6 Sobering Reasons Why Jet Skis Are So Expensive [Chart]

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To the regret of many fans, jet skis are becoming extremely expensive these days, which makes you wonder, what’s driving up jet ski prices?

Based on our research, there are six major factors at play here:

  1. Today’s jet skis are in reality, luxury items.
  2. The jet skis being made now are built on large “boat-like” hulls.
  3. Jet skis are now powered by costly high-performance engines.
  4. Most jet skis are designed with complex systems and features.
  5. Supply chain shortages and high cost of materials needed to build jet skis.
  6. Insanely high demand for new and used jet skis.

If you’re curious about the details of how these factors have added to the price of jet skis, keep reading. We at JetDrift have compiled all the information under one roof!

Are Jet Skis Really Expensive?

Before drilling into the details, we should clarify whether jet skis really are expensive.

First, let’s compare the historical prices of jet skis with current prices.

For a clear comparison, we’ve listed a progression of retail prices of some flagship models below, along with the current price of one very popular model:

YearModelMSRP (USD)
1982Kawasaki JS550$2,399
1992Sea-Doo XP$5,899
2002Sea-Doo RXI DI$8,499
2012Yamaha FX SHO$13,999
2022Kawasaki Ultra 310 LX$19,199

Many people just assume that the significant increase in price is due to inflation.

But let’s compare the above jet ski prices with the minimum hourly wage and median household income in those same years:

Year19821992200220122022
Price of a high-end jet ski (MSRP)$2,399$5,899$8,499$13,999$19,199
Minimum wage (U.S.)$3.35$4.25$5.15$7.25$7.25*
Work hours needed to buy a jet ski (at minimum wage)7161388161919312641
Median household income (U.S.)$23,433$30,786$42,409$51,371$67,521*
How many jet skis could a household buy if they spent their entire year’s income9.85.25.03.73.5

(*2020 data. Source: DOL.gov)

Someone making minimum wage in 1982 would have had to work a total of 716 hours to buy a new jet ski, saving every paycheck for the purchase. Ten years later, a minimum-wage worker would have to save all their earnings from 1388 hours of work to buy a jet ski. And by 1992, they would have had to work twice as long to save enough money to pay for a ski.

What is the situation today?

If we examine the numbers, it’s obvious that the prices of new jet skis have skyrocketed while minimum wages have been practically frozen. Therefore, today people need to put in 3.7 times more work hours to save enough money for a new ski. This is providing they have no living expenses and are able to save every penny they make in order to buy a jet ski.

Calculating this differently, let’s consider the median household income in the U.S. over the years:

A family with an average income in 1982 could afford to buy nearly ten jet skis on a year’s wages. But by 2002 they could only afford to buy five. And currently, that family can only buy 3.5 jet skis on their annual income. Therefore, jet skis are now about three times as expensive as four decades ago.

Finally, using an inflation calculator we can determine how much a typical jet ski costing $2,399 in 1982 would cost today. And that figure is $6,800, which is about one-third the current price of $19,199.

Based on all these figures the average price of a new flagship jet ski today is about three times what it was in 1982!

Why are today’s jet skis so much more expensive than those of yesteryear?

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss all these factors in detail!

Why Are Jet Skis So Expensive?

1. Jet Skis of Today Are Luxury Items

Powersport vehicles are in reality luxury items, and jet skis are no exception.

But how is “luxury item” defined? According to Investopedia:

“A luxury item is not necessary to live, but it is deemed highly desirable within a culture or society. Demand for luxury goods increases when a person’s wealth or income increases.”

Based on this, jet skis are apparently now being made for wealthy individuals who have no problem paying $15,000 – $20,000 for a luxury toy.

Manufacturers see advantages in positioning jet skis as luxury items based on their quality, equipment, features, and price tags.

2. Large, Boat-Like Bodies

Facing facts, jet skis are no longer the tiny water toys they once were.

Unlike their vintage predecessors, today’s jet skis look like small boats, and function like them as well. They can even be used for long offshore trips and easily carry three adult riders.

Designing and manufacturing these large high-tech machines requires substantially more labor and materials, which add to the cost.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a jet ski now costs as much as a small boat!

3. High-Performance Engines

To propel such large hulls while complying with today’s environmental regulations, modern jet skis must be equipped with innovative 4-stroke engines.

These complex high-tech power mills are often boosted with a supercharger that allows them to produce an amazing performance of up to 310 HP.

In contrast, the vintage jet skis were equipped with simple, carbureted 2-stroke twin or triple engines. These units were much cheaper to manufacture and a lot easier to work on, but they provided far lower performance.

If you are in any doubt, just look at the chart below, which shows the increase in performance of flagship Sea-Doo models.

Since the early ‘90s, the price of these machines has basically tripled, while their performance increased 5.5 times!

4. Technologically Advanced Systems and Features

Aside from having more powerful engines, modern jet skis come equipped with many high-tech systems and features.

Many buyers are shocked when they find out that certain flagship models come with a brake system, large touchscreen dashboard and a rearview camera. These technologically complex units are expensive and greatly contribute to increased production costs.

In comparison, early jet skis were designed with no dashboard or convenience features. This, along with lower labor costs, is why they could be manufactured so much more cheaply.

5. Supply Chain Shortages and High Cost of Materials

Due to the pandemic, vehicle manufacturers are currently dealing with massive supply chain shortages, which affects production.

For example, the ongoing global chip shortage is affecting hundreds of industries, and major powersport manufacturers are no exception.

Just like on cars, the computers (ECU) on modern jet skis require a lot of chips. If even one chip is missing, the jet ski won’t work properly, so won’t roll off the production line!

Aside from the global chip issue, smaller suppliers are suffering from a shortage of many other parts and materials. These shortages eventually impact major jet ski manufacturers.

On top of that, prices of raw materials needed to make jet skis are skyrocketing, adding increased production costs.

6. Insanely High Demand

Dealers and other industry experts claim that the demand for jet skis is literally through the roof, with little to no inventory to satisfy it.

The pandemic is severely reducing air travel, so Americans are increasingly turning to outdoor activities for fun, like jet skiing, boating, and camping.

This unexpected supply-and-demand disparity has resulted in jet ski dealerships charging extremely high prices and prices of used jet skis have risen significantly as well.

This trend is also being seen in today’s boat and car markets.

Conclusion

Early jet skis were tiny water toys that beach goers used for “playing around.” Their hulls were small, they utilized simple carbureted 2-stroke engines, and had very few features.

Thanks to their small dimensions and simple design, these models were far more affordable than today’s jet skis.

In the early ‘80s, the average family could afford to buy ten jet skis on their annual income. This number is now down to 3.5 jet skis, which means that jet skis are now about three times as expensive as they were 40 years ago.

There are a number of reasons for this tremendous rise in prices, of which the most important is the mechanical and technological developments that have occurred in the industry over the years.

Compared to vintage 2-stroke jet skis, the latest models come with a multitude of advanced features, which include:

  • Large, “boat-like” body
  • High-performance, 4-stroke engines
  • Technologically advanced systems (computers, sensors, fuel injection, brake and reverse systems, etc.)
  • Various convenience features (LCD screen, audio system, rearview mirror, reboarding step, etc.)
  • High-quality materials and paint jobs
  • Special hull design for maximum performance and stability

There’s no doubt about the fact that these features have turned modern jet skis into amazing machines.

Many riders claim that unlike their vintage 2-stroke predecessors, today’s jet skis offer much higher comfort and performance. This apparently explains why they are so much more expensive.

Obviously, the difference between vintage models and today’s skis is like night and day.

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that these hefty price tags mean that new jet skis are way too expensive for most people.

However, as long as there are buyers willing to pay, jet ski manufacturers and dealers will keep raising prices. The industry will continue catering to the wealthy, people who can afford luxury items, which modern jet skis are now considered!

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