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Are 2-Stroke Jet Skis Good? Are They Worth Buying?

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Are 2-stroke jet skis good? Are they worth buying? These are the typical questions asked by those who are new to jet skis.

When it comes to 2-stroke jet skis, there are many rumors and misunderstandings about them out there.

If you are a beginner, you will probably want to learn more about the topic before purchasing your first jet ski.

For your convenience, we at JetDrift have compiled all the basics on 2-stroke jet skis in this post!

Are All Jet Skis 2-Stroke?

Although traditionally all jet skis were 2-stroke, most of today’s jet skis are powered with 4-stroke engines. The first 4-stroke jet ski models appeared on the market in 2002 and became more and more prevalent. In 2006 all manufacturers were forced to move to 4-stroke technology by the new (EPA) environmental restrictions. Finally, it’s safe to say that from this year on jet skis for recreational use have been manufactured with 4-stroke engines only.

Do They Still Make 2-Stroke Jet Skis?

Yes, surprisingly a few 2-stroke jet skis are still in production, although these are exclusively stand-up jet ski models. Are you wondering how this could be possible? The trick here is that the manufacturers market these jet skis “for competition use only.” This means that buyers are required to get an IJSBA competition card to purchase and ride these jet skis legally in most states. Unlike stand-ups, new sit-down jet skis are powered exclusively with 4-stroke engines.

Which Jet Skis are 4-Stroke?

As a rule of thumb, today’s sit-down jet skis are 4-stroke while stand-ups are mainly 2-stroke. However, 4-stroke stand-up jet skis have already appeared on the market! If you are looking for a 2-stroke sit-down jet ski, your only chance is to purchase an aged, pre-2006 model. These jet skis are small, nimble, and fun to ride!

But are these vintage 2-stroke jet skis any good? Are they worth buying?

Let’s drill into the details and compare 2-stroke with 4-stroke jet skis!

What’s Better, a 2-Stroke or 4-Stroke Jet Ski?

Many say that 4-stroke jet skis are better than 2-strokes. This is because 2-stroke jet skis need more attention, as their outdated engines are less reliable and durable. They are noisy and banned from many areas because they cause a lot of pollution. Moreover, their small hulls mean they lack seat and storage capacity. On the other hand, 2-stroke jet skis are cheap to buy, lightweight, and fun to ride, offering an inimitable riding experience!

That’s why you can still find so many 2-stroke crafts running on the water, like the legendary WaveBlasters or the Sea-Doo XPs.

So finally, it seems 2-strokes have many pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look at these, one-by-one!

The Advantages of 2-Stroke Jet Skis

Lighter and Smaller

One of the biggest advantages of 2-stroke jet skis is probably the fact that these models are lightweight and much smaller when compared to 4-strokes.

This means they offer great power-to-weight ratios even with less powerful engines.

Moreover, you can tow them with a smaller car, and can even haul them on a truck bed or hitch hauler.

Simpler

The other advantage of 2-stroke jet skis is that they are much simpler than 4-stroke ones.

Their engines contain far fewer moving parts and also lack units like the supercharger, intercooler, braking system, large LCD dashboard, speakers, and a lot of other electronic stuff.

These parts are not only prone to failure but fixing or replacing them can be very costly.

Easier to Fix

As a rule of thumb, thanks to its simper engine and features you can maintain a 2-stroke jet ski much easier by yourself.

You don’t have to change the oil in them, and you can even rebuild the engine in your garage.

As you will see, 2-strokes continuously need more care and attention, so it’s a great point that you can handle all this maintenance without professional help.

Let’s face it, just like cars and motorbikes, new 4-stroke jet skis have become more and more complex, which makes it difficult to service them yourself.

A blown engine on an elderly 4-stroke jet ski could easily mean the end of its life.

In contrast, 2-stroke engines can be rebuilt much more economically, which is why you can still see so many vintage 2-stroke jet skis running on the water!

Cheaper to Buy

If you are considering buying a second-hand jet ski, you can find many very cheap 2-stroke jet skis on the market. Although they may seem like a good bargain, you have to be careful, especially if you are a beginner.

Many of these jet skis have already reached the end of their lifespan, which means their engines have to be rebuilt very soon. As this task is definitely not at a beginner’s level, it would be best if you stayed away from cheaper offers.

If you are lucky, you can find some vintage jet skis in good condition and even some with rebuilt engines. If the owner can prove that the engine was rebuilt perfectly and the jet ski works well on the water, it might be a good deal.

But if the ad says that it “only needs carb work” or other fixes to run properly, it’s probably not even worth a phone call.

Fun to Ride

The biggest difference between the 2-stroke and 4-stroke jet skis is the riding experience.

2-stroke jet ski engines have a completely different character, and they were manufactured with a much smaller and more agile hull.

Many riders say that it is much more fun to ride a 2-stroke jet ski, as they are very nimble and lightweight. New 4-stroke jet skis already look like boats and may reach 800-1000 pounds of curb weight!

A smaller hull always leads to more fun on the water, as you can do many cool tricks with these lightweight sit-down jet skis.

I bet you won’t ever see a 360° spin on a 4-stroke jet ski like this one:

If you want to stick to stand-up jet skis, except for the SX-R 1500, you can only choose from the 2-stroke models on the market.

Keep in mind that although stand-up jet skis offer tons of fun, they are harder to ride for beginners.

The Disadvantages of 2-Stroke Jet Skis

Reliability and Maintenance

It’s a well-known fact among PWC enthusiasts that 2-stroke jet skis are less reliable than 4-strokes.

In fact, this is the main disadvantage of 2-stroke jet skis, that they need more care and attention in general.

If you purchase one, be prepared to work on it constantly. Even if the majority of the 2-stroke jet ski issues are just “carb problems,” this still means that you have to service the jet ski many times.

If you don’t have mechanical skills and don’t want to maintain the jet ski yourself, it’s not recommended that you buy a 2-stroke jet ski!

A common issue with a 2-stroke is that if you don’t ride it quite often, the fuel can evaporate from the carburetor leaving the oil behind. When you next start the engine, too much oil may result in oiled spark plugs, which makes starting impossible.

Another problem is that you have to regularly adjust the carburetor to reach optimal performance.

These issues are known as “carb works” among 2-stroke fans, which you will soon get familiar with if you invest in a 2-stroke jet ski.

Because of these concerns, many 2-stroke owners keep a tool kit and spare spark plugs in their ski. They never know when they will need them!

Although you can find some fuel-injected 2-stroke jet skis on the market, their systems also need more attention. And if the fuel-injection system has a major malfunction, not only is it very hard to fix, but it could also be expensive.

Another drawback is that 2-stroke engines are much less “smooth” at idle speed, which means a less pleasant riding experience at lower speeds.

Durability

When it comes to the 2-stroke jet ski’s reliability, it’s a proven fact that their engines are less durable compared to 4-stroke power sources. Here’s why:

Due to their design, 2-stroke engines burn oil continuously along with the gas. This means 2-stroke engines don’t have as efficient a lubrication system as 4-strokes, so their internals wear out much faster.

Moreover, 2 stroke engines are more powerful and run at higher RPMs compared to 4-strokes.

Finally, these factors lead to faster wear and tear even with proper use, not to mention the possible malfunctions or mistakes with the oil!

If a 2-stroke jet ski runs without oil it can be destroyed in seconds. Here are some examples of how a 2-stroke’s engine can be ruined due to lack of lubrication:

– If the jet ski runs on premix this means you have to mix the gas and the oil in a gas can before you pour it into the thank. First, it’s always a big hassle, which many owners don’t like. But the main problem is that if you forget to add the oil, it leaves the engine without lubrication.

– Some 2-stroke jet skis have an oil pump, so you have to pour the oil into a separate oil tank on these models. When the engine is running, the jet ski mixes the oil with the gas… as long as the oil pump is working! A malfunction in the system can also lead to improper lubrication and serious engine damage.

– You get the same result if you forget to refill this oil tank or just use the wrong type of oil.

As you can see, you can damage a 2-stroke jet ski engine very easily!

Although these engines can be rebuilt much easier, it’s still a costly and time-consuming project.

Lack of Parts and Service

It’s good to know that many service shops refuse to work on jet skis that are more than 10 years old.

If you want to own a vintage jet ski, finding a good mechanic in your area could be a challenge.

Another common issue is the availability of parts. It seems that 2-stroke jet ski parts are getting harder to find as time goes on, especially for the limited-edition jet skis.

Keep in mind these factors when you make your final decision. Best practice is to avoid the limited- edition models!

Lower Performance and Top Speed

Most 2-stroke jet skis offer around 30-160 HP, depending on the year and model. In contrast, new jet skis are powered with 60-310 HP engines.

The higher performance results in better acceleration and higher top speeds. If you are looking for the highest speed available, then the newer 4-stroke jet skis are for you.

If you are considering modifications for better performance, it’s also good to know that it’s usually harder to modify a 2-stroke jet ski.

2-Stroke Jet Ski Fuel Consumption

Surprisingly, even if they offer less performance, 2-stroke jet ski fuel consumption is significantly worse. Their engines are much less efficient, and some of the gas doesn’t burn and gets directly into the water. Additionally, they feature much smaller fuel tanks compared to new jet skis.

These factors result in much shorter riding times and higher running costs. Don’t forget that beyond gas, you have to continuously add oil to the engine.

As you can assume, the 2-stroke jet ski’s fuel range is also much worse compared to 4-strokes. You can expect to refill the fuel tank every 1-1.5 hours of riding, depending on how hard you ride them.

If you are looking for the most miles per gallon, then a non-supercharged, 4-stroke jet ski is for you.

Limited Capacities

It’s not just their small fuel tank and poor fuel range that are the only reasons why 2-stroke jet skis would not be the best choice for longer jet ski tours.

They also feature very small seats and much smaller storage compartments as well.

Speaking of seat capacity, in general, 2-stroke sit-down jet skis can only legally accommodate 2 riders.

But keep in mind that even if you’re allowed to ride these jet skis with a passenger by law, they can become very unstable and wobbly because of the big load.

This means that not only could the starts be tricky, but they become ‘tipsy’ every time you ride them at low speeds. This could be a problem in no-wake zones and especially around docks.

Reboarding a 2-stroke jet ski in deep water can even be tricky if you are alone but with a passenger it is almost impossible. A deep-water start on a stand-up also requires a lot of practice.

Let’s face it, riding a 2-stroke jet ski is a rather solo activity, whether it is a stand-up or sit-down model. To ride them you need more skills, a good sense of balance, and some athletic ability as well!

Pollution

Unfortunately, 2-stroke jet skis produce a lot of pollution. This was the main reason why the PWC industry shifted to the 4-stroke engine.

Simply put, the main problem with 2-stroke engines is that they don’t burn the gas/oil mixture perfectly, causing part of the fuel to get into the exhaust system and finally into the water.

According to tests, a 2-stroke jet ski is so polluting that it can emit two gallons of gas into the environment every hour!

In the early 2000s, some 2-stroke jet skis were manufactured with direct fuel-injection systems.

This system mixes the fuel and injects it into the cylinders right after the exhaust exits. This means these jet skis don’t have carburetors at all.

Although these models are 70% cleaner and more fuel-efficient, they still lagged far behind the efficiency of 4-stroke engines.

Another factor is the noise, as 2-stroke jet skis are much louder and have a characteristic “humming” sound.

Beyond the negative environmental impacts, the smoke and noise of a 2-stroke jet ski can be disturbing for you, or others on the water.

Restrictions

If you want to purchase a 2-stroke jet ski, you should take a closer look at the restrictions in your area.

It’s always wise to do your research upfront, as they are banned from certain areas. Let’s take a closer look at these!

Are 2-Stroke Jet Skis Banned?

Due to their poor emissions, vintage 2-stroke jet skis are banned from many parts of the US. These are mainly popular recreational areas like larger lakes and many national parks. Therefore, all jet skis that do not meet the 2006 EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards are banned from many waterways.

That’s why you have to always check the local laws and regulations if you are heading to unfamiliar waterways!

It is always important to stay legal as many areas have restrictions on jet skis.

Are 2-Stroke Jet Skis Legal in California?

2-stroke jet skis are banned in some areas in California. Although it’s legal to operate 2-stroke engines in the state, in many places jet skis are subject to special consideration. Don’t forget that all jet skis are banned within 1200 feet of the shoreline of San Francisco. You can find the complete list of waterway restrictions regarding jet skis in California here.

Are 2-Stroke Jet Skis Allowed on Lake Mohave?

No, unfortunately vintage 2-stroke jet skis are not allowed on Lake Mohave. If it doesn’t meet the 2006 EPA emission standards, you can’t operate your jet ski legally on Lake Mohave.

Does Lake Powell Allow 2-Stroke Jet Skis?

No, just like Lake Mohave and many other lakes in the state, Lake Powell doesn’t allow 2-stroke jet skis that don’t meet the 2006 EPA standards.

Are 2-Stroke Jet Skis Good?

Based on the above information, you may be wondering; are 2-stroke jet skis good for you? As a rule of thumb, 2-stroke jet skis are recommended for riders who are looking for the “old-school” riding experience. If you don’t mind regularly getting wet and want to have a lot of fun on the water, you can consider purchasing one. But keep in mind that 2-stroke jet skis are not good for beginners or riders without mechanical skills!

If you want to learn more about the differences, you can’t miss this comprehensive comparison video:

Conclusion

When it comes to the debate on a 2-stroke jet ski vs. a 4-stroke jet ski, it seems there is no clear winner here. They each have their advantages and disadvantages.

But it also has to be mentioned that 2-stroke jet skis are just not for everyone. If you are a beginner jet ski rider, it’s highly recommended that you purchase a new (or a maximum 6-7 years old) non-supercharged, 4-stroke jet ski. This is because you probably want to ride your jet ski primarily instead of having to continuously work on it!

Once you get some experience in riding and maintaining it as well, you can always shift to a 2-stroke anytime.

If you want to buy a 2-stroke jet ski, here are some vital tips to consider:

– Only buy a jet ski that is in perfect condition and “water ready.” If the seller says ”It just needs some..” then it’s best if you walk away.

– Try to avoid limited-edition models.

– In general, direct-fuel injected 2-strokes means less hassle as they don’t feature carburetors.

– Once you’ve selected a model, do extensive research on forums to find out what the typical issues are. You should do this before you make your purchase.

– Never miss the water test!

– Finally, keep in mind that working on a 2-stroke jet ski is always part of owning one.

As the final takeaway, we’ve collected the main pros and cons of 2-stroke jet skis in a nutshell:

Pros of 2-stroke jet skis:

– Lightweight and small

– Can be towed with a car, or hauled on a truck bed

– Cheaper to buy

– Simple design with fewer features and moving parts

– Easier to fix yourself

– Rebuilding its engine is easier and more economical

– Fun to ride, not just the stand-ups, but the sit-downs as well!

Cons of 2-stroke jet skis:

– Less reliable, be prepared for a lot of “carb work”

– Less durable

– You need mechanical skills to maintain

– Harder to find parts and support

– The hassle with the mixture

– High fuel consumption, low fuel range

– Lack of storage and seat capacity

– Convenient for one rider only (or max. with a child)

– Noisy, dirty, and very polluting

– They are banned from many areas

This is our 2-stroke jet ski vs. 4 stroke jet ski comparison, which we hope you found interesting!

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Related Articles:

Used Jet Ski Buyers Guide

New Jet Ski Buyers Guide

Most Reliable Jet Skis

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Sources:

https://www.boats.com/reviews/two-stroke-futures/

https://plaza.ufl.edu/mk2372/project2/twostroke.html

https://www.nps.gov/

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