way
- Its market value
- Its storage arrangements
- Coverage amounts
- How you plan to use your PWC
- Your accident, credit, and claims history
Jet ski insurance can cost up to around $500 per year, but it usually comes in much cheaper at around $10/month.
Estimated cost: $200-$300 for most owners
Should You Rent a Jet Ski Instead?
There are a lot of pluses to renting personal watercraft instead of buying your own.
Along with the upfront and maintenance costs, you should factor in time.
You’ll have the general upkeep of washing and flushing after rides to keep your PWC functioning at its best, plus transport to and from the water, including loading the jet ski onto the trailer both ways. Of course, this all changes if you live waterfront.
It also depends on how often you ride a PWC. Jet ski rentals start out at more than $50/hr, and come in closer to $100/hr at many popular tourist spots. It’s easy to see how quickly this can add up if you’re a regular.
So, is Buying a Jet Ski Right for You?
No matter how you cut it, or what brand or model you buy, a personal watercraft is a serious financial investment.
And there are a lot of hidden costs of a jet ski beyond that initial purchase price.
But jet ski rentals are expensive too.
If you’re a regular on the water, and a PWC is your ride of choice, there’s no reason you shouldn’t own your own.
Just know going in, there are some additional expenses and minor labor involved in ownership.
And, whether you rent or buy, have a great time on the water!