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How to Ride a Jet Ski for Beginners [Video Guide]

How to Ride a Jet Ski for Beginners [Video Guide]

“How to ride a jet ski?” – that’s the question asked by many beginners in the world of jet skiing. If you are a beginner and looking for the best guide with the top jet ski riding tips, you are at the right place!

Personal watercrafts became bigger and bigger, but are still the smallest water vessels, much like motorcycles or scooters for land vehicles. As a result, some do not really think that they would require any skills or practice to get going with a craft.

We can all agree, though, that safety is equally important while having fun as it is at any other time. Every vessel requires some level of practice, be it small or large. Although a PWC may be smaller and easier to drive than other larger vessels, it requires solid riding skills, and remains subject to boating rules.

If you are planning to purchase your first jet ski, don’t miss our first-time buyer’s guide to avoid the worst mistakes made by jet ski buyers.

Before you make your final decision, there are some other factors to consider:

Whether you have been riding jet skis for a while or you are totally new to the game, you must always keep your safety first. There are a few essential and important tips to keep in mind, in order to ensure that your riding is professional and safe.

We at JetDrift have collected 25 best jet ski riding tips and tricks. Let’s go through them!

Jet Ski Beginner Tips I. – Be prepared

Follow the rules

Every state has its own set of watercraft riding rules and regulations. While there may be some similarities in the rules, each state’s rule and regulation is unique.

Likewise, owner manuals clearly apply certain restrictions to each model, from weight limits to passenger rates, and more. Be sure to learn every rule associated with your jet ski and your state, and to comply with these for your safety and those of others.

Take a Boater’s Safety Course

Although not all states require a jet ski license (boating safety course), it is very important that you take one.

These courses acquaint you with the rules and regulations guiding personal watercraft operation in your state. Apart from this, these courses help you learn unique operating features of different vessels.

Upon completion of an approved course, you may even qualify for a discount on your jet ski insurance.

Check rental’ policies and FAQs

If you are yet to get your own jet ski, or you don’t have one around yet, you may consider renting one.

Before you do that, be sure to check the rental policy and FAQs of the rental you are planning to book. Talk to their staff members and confirm any hidden costs or other information not disclosed on their website.

Use this as an opportunity to judge the professionalism and friendliness of the staff as well.

Always wear life jackets

It is highly important to have USCG approved life jackets around when engaging in any water-based activity. Apart from being a safety requirement, it is also a legal requirement.

If you are riding a jet ski, you need to have it on before hitting the water. Should you fall off your craft, it will keep you afloat, even if you don’t know how to swim. Everyone on your watercraft should have one on.

Use a safety lanyard at all times

A safety lanyard (or shut-off clip) is a cord that connects you to the jet ski. The cord is designed to force your jet ski’s engine to shut down in the event that you lose balance and fall off the craft.

This will ensure that it stops right next to you. Before you start riding, make sure the safety lanyard is attached to you. You could attach it securely to your life jacket (preferably) or to your wrist.

Get the right watercraft accessories

Having a good jet ski for your ride is awesome, but do you want more than just that?

A few extra accessories can make your jet ski ride even safer and better. Some of these – such as a safety lanyard, Coast Guard-approved life jackets, and fire extinguishers, among others – are also legally required. Be sure to check with your state for a list of legally required accessories.

Other safety accessories include a GPS, first aid kit, sunscreen, anchor, skier-down flag, etc. You might also want to bring along a number of accessories that improve your jet ski ride.

These could be a re-boarding step, cooler, sound system, good clothing gear, an action camera, sunglasses, and more.

How to Ride a Jet Ski

To ride a jet ski safely you must always follow the local rules as well as the manufacturer’s recommendations. Please note that manufacturers don’t recommend operating a jet ski if you are under 16 years of age. It is also not recommended to ride a jet ski if you have a disability that impairs your reaction time, judgment, visibility, or your ability to properly operate the controls.

Before you hit the water with a jet ski, you have to carefully read your jet ski’s manual. You will find that it contains a lot of important instructions along with many jet ski riding tips for beginners.

Beyond those recommendations, here are some vital tips to consider in order to stay safe and legal on the water.

Pay attention to your environment and to others

Riding is fun, but it could also be very dangerous for you and for others.

To avoid any dangers, it is important that you watch out closely for any happenings around you. When in crowded areas, watch out for people in the water, and other vessels around you.

Be particularly wary of larger vessels and fast jet skis that may have problems stopping or turning. Also, pay special attention to your jet ski and the noise it makes. Avoid high-speed rides when in front of waterfront properties and when close to the shoreline.

Start slow; take it slow

Do not try to take off at top speed. Start your engine in the water and warm it up before you take off. With your hands on the handle of the watercraft for takeoff, slowly increase your speed.

Now, maintain a low-level speed of about 10 mph, gradually increasing it as you get a better hang of the fun and adventure.

Watch out for “no wake zones”

No wake zones are areas that require an operational speed of no more than (typically) 6 mph, and are usually found around beaches and marinas.

This slow speed is also required whenever you are within 150 feet of swimmers, shorelines, boat launches, docked boats and moors, and other watercrafts. Likewise, operating a watercraft within 150 feet of a bathing beach is illegal.

Be sure that U.S.C.G. keep close watch around these areas, and could hit you with bad tickets when you run afoul of the rules.

Learn to swim

Yes, you can ride a watercraft quite well, but can you swim? Even though you can ride a jet ski without swimming skills, learning to swim is highly recommended. Find a local organization that offers training for different groups of people, and learn to swim with them.

Stay sober

Operating a jet ski in an intoxicated state is both dangerous and highly illegal. Studies reveal that the wind and the sun worsen a state of intoxication.

This means that it is much more possible to experience or cause an accident when you are under the influence. Make sure you do not take any drugs or alcohol before jumping your PWC for a ride.

Avoid riding at night

The design of the personal watercraft, as well as its limited lighting system combine to ensure that night driving is dangerous. It is also prohibited.

To avoid dealing with poor eyesight and low visibility problems, head back to your base before sunset. Make sure to check with state laws to acquaint yourself with your state’s time restrictions.

Watch the weather

Check local weather conditions before your ride. You must keep in mind that shoreline weather is often tricky and isolated.

This makes it really difficult to get accurate forecasts. When riding, if you begin to notice rough winds, dark clouds, or rapidly dropping temperatures, play it safe and head back to the marina.

How to Drive a Jet Ski for Beginners

If you are a beginner jet ski driver, the most important thing you can do is to drive the jet ski slowly and carefully. You can drive the jet ski in much the same way as an ATV or a snowmobile. This means you can steer it by turning the handlebar while accelerating with the throttle lever. Many new jet skis feature a brake system. So, on these models, you can break by using the left-hand lever.

These are probably the most basic tips for beginner jet ski drivers. But if you want to learn more, don’t stop reading here.

In the following sections, we’ve compiled a step-by-step beginner guide on how to drive a jet ski safely and legally.

Also, keep in mind that driving a jet ski confidently and safely requires practice. That’s why the majority of accidents are caused by beginner jet ski riders!

Pre-Ride Checklist

We know that you just want to hit the waters and enjoy the ride. Before you get started, here are a few items to pay attention to:

  • Take your time to read through the owner’s manual and learn all about the machine
  • Master the engine controls, steering, brakes – and how to use them, etc.
  • Check the engine lights and gauges to ensure everything is in order
  • For newbie riders, stay away from the performance keys or “sport” mode until you feel more confident
  • Make sure your gas tank is full, perhaps with reserve stowed away
  • Check to ensure every required accessory is available
  • Put on the life jacket and safety lanyard
  • Do not turn on the watercraft in less than waist-deep waters


Jet skis have a fairly different steering control system from other vehicles.

Unlike most vehicles, a jet ski needs to maintain speed when taking a turn. It means most of the jet ski models require acceleration to turn which requires practice.

If you take your hands off the throttle while turning, the craft loses steering power and floats straight ahead. This can be really dangerous when there is an oncoming vessel.

Be sure to watch your back before making any sharp turns, too!

Cruise control

Most craft models offer cruise control options.

This is ideal for calm waters, or when the water is only a little choppy. The best way to enjoy this feature is by sitting with your feet placed forward on the footrest, and your back bent slightly.

This way you can absorb the shock from any waves better.

Stand-up riding technique

One way to gain full control over your jet ski and ride smoothly through the shock of larger waves is to use the stand-up riding technique.

This technique works by placing your feet just slightly behind the handlebars of the craft, and behind your shoulders. Keep your knees bent slightly as well.

This semi-standing position gives you more control, allowing you better ride through rough waters. It also allows you to jump when you want to and helps you lean while turning.

Riding with passengers

Most jet ski models can accommodate more than just the driver of the craft.

If you have one such craft, you would have to learn to deal with the added weight that comes from carrying an extra person(s). This is important as turning and maneuvering may now be more difficult with extra weight.

When carrying others, make sure they are firmly seated before take-off. Also, instruct them to avoid sudden movements so the jet ski is not thrown off course. Furthermore, ask them to lean with you during turns, to make the maneuver easier for you.

Do not carry more passengers than the manual permits. Even then, you should keep the overall weight within the permitted weight limits. Remember that your gear also counts in your total weight, so factor that in when deciding how many passengers to carry at a time.

Stopping your craft

Although some modern PWCs come fitted with brakes and reverse systems, this has not always been the case.

With older jet skis, you’d have to let the craft decelerate by itself after taking your hands off the throttle. Be sure to leave plenty of distance between you and your preferred stopping point so you do not ram into any human or vessel.

If your model has a brake system, learn to use it at lower speeds before moving on to higher speed levels.

Dealing with a fall

There’s always a chance that you’d fall off, even as a pro. What do you do when that happens? Follow these four steps:

  • Step 1: If the jet ski rolls over after you fall off, immediately roll it back to normal by following the rollover instructions provided at the rear. Do not leave the watercraft upside down and only roll it over in the prescribed manner.
  • Step 2: Do not re-board from the side to avoid getting flipped over by the craft. Use the stern for re-boarding. For easier re-boarding, always drive with a re-boarding step onboard. (if it’s not built-in)
  • Step 3: Using the handle on the back of the seat, hoist yourself onto the rear platform. This will require some upper body strength, especially without a step. You need to remember that the craft is on water. This means that it will always keep moving from side to side, with the nose potentially lifting up as your weight bears down the rear end. This is worse with smaller crafts. But you want to remain as steady as possible.
  • Step 4: Once on board, move forward to the seat and check to fix the safety lanyard back on.

Keep in mind that getting back on your jet ski may be more daunting than you’d expect. But it can be done with a little care and effort. It is just like trying to get out of a pool using only the top rung of the ladder – it is possible, only harder.


Just like stopping your craft, you need to take care when docking it as well. You do not want to run into the dock or any other vessel or human.

Again, coming to a stop before docking will depend on your craft and the kind of dock available. Be sure to reduce your speed from a safe distance before approaching the dock.

If you find that your forward momentum is still too much for the distance between you and the dock, make a hard 360-degree turn without engaging the throttle. This will force the momentum down and allow you to approach the dock or landing area at a safe speed.

Exit the watercraft when the water is shallow enough for you. Exert a firm grip on the craft while doing that to prevent it from running ashore. Shut off the engine just before you make contact with the dock. Grab hold of the dock to completely bring it to a halt, and position it as you should.

Remember, you can no longer steer the craft when you turn off the engine.

How to ride a jet ski II – The fun factor

Enjoying tow sports

One way to really enhance the fun and excitement of a watercraft is to engage in tow sports.

There are many different types of towable toys, including wakeboards, tubes, kneeboards, water skis, etc. Of course, there are rules guiding the towing of these materials. So, you must check with your state board to be sure you are on the right side of the law.

Before you start, take the time to inspect the equipment, and make sure that everyone has their life jacket on. Decide on hand signals to use while towing, as verbal communication may be difficult from that distance, while in deep waters.

Typically, an extended arm (right or left) indicates a turn, a thumbs up or down indicates speed controls, and a raised palm signals stop. Once you fall, let go of the tow rope and keep your head above water.

Keep in mind that not every jet ski is suitable for towing. Most tow-approved watercrafts must be able to carry three persons – the driver, observer and skier/tuber at once.

Watch and learn from the right online videos

One of the best ways to learn proper operational practices is through online videos.

Watch online videos that show you how to launch, ride, and other things like trailer storage, etc. Videos may also provide great reviews for latest jet ski models, helping you discover the newest and latest innovations.

However, you do not want to go practicing everything you see in stunt videos. Things like jumping over docks, or carrying out tricks while facing backwards are deemed highly dangerous.

Wave jumping

Few things ramp up the thrill of riding a jet ski like the experience of jumping through waves. (But you need to know that it can be really dangerous.) However, you do not want to go right into this as a beginner rider; take your time and plan your first jump.

Do not practice in crowded areas with humans or vessels. To reduce the impact of your jumps when settling, rise a few inches above your seat while jumping and gently lower yourself back down as the craft settles.

Note that a wave is not always as small as it may seem from a distance. Watch out for the waves, and be prepared for them – you really don’t want to be caught by surprise. Do not have them hit you from the side.

You want to cross over the smaller waves, or ride through the bigger ones at 90° angle to preserve your stability.

Jet ski fishing

Who said fishing is only for boats? Fishing on a jet ski has some amazing perks.

You can access difficult spots better and you get to navigate through narrow channels pretty easily. Watercrafts are also more stable than canoes and kayaks. You can equip them with fairly useful tools like a fishing rack, fishfinder, GPS, canvas canopies, extra fuel tanks, coolers, and live bait tanks. What’s more, there are unique PWCs on the marked specifically designed for fishing.

Create a fun video

Having an action camera like the GoPro is a beautiful way to create lasting memories from your time on the water.

Document the fun and review it later on with friends and family. Fix the camera to the watercraft or your body using the provided mounts. This camera is easy to use, and its videos can be edited through your phone, only revealing your most appealing moments.

Note that some rentals do not allow you to create videos using their crafts, so it’s better to check with them first.

This was our short compilation of the 25 best jet ski riding tips. We hope you found it useful!

Jet Ski Beginner FAQs

Can you sit on a jet ski?

Yes, you can sit on a jet ski if it’s a “sit-down” type model. Jet skis fall into two main categories, the stand-up, and the sit-down models. The latter has a seat that typically hold 2-3 riders depending on the model. This means you can comfortably sit on these jet skis just like you would on a motorbike.

Are jet skis hard to drive?

Today’s sit-down jet skis are very easy to drive, unlike the small and nimble vintage models. Many current models feature large and stable hulls, electronic speed controllers, and brake and reverse systems. These features make operating them quite easy even for beginners.

Are stand up jet skis hard to ride?

Compared to the sit-down models, stand-up jet skis are hard to ride, so they are not for everyone. They are nimbler, riding in a standing position is tiring, and the deep-water start on a stand-up is tricky. This means you need some athletic skills and plenty of practice to ride them properly.

Is riding a jet ski like riding a motorcycle?

Yes, many riders claim that riding a jet ski is just like riding a motorcycle. You operate both of them with a handlebar and you also lean into the turns. It’s fascinating that you can find some interesting jet ski-motorcycle combos on the streets!

How does a jet ski turn?

You can turn a jet ski by turning the handlebar in one direction. If you turn the handlebar right the jet ski will turn right. Don’t forget that you will also need some throttle to execute a turn with a jet ski.

Do you lean into a turn on a jet ski?

Leaning into turns on a jet ski makes sense, especially at higher speeds. If you have passengers with you, educate them to lean with you for better stability. On the other hand, you must be careful not to lean over too much, as it may lead to falling from the seat or even capsizing the jet ski.

How deep does the water have to be for a jet ski?

The water has to be at least 3 feet deep to operate a jet ski. If you operate the jet ski in shallower water you may risk your jet ski sucking up debris or other objects from the bottom, or even damaging the jet ski’s hull.

What will happen if you shut off the engine of a jet ski?

If you shut off the jet ski engine while it’s in motion, you will completely lose control of the steering! If you turn the engine off (or just return to idle) during operation the jet ski will move in the direction it was already headed before you turned off the engine.

Are jet skis safe?

If you are an experienced rider and operate them carefully jet skis can be safe. On the other hand, many beginner jet ski riders cause serious accidents due to a lack of knowledge or recklessness. That’s why it’s important to learn how jet skis work before hitting the water.

What causes a loss of steering on a jet ski?

If you release the throttle or shut the engine off it causes a loss of steering on a jet ski. Because of this, it’s essential not to shut off the engine until the jet ski is in motion! Beyond these issues, a malfunction of the jet ski can also lead to steering problems or even lost steering control.

What happens when a jet ski is steered to the right?

If a jet ski is steered to the right the jet ski will turn right as long as you apply some throttle. Without any throttle, the jet ski will run in a steady direction.

What is the purpose of the safety lanyard on a jet ski?

The purpose of the safety lanyard on a jet ski is so that you can shut the engine down if you fall into the water. In this way, the jet ski will stop and stay close to you so you can reboard easily. The best practice is to attach the lanyard to your life jacket or your wrist.

Where is the steering nozzle located on a jet ski?

The steering nozzle is located at the rear side of the jet ski’s hull, under the waterline. You can move the nozzle with the handlebar. When you turn the handlebar to the left, the nozzle will turn to the left as well.

How do you flip a jet ski?

If you want to flip a jet ski, make sure to check the sticker on the hull on how to do it properly. Be careful, because if you flip the jet ski in the wrong way it can force water into the engine!

How fast should you go on a jet ski?

How fast you can go on a jet ski depends on several factors like the type of jet ski, your skills and experience, and weather conditions. As a rule of thumb, if you are a beginner jet ski rider, you shouldn’t go faster than 30-35 mph. With some experience, you can hit the 40-50 mph range, or even faster.

How do you stop a jet ski?

If you want to stop a jet ski you always have to make sure you have a significant stopping distance. If your jet ski doesn’t have a brake system, you have to simply release the throttle and wait until the jet ski slows down and sits in the water. If your jet ski has a brake system you can use it to reduce the stopping distance. You can find the brake lever on the left side of the handlebar.

Do you get wet while jet skiing?

If you haven’t tried it before, be prepared to get wet while jet skiing! This is because the water sprays on you constantly. Moreover, you can easily fall into the water! Therefore, it’s wise to know what to wear on a jet ski to stay warm. This is important, especially on longer jet ski tours.

How do you beach a jet ski?

To properly beach a jet ski, always ride slowly towards the shoreline. It’s best if you shut off the engine before the water is less than 3 feet deep to avoid sucking up items into the pump. Jump off the jet ski and check the bottom for rocks and other objects. Finally, you need to pull the jet ski onto the beach by hand.

Many owners prefer anchoring their jet ski instead of beaching it, as it can damage the jet ski in many ways.

When you leave the beach, do not start the engine if the water depth is less than 3 feet.

How do you dock a jet ski?

Docking is part of jet skiing, so it’s recommended that you learn the basics upfront. It’s wise to practice away from the dock with a small buoy. When you are docking your jet ski, always operate it as slowly as possible, and approach the dock at idle speed.

It’s also really important not to turn your engine off too soon as this leads to losing steering control. Once you reach the dock secure your jet ski with some ropes or bungee dock lines.

What is the most important thing to remember when steering a jet ski?

The most important thing to remember when steering a jet ski is that releasing the throttle means you lose steering control. Because of this, you always have to apply some throttle during turns. Also, never shut the engine off while the jet ski is still in motion, as you need thrust to maintain control.

General Jet Ski Basics and FAQs

What is considered a jet ski?

Jet skis, also known as personal watercraft (PWC), are smaller vessels designed for recreational purposes. They are powered with jet engines and can reach amazing top speeds. Unlike on a boat, you stand or sit on a jet ski instead of inside it. There are two main categories of jet skis. The more popular ones are the “sit-down” models, which can accommodate 2-3 riders. The other main category are the “stand-up” jet skis. Beware that riding a stand-up jet ski is strictly a solo experience.

Is a jet ski considered to be a vehicle?

Machines that transport cargo or people are considered to be vehicles. Beyond cars, buses, trains or even airplanes, vehicles include watercraft as well. As jet skis are also known as “personal watercraft, or PWCs,” they are considered vehicles.

Do jet skis have storage?

Every sit-down type jet ski has storage. This typically means one or even more storage bins. However, storage capacities can vary widely from as low as 0.4 gallons to even 60 gallons depending on the model. Beyond the storage capacity, the weight limit is no less important!

What is the best jet ski for beginners?

The best jet skis for beginners are arguably the recreation sit-down models. These jet skis are manufactured with non-supercharged engines and stable hulls. These are all good points for first-time riders. The best models have brake and reverse systems, which makes the start hassle-free for every beginner.

What year did 4-stroke jet skis come out?

The first 4-stroke jet skis came out in 2002, until then jet skis were manufactured solely with 2-stroke engines. From 2006 on, 4-stroke engines became the primary power sources for jet skis in response to the EPA’s restrictions.

When did jet skis become popular?

Jet skis became popular in the 70s, after Kawasaki released the first stand-up jet skis in 1972. In the first years, jet skis were lesser-known vessels on the water. But thanks to Kawasaki’s tireless marketing activity, their products and thus the whole sport became popular.

Does Suzuki make jet ski?

No, Suzuki doesn’t make jet skis at present. In the past, Suzuki manufactured engines for the Tigershark PWCs and the legendary Wet Bike. Unfortunately, these amazing crafts aren’t in production anymore.

How do you choose a jet ski?

When you choose a jet ski, you should first decide whether you want a stand-up or a sit-down model. If you prefer sit-down jet skis, you can choose from four main categories:

– Rec-Lite
– Recreation
– Performance
– Luxury

When it comes to the engine options, the two main categories are the supercharged as well as non-supercharged power sources.

Beyond new jet skis, another option is to purchase a used one.

How do you take care of a jet ski?

To care of a jet ski properly, you have to service it regularly and you shouldn’t forget about winterizing either. You also have to perform some necessary steps before and after each ride. These maintenances are known as pre-ride check and after-ride care.

What should I bring on a jet ski?

There are many essential accessories that you should have on a jet ski. The required safety equipment is barely the minimum! Additionally, it’s always wise to use the best jet ski clothes available. Moreover, it’s recommended that you store bottled water, some snacks, and a towel on your jet ski.

Are jet skis fun?

Yes, jet skis mean tons of fun in the sun. As they say, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you a jet ski. And have you ever seen anyone sad on a jet ski?”

Conclusion – Is it Hard to Drive a Jet Ski?

It’s safe to say that it’s not hard to drive a jet ski. In fact, you can operate them easily just like an ATV or snowmobile. However, even if jet skis are easy to drive it doesn’t mean they are completely safe. This is because they have extremely powerful engines and accelerate like a sports car. Thus, if you are a beginner jet ski rider, beware that you will need a lot of practice to drive a jet ski safely.

As you already know, you can operate a jet ski with the handlebar and the levers. If you turn the handlebar right, the jet ski will turn right as well!

You will always need some throttle to keep the jet ski steerable. Due to its design, you can’t steer a jet ski without any throttle!

This can be surprising especially for beginner jet ski drivers, and thus leads to many accidents.

To stay safe and legal always check and follow the local rules. It’s also recommended to obtain a boating safety course (jet ski license), even if your state doesn’t require it.

Finally, read your jet ski’s manual carefully and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

This is our jet ski beginner guide. We hope you find it useful!