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How Shallow Can a Jet Ski Run? Avoid Jams and Damage!

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How shallow can a jet ski run? We get this question again and again.

If you are a beginner rider, you may also want to know how shallow the water can be for a jet ski to avoid damage or malfunctions.

For your convenience, we at JetDrift have done the research and compiled the basics on this topic.

Without further ado, let’s see how deep the water must be for a jet ski!

How Shallow Can a Jet Ski Run?

How shallow can a jet ski run? Contrary to popular belief, jet skis aren’t designed to run in shallow water. This is because their pumps are prone to sucking up objects from the bottom like rocks, sand, or trash. Because of this concern, manufacturers recommend that you not operate a jet ski in water shallower than 3 feet.

As jet skis don’t have props like boats, they can run in shallower water of course. But keeping safety in mind, you should never operate the engine in water that is less than 3 feet deep.

You have to be especially careful if you want to beach your jet ski, as you have to shut the engine down from a decent distance (of at least 50 feet) before the shoreline. Don’t worry, as you can still reach the shoreline with the help of momentum!

Also, keep in mind that even if you turn off the engine in time, beaching can be dangerous to the jet ski in many other ways.

In general, a good habit would be to anchor your jet ski near the shore instead of beaching it.

When you’re ready to leave, you again must pay attention to the water depth.

Best practice is to move the jet ski in at least in waist-deep water. Then, place one of your feet on the reboarding step and push the jet ski towards open waters with the help of your other foot.

As a final step, climb up to the saddle and fire up the engine. Using this trick, you can be sure that you won’t run your jet ski water that’s too shallow.

The Risks if a Jet Ski Run in Shallow Water

As we’ve mentioned, the main risk of running a jet ski in shallow water is that the pump may suck up things from the bottom.

Therefore, it’s recommended that every beginner learn how a jet ski engine and pump works.

In a nutshell, jet skis are powered and steered with a water jet generated by the pump. The pump is basically a pipe that houses the impeller, which is simply a special type of propeller.

When you operate a jet ski, the pump sucks the water in at one end, and squirts it out the other end.

This results in a strong vacuum at the inlet of the pump, which is at the bottom of the jet ski. Although there is a metal grate, known as the ‘intake grate,’ mounted in front of the inlet, it can only filter out larger objects.

This means that when you fire up the engine, the jet ski starts forcing the water through the pump, even if you don’t touch the throttle!

Are you wondering how this could be possible, since you may think the jet ski should be still in neutral?

It’s good to know that jet skis feature a direct drive system, which means its impeller is spinning all the time when the engine is running.

So, if you start a jet ski in shallow water its pump sucks up water immediately – and everything else that may be in the water.

If the bottom is covered with sand, seaweed, tree branches, rocks, or trash, these all can be sucked up with the water, causing several malfunctions. It’s also quite common to suck up anchor lines or even tow ropes while doing watersports.

If larger objects like sticks or rocks get into the pump, they commonly cause clogging since they can completely block the impeller. In this case, the engine stops as well due to the direct drive.

Removing these objects from the pump is always a hassle, as you will have to put your jet ski onto the trailer.

When small rocks get into the pump, even if they don’t cause a jam, they can scratch the wear ring. Moreover, in many cases, the impeller itself can be damaged.

Beyond pump damage, another concern of running a jet ski in shallow water is that small debris and sand can clog the cooling systems.

This is because jet skis use raw water for cooling their engines, exhaust, and intercooler. This means the external water circulating around these parts is used to keep them cool.

As you can assume, sand and small debris can easily seep into these systems causing jams that often end in the engine overheating.

How Much Water Does a Sea-Doo need?

If you have a Sea-Doo, don’t forget that it also needs to be in at least 3 feet of water to operate safely, just like any other PWC model. Keep in mind that even if Sea-Doos feature a closed-loop cooling system, their exhaust and intercooler are still cooled with external water. Because of this, and the fear of the pump clogging, it’s highly recommended that you do not operate a Sea-Doo in shallow water.

Another problem caused by operating in shallow water is that the hull can be damaged if you run your jet ski onto a big rock or other submerged objects.

What to Do if Your Jet Ski Run into Shallow Water

Let’s face it, jet skis may accidentally run into shallow water. Here are some vital tips from Kevin Shaw (WatercraftJournal) on how to avoid these situations, and what to do if they happen by accident!

Tip #1: Watch the Signs

As they say, prevention is better than the cure, so it’s best if you try to avoid these situations.

In order to do this, you have to check the color of the water continuously to notice shallow areas and sandbars. If you ride in the ocean, the lighter colored water is always a clue that the bottom is rising.

If the water isn’t transparent, you should pay double attention to the sounds your jet ski is making. Even if the engine is very loud, sand and rocks will make noticeable noise once they get sucked into the pump.

Tip #2: Turn the Engine Off

If you hear some strange noises or notice you’ve accidentally run your jet ski into shallow water, the most important thing to do is to immediately turn the engine off.

As you already know, letting the engine return to idle speed won’t help, as the pump will keep sucking water as long as the engine is on.

Tip #3: Move the Jet Ski Out of the Shallow Area by Hand

Instead of riding it, you must move your jet ski away from shallow water by hand. Jump into the water carefully, since you don’t know what the bottom is covered with.

Pull the jet ski towards deep water by grabbing the rear side of it. This is because moving the jet ski backward helps to flush the debris and sand out of the pump, instead of even more getting into it.

Don’t forget that you must only reboard the jet ski when the water is at least waist-deep (3 feet deep).

Tip #4: Clean the Pump Before Your Ride

Before you turn on the engine, it’s recommended that you flush the pump manually. This way, you can remove sand and debris from the pump, or at least most of it.

In order to do this, lift the rear side of the jet ski up and down, and also move it forward and backward several times.

Once you’ve climbed up to the craft again, start the engine and go towards deep water at idle speed.

There, simply switch between forward and reverse a couple of times, while keeping the RPMs low. This will hopefully remove everything that is left in the pump before you start riding at a higher speed.

Conclusion – How Deep Must the Water Be for a Jet Ski?

As you already know, your jet ski needs to be in at least 3 feet of water to operate safely. This is because a jet ski’s pump continuously generates a vacuum when the engine is running. If you run a jet ski in shallow water, you risk having the pump suck up objects from the bottom like trash, sand, rocks, and/or other debris.

These can’t just cause a jam in the jet ski’s pump but can also damage the impeller or the wear ring. What’s more, these can clog the cooling systems as well.

That’s why you have to follow the manufacturers’ recommendations and stop the engine if the water is less than 3 feet deep.

Additionally, you should avoid beaching your jet ski, as it can lead to a lot of damage and malfunctions!

Sources:

https://www.steveninsales.com/how-shallow-can-a-jet-ski-go/

https://www.personalwatercraft.com/features/five-common-pwc-ownership-mistakes-1303.html

https://watercraftjournal.com/

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