Best Jet Ski For Beginners – It’s Not What You Think!

When you’re a beginner in the Jet Ski world it can be very confusing and at times awkward. I saw this all the time when I sold them. When it comes to Jet Skis, there is nothing else like them in the world and the majority of the people entering the sport don’t know where to start or look.

One of the biggest questions a beginner might have – what is the best watercraft for someone new? 

The common trend I see is that everyone likes to recommend Rec-Lite watercraft like a Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX.

I think they’re not the best Jet Ski for beginners. — Let’s talk about it.

What Should Beginner Jet Ski Owners Get?

I see it posted everywhere – You should get a Spark or Ex for your very first watercraft!

No… you shouldn’t.

Coming from someone who has sold many watercraft and done way too many test drives with new people to the Jet Ski I can honestly say a Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX or any Rec-Lite category of watercraft is not where you should start.

What should you get instead??? Anything in the Recreation category will do, well anything with brakes or reverse standard actually.

If you’re not sure what a Rec-Lite or Recreational watercraft categories are I have a post that covers all of them for 2018 here.

Why Is The Recreation Category Ideal?

The most prominent reason why I’m saying to go with the recreation category is 2-fold. The first reason is that this category will more than likely have iBR or RIDE or even a reverse. The second reason is that the recreation category is going to be more stable than the Rec-Lite category and more perfect for a family.

I’ve seen more families or soon to be families buying their “first-time” watercraft and they’re the ones I think of the most for my recommendation. When I say what is the best Jet Ski for beginners, I think of what is the best Jet Ski for a Family.

A recreation category Jet Ski will be more stable which is ideal for pulling tubes and riding more than one person on it at a time. To be honest, when it comes to the smaller Spark and EX a 2-seater is really a 1-seater, and a 3-seater is really a 2-seater. That is if you’re an average size human being.

Where a bigger recreation machine like the Sea-Doo GTI or Yamaha VX I would (an over 200-pound man) feel more comfortable having 2 other people on it with me.

Let’s not forget all the stuff you’re going to carry like tubes, ropes, and all the Jet Ski Accessories. A Recreation category watercraft have more storage then the Rec-Lite ones. And when you’re new you don’t know what stuff you really need until you need it so you might as well bring all the stuff you can.

The Biggest Reason

I’m not going to say the Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX are not good beginners Jet Skis. They’re quite fine. But the VERY BEST option I think is something bigger like what’s in the Recreation Category.

If you want to get a Spark or EX and you’re new feel free to get one. I have a Spark, and I love it! But as someone who has had to train people on how to drive their new Jet Ski when they have never ridden one before I highly recommend getting iBR or Ride equipt machine or at least one with reverse.

Being able to dock and control the watercraft is the hardest for people to understand especially when they’re new. But throw someone new on a Jet Ski with iBR or RIDE they tend to get the hang of it quickly.

If you never heard of iBR or RIDE before they are Sea-Doo (iBR) and Yamaha’s (RIDE) way of braking, reverse, neutral, and forward on a watercraft. Braking is entirely new, well, Sea-Doo came out with it in 2009 and Yamaha’s RIDE came in 2015 but once you use it, you never want to go back. If brakes are not an option then at least get a machine with a manual reverse as that makes docking so much easier, not as easy as iBR or RIDE but still super helpful.

Here is a great video I made showing you how iBR on a Sea-Doo works and how to drive it too…

When you don’t have brakes or reverse, and yes they do sell watercraft without them like the base model Spark and base model EX, docking is something that takes longer to learn.

People panic. The part of going and having a blast on the watercraft is so easy and simple. But the part of coming home and docking can make people panic if they’re new. They start looking for the brake lever but if your watercraft doesn’t have one the next thing they do is shut the engine off, or simply run into the dock. I’ve seen it so many times.

Sure, you’ll eventually get the hang of it and will scoff at the idea of having brakes. But then one day your friends will come over and a majority of the time they too never ridden a watercraft and often will panic when approaching the docks. You quite never know what someone will do even if you trained them and told them what to do. People are often in the moment of having fun on the Jet Ski and the instructions on what to do often go in one ear and out the other. When they come back, they either do the right thing, or they panic and often can damage something or themselves.

As someone who has been hit by a boat because the rider was new and did not know what to do, I highly recommend boater safety courses and getting a Jet Ski with brakes. The braking system is not perfect, but its something people do understand quicker than not having them.

Other Important Things

Jet Skis are fast; there is no denying that. But many of them come with an option to allow you to learn the watercraft. For example, Sea-Doo has a learning key which can restrict the power of the craft. Yamaha has a fob that can do the same and Kawasaki does have a slow key too.

These slow options are perfect for new riders or for the buddy who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but he doesn’t.

And I know what many of you are thinking. A “slow key,” really?! I want to go fast! And when I tell you that many of the slow keys restrict you to around 35mph I can hear the laughing from here.

What many new riders don’t get is that 35mph is fast if you’re new. Sure it feels slow in your car, but the car you have a whole role cage and AC blowing on you while you’re jamming to music. A Jet Ski doesn’t have a windshield or a roll cage or really anything around you. You don’t even have a helmet, so you hear all the rushing wind in your ears – there is no other feeling like it (besides a motorcycle).

I’ve had many new riders never go beyond 35mph as they deem it fast enough, that slow key makes perfect sense if you’re new. Over time you’ll get used to it, and you’ll want to faster. But let’s walk before we run!

Stay Away From Big Engines

If you’re new, like super new and never owned a boat or a motorcycle, then avoid the big engines.

Anything that is under 200 HP is more than enough for the average person. A 90HP or 130HP engine is still plenty and still fast for the average person too.

If you’re new, honestly stay away from 300HP watercrafts. Those suckers are no joke. At least have some riding experience on watercraft before you go to 300HP.

What About The Kids

If you have kids who want a Jet Ski, the best thing you can do is sign them up for the boaters safety course. Many states actually require a boaters safety course for people under a certain age. When I took mine in North Carolina, it was for anyone under 26.

Even if you’re not required to take one, I still recommend you take the course no matter how old you are. It seems silly to me that we require a drivers license for operating a car but in many states as long as you’re over a certain age you can strap yourself to a 300HP rocket of a Jet Ski. There are rules of the water just like there are rules of the road. Take the test if you’re a beginner – you won’t regret it.

The way you find out about the boat test is by Googling your state and the words “boater safety course.”

Back on topic… if you’re getting a Jet Ski for the kids and they have taken the safety course then a Spark might be good for them. A GTI/VX would be good too, but a Spark would be cheaper. Or even consider a used (good) watercraft as your first one.

The great thing about the Sea-Doo Spark or even Yamaha EX is that they have the smallest engines and don’t go the fastest. But this does bring back to my point of having iBR or RIDE. I personally would rather have my kids on a machine with Brakes just in case something happens. If someone pulls out in front of them, they have brakes and can better control the situation.


Remember I’m just some guy on the internet. Your needs may be different and a Jet Ski with no reverse might be perfect for you. Or you might hate the looks of all the recreation models but love the looks of the 300HP models.

It’s okay to get what you want. Many of the higher end models with all this power will still have the features that can help to keep you in better control with use of the learning key or different modes like touring.

But from the years of selling Jet Skis I’ve seen that the Recreation Category is the best for beginners, even a Rec-Lite with iBR or RIDE is still good.

The next step at this point is comparing all the models and see which one fits your needs the best. I have a post that covers all 2018 watercraft here.



  • Appreciate all the great knowledge/experience sharing on your site. Really helpful. Got a question — looking at buying a couple of skis; we’re new to ownership, but have boated and ski’d frequently. Have 3 kids, 16, 16, 14. Live right by Jordan Lake in NC. Looking at a couple of options from local dealers. — 2017 Yamaha EX Sport ($7200) or 2016 Yamaha VX Cruiser ($6800). Both are inventory closeouts. I’ve read all your reviews (as well as some others). Leaning toward the VX for feature/comfort/price. Thoughts?

  • The VX is a better buy if you ask me. It’s going to be more stable and has more storage then the EX models by a long shot. And it looks like you’re getting an amazing deal on one too. Since it’s an inventory close out 2016 model that would make it 2 years old, I’m very sure that dealership wants to move it! But still, go over the ski to make sure there are no scratches or nothing looks out of place. Even test ride it if you can. Not saying anything will be wrong with it just want to make sure everything is good since you’re going into the colder months and won’t be able to fully see if anything is wrong til spring.

  • Thank you for taking the time to respond.

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