Compare Specs Discover '24 PWCs Browse Reviews
How to Ride a Jet Ski in Rough Water [Video]

How to Ride a Jet Ski in Rough Water [Video]

Do you want to know how to ride a jet ski in rough water? – This is a typical question many beginners ask, and with good reason.

When it comes to jet skiing, many people think only of sunshine, blue skies and calm water. But unfortunately, the weather can change suddenly!

Harsh weather can be extremely dangerous and can make your navigation more difficult, especially if you’re not prepared. To be on the safe side, it’s essential to know how to safely ride your jet ski in rough water!

We, at JetDrift, have gathered the most important tips on how to handle your jet ski in harsh weather, how to choose the right jet ski for rough water, and how to prepare it (and yourself) for all of these conditions!

Be Prepared

Check the Weather Forecast

Although it looks obvious, you’d be surprised by how many riders overlook the weather forecast before their rides. If you only ride on smaller lakes, this isn’t an issue, as you can ride back to the dock in a couple of minutes.  But the ocean has a more challenging set of conditions. If you get caught in a storm on the open water, it could be really dangerous.

That’s why it’s so important to check the weather forecast upfront, both short-term and long-term. You can check it in several ways, like via TV, radio or even online.

Make it a habit to check the weather before you hit the water!

The most popular weather forecast services for jet ski riders and boaters are the NOAA’s National Weather Service and Buoyweather. But when it comes to checking the wind, you can’t go wrong with the Windfinder’s detailed forecasts.

Why don’t you check them all while you’re waiting at the ramp?

Understand the Weather

When it comes to weather forecasts, it’s also important to understand the language of forecasts. The wind warnings are expressed in special units like nautical mph or even knots, making it harder to understand, especially for beginners.

Boating and jet skiing are more than running at full throttle on the water, so it’s wise to learn these new units and other phrases you can find in the weather forecasts!

Safety Gear

Rough water is dangerous, so never start your trip without the essential safety accessories. The U.S. Coast Guard – approved life jacket and safety lanyard are the bare minimum, as you will need other safety gear to stay safe and legal.

If you ride regularly on rough water, it’s wise to keep some extra safety accessories onboard, even if the law doesn’t require them!

These are, for example, VHF-FM Marie Radios, a GPS, and distress signals (for night and day use, too). Don’t forget to learn how these devices work in advance, as you won’t have much of a chance to study their manuals in emergency situations!

Finally, it’s wise to install a bilge pump on your jet ski. This unit can remove the water from the bilge if it spills into the hull, which occurs more often on choppy water.

Special Rescue Life Jackets

You can consider a special-rescue life jacket instead of a regular one.

These heavy-duty devices are designed primarily for rough weather conditions and are equipped with several useful additions like hand-warmer, reinforced shoulder straps and even quick-release rescue belts with carabiners.

Their other main advantage is that they’re equipped with extra pockets for smaller safety gear and devices. Have you ever imagined  falling from the seat on really rough water, and not being able to re-board anymore because a wave has swept away your jet ski?

This means a rescue life jacket makes sense if you ride a jet ski in rough water regularly!

Clothing and Protection

Beyond safety gear, you definitely need some high-quality clothes. Rough weather can mean strong wind, lower temperatures or even rain, so that’s why you’ll rarely see riders in a bathing suit in these weather conditions!

Additionally, you may want a long-sleeved wetsuit, a pair of shoes or boots, or even a pair of gloves.  For water spray protection with little-to-no sunshine, a special jet ski goggle can do a better job than regular sunglasses.

A special hat can keep your head warm, and if you ride really hard and prefer large wave jumps, it’s recommended you wear a helmet as well!

Plan Your Trip

Rough weather always means higher fuel consumption, so it’s essential to plan your trip upfront and don’t go too far offshore. When it comes to gas, always fill your tank completely, and follow the 1/3 – 1/3 fuel management rule on the water.

Beyond general planning, you should have an emergency plan which you may need to do if something bad happens. You can think through some different scenarios which may occur during your rides, including getting injured, having malfunctions with the jet ski, capsizing it, or even drifting away from the jet ski in the water.

Never Ride Alone

It’s always highly recommended you don’t ride alone! You don’t know when you’ll need any help, so it’s always wise to ride with a friend or two who can watch your back!

Additionally, it’s not a good idea taking passengers on your ski in choppy water. There’s a high risk that if your passenger falls off, or bumps into you, it can lead to several injuries.

Get Some Practice First

If you don’t have enough experience, don’t even think about riding in rough water! If you’re a beginner, it’s always wise to ride in really calm weather.

Once you have the confidencehandling your jet ski safely in different situations, you can face the waves as well. It’s wise to start by obtaining a boating safety course (jet ski license) even if your state doesn’t require it.

How to Ride a Jet Ski in Rough Water

If you get caught in a storm, it could be really dangerous. When it comes to rough water conditions, many riders think only about the waves, but wind, rain or haze can make your rides and navigation much harder.

Let’s check these weather elements one-by-one, and find out how can you handle them!

Riding a Jet Ski in Waves

When it comes to waves and the terms “choppy water” or “rough water” there’s usually a confusion about what they mean. So let’s get started with these short definitions.

Choppy water means 1-2 foot waves caused by heavy boat traffic or wind. Rough water is considered a much worse water condition, which typically means waves above 3 feet. However, the shapes and action of the waves may vary depending on several factors, so it’s not only the size of the waves which can make this condition difficult.

Are you wondering how you should ride your jet ski on choppy or even rough water?

The most important thing you have to do is to get up from the saddle. The standing position lets you use your legs as “shock absorbers” which makes the whole riding experience much smoother. As an additional benefit, you can see your surroundings better!

You may find this riding position very physical, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Your back will say “thank you”!

If you feel you’re getting tired after a while, try to have a little rest on the seat bolster. This well-padded part of the seat is originally meant to support your back, but it’s not a big issue if you sit on it temporarily while you use your legs for absorbing some bumps.

The other key point in harsh weather is to keep your speed low and consistent. If your jet ski has “ECO” mode or any similar speed control settings, don’t hesitate to turn it on. Fast runs or aggressive accelerations are not desired in these conditions, so keeping safety in mind, always moderate your speed.

What about wave jumping? Looks like fun, doesn’t it? If you’re looking for wave jumps, keep in mind that it can be dangerous for you and for your jet ski in several ways.

Even if you ride your jet ski carefully, there’s always a chance to capsize your jet ski accidentally. If it happens don’t worry; swim to the rear side and flip it back in the right direction. Waves, just like wind, can increase your fuel consumption. Always keep this in mind and be prepared for these situations!

The Rain is Pain

When it comes to harsh weather, it rarely means only strong wind or waves because they are often accompanied by rain. There is probably no jet ski owner who loves riding in the rain, but unfortunately, sometimes it’s unavoidable.

If you’ve ever gotten caught in the rain on a jet ski ride, you probably know that getting wet is a smaller problem, as it stings if you ride fast. And more speed means more pain! But don’t worry; proper clothes can reduce the unpleasant feeling.

However, when it comes to the bare face, that’s the critical area for protection if you ride in the rain.

Instead of regular sunglasses, you can get better protection from a special jet ski goggle. However, these models do not completely cover the face.

If you’re looking for full-face protection, you can wear a facemask. These hard plastic masks cover and protect your face completely.  That’s why they are a popular accessory of many fishermen on their high-speed boats. If you’re looking for something soft, you can choose from many neoprene face masks designed for marine environments.

Check the Weather

As the weather conditions can change suddenly, it’s critical you keep your eye on the environment constantly while you’re out on the water. Maybe the current weather doesn’t seem too rough for you at this moment, but it can quickly get worse. Because of this, here are some safety tips to consider:

  • Be watchful for changes in the wind or temperature, as these could be signs of major changes in the weather.
  • Keep your eyes on the skies, as many signs could be clear like clouds, haze or even lighting.
  • Falling barometers mean bad weather is coming, so if you have one onboard, you can check the pressure as well.
  • Check what other vessels are doing. On one hand, you always have to keep a safe distance from them. On the other hand, if everybody rides back to the marina, it can be a sign for you to go back!
  • And finally, don’t miss the weather forecasts on the water! If you’re in need of proper forecasts as well as immediate warnings, your best source should be the NOAA Weather Radio. They broadcast valuable information 24/7, every day! Keeping a weather radio onboard is like having insurance. You never know when you will need it!

Choose the Right Jet Ski for Rough Water

Most Important Factors

Despite its many dangers, some riders specifically love to ride in rough water. If you’re looking for a jet ski that will do the best job on choppy water, consider these factors before you choose your jet ski:

  • Weight and size: If you want to ride on bigger waves, you’ll need as much stability as possible. When it comes to jet ski hulls, the rule of thumb is: the more weight and larger dimensions mean higher stability. Always choose something really big for choppy water!

  • Hull shape: Beyond the size, the hull’s shape is a key factor in stability on choppy water. According to WatercraftJournal, the best jet skis for choppy water conditions have deep V-shaped hulls. This design offers more stability and smoother rides on the waves!

  • Performance: The heavy and big hull always needs more power to move it, especially if it sits deeply in the water because of its deep V-hull shape. Additionally, it’s always wise to have some “emergency power” in your engine, which can be used in situations when extra power is really needed. It means you have to look at a more powerful model, and don’t forget to check the power-to-weight ratio!

  • Fuel consumption: Fuel range is always critical on the water, especially in harsh water conditions. Be aware that the most powerful, supercharged engines are much worse on gas, so you can expect fewer miles on these models.

  • Reliability: Don’t forget the importance of reliability. If your engine stops in the middle of a storm, the consequences can be catastrophic. When it comes to a jet ski’s reliability, the most important rule is that fewer features mean higher reliability. Lots of bells and whistles, superchargers, or even aftermarket modifications make your jet ski less reliable on the water.

Which is the best jet ski for rough water?

In summary, the best jet skis for rough water are the biggest models with large and heavy deep V-shape hulls. If you’re looking for something more reliable and with better fuel consumption, you should look at these non-supercharged models with 150-180 HP performance.

Although supercharged models offer more performance, at the same time, they have higher fuel consumption, higher ownership costs and less reliability. If you’re prepared for all of these issues, you can browse the 230-310 HP supercharged PWCs here.

Smaller vintage 2-stroke watercrafts and Rec-Lite models are not recommended for choppy water due to their flexible hulls and lack of weight.

If you’re looking for something challenging, you can consider a stand-up PWC, but be aware that surfing with a stand up on waves is not for beginners. Don’t even mention the restarts, as getting back to a stand-up jet ski in rough water is not an easy stunt!


How ride a jet ski in rough water?It’s always best if you try to stay away from the water if the weather is harsh. If it’s unavoidable to ride your jet ski in rough water, try to take a standing position and lower your speed. Also, don’t forget to wear the necessary clothes and protection!

As they say, prevention is always better than cure, so be prepared before your rides. This means checking the weather forecast, get the necessary safety equipment, and preparing your jet ski for the ride.

If you’re looking for the best jet ski for rough water, look at the models with the biggest hulls and 150-180 HP engines.Even if you ride a jet ski in rough water for fun, always be extremely careful and stay close to the shore!

__________Related Articles:Jet Ski Safety Equipment: The Most Important Gear You NeedJet Ski Insurance: Why do You Need One and the Average CostsThe 10 Best Sit-Down Jet Ski Tricks You Should Try!