Buying a used jet ski can be tricky and confusing, so a guide is needed. In this guide, I want to go over all the major points and things to look out for when buying a used jet ski.
I hope this helps you in your journey when buying a used jet ski, as it’s filled with years (decades, really) of knowledge and hard lessons I’ve learned. This guide is also an updated version of the many other used jet ski guides I’ve made; this one will have similar info and many new tips!
What To Look For When Buying A Used Jet Ski:
There will be a lot to cover in this guide, so here are all the major factors to look out for, and I’ll go over each one in its own section.
- Check The Price
- Check The VIN
- 2-stroke Vs. 4-stroke – Avoid 2-stroke
- Check The Battery
- Engine Hours
- Compression Test
- Jet Pump Inspection
- Check Supercharger (If It Has One)
- Has It Been Sunk?
- Look For Corrosion
- Hull Damage
- Drain Plugs
- Inspect The Trailer
- Get Service Records
- Was It Ever Winterized?
- Inspect The Seats
- Test Ride
1. Check The Price
A lot has changed since I wrote my last few used jet ski guides, and one thing that seems to be getting worse is scammers.
Before you contact the seller of the used jet ski, you need to check the price against other models.
I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my site from people looking at deals that are just too good to be true. While there are some true good deals, a lot of them just scream scam. Much of the worst ones tend to have two jet skis and a trailer, and the price is often lower than just one of the jet skis by itself.
One example was two Sea-Doo’s on a double aluminum trailer for $12,000. The Sea-Doo’s were only a few years old, and they had two of them on a nice aluminum trailer. I would expect the price to be over $24,000 or close to it, not half. Unless one of them is blown, this deal would be too good to be true.
Before you ever contact the seller, you need to go to J.D. Power and see what they say about the “average retail price”. Then go to eBay and PWC Trader to see what other similar year and model jet skis are selling for. If you’re seeing numbers way off, then the deal is most likely a scam or someone getting rid of a problem jet ski.
For more on what you should pay for a used jet ski, check out the post here.
2. Check The VIN
A good thing to check when buying a used jet ski, especially one that is only a few years old, is to look up the VIN.
There are two reasons to know the VIN, it lets you know if it’s stolen and if it has a warranty.
The VIN will also confirm you’re getting what you’re paying for. The last two digits of the VIN is the year model, so if it ends in “12”, then it would be a 2012 model.
For a jet ski that you really like, you want to call your local dealership and ask them to look up the VIN to see if there are any open bulletins or recalls. The dealership can confirm the year, model, and other details about the jet ski to confirm the seller is truthful. I’ve seen sellers try to pass off GTI SE 130 as 155’s before, while they look similar, one has a bigger engine and cost more.
To see if it’s stolen, you can contact your local police department or your local DWR or Wildlife for your state. Whoever handles the vessel numbers that go on the side of the jet ski can tell who it belongs to or if the name you tell is what they have on file.
Jet ski theft is not as huge as say ATV’s, as many states require you to register your jet ski to drive it on the water, but it does happen.
3. 2-stroke Vs. 4-stroke – Avoid 2-stroke
I’m still standing my ground and saying you should avoid buying a 2-stroke jet ski.
2-strokes are banned on many lakes and rivers, and the jet ski manufacturers haven’t made them in years. Parts are even harder to find and overall, they’re not worth it.
- Sea-Doo hasn’t made a 2-stroke since 2007, so any 2008 and newer will be a 4-stroke.
- Yamaha hasn’t made a 2-stroke since 2012 for sit-down jet skis (2020 for stand-up).
- Kawasaki hasn’t made a 2-stroke since 2016.
2-stroke jet skis that are direct injected (don’t have a carburetor) are allowed on some lakes, but direct injected 2-strokes are cursed. It was a time of rushing to meet government regulations while they were focused on moving to 4-stroke. Direct injected 2-strokes didn’t get the love they needed, and it’s echoed to this day with them having phantom electrical problems – just avoid them. You’ll know it’s a 2-stroke with a direct injection engine as it will say “direct injection” or similar on a sticker somewhere. Don’t be confused with 4-strokes that are direct injected, as all 4-stroke jet skis use direct injection and don’t have these phantom problems.
4. Check The Battery
The batteries in jet skis tend to be the most neglected thing by many jet ski owners.
Not a huge deal, as most jet ski batteries are easy to replace, but something to keep in mind.
A jet ski battery lasts 3 to 5 years and will often have a round sticker (size of a dime) on it telling you the year of the battery.
You will need a good battery if you want to do a lake test, and keep in mind that a jet ski that starts on land may not always start on water if the battery is weak.
5. Engine Hours
Jet ski engine hours are similar to miles on a car, but does have some quirks to it.
What was considered high hours for a jet ski has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years with 4-strokes taking over. It was common for a 2-stroke jet ski to only last 300 hours, but 4-stroke are hitting 500 or more with ease.
The average person puts 30 hours a year on their jet ski, but some put more on it and that is fine.
Jet ski engine hours can be a bit confusing, that is why I wrote this post and have a calculator to help you get a better understanding.
6. Compression Test
Testing the compression on any engine is not always easy for someone new to jet skis, but it can tell you a lot about a jet ski engine.
It’s best to let a repair shop or friend who knows compression testing to do it for you. You will need to remove the spark plugs and get in the engine compartment, which the seller may not like, so it can be tricky.
The next best thing to do is get the service records, as most repair shops will do a compression test during a service. Look at the numbers, there should be a number for each cylinder (3 or 4 numbers). The numbers should be above 100psi and within 10% of each other. This means a reading of 135psi, 130psi and 135psi is good, but a reading of 115psi, 135psi and 135psi is bad or 135psi, 80psi and 135psi is also bad.
Supercharged engines will have lower psi readings than non-supercharged engines.
7. Jet Pump Inspection
All jet skis use a jet pump to propel the jet ski forward.
The jet pump has many parts, the wear ring, impeller, driveshaft, reverse bucket, steering nozzle and more.
The biggest things to look out for is the wear ring and impeller, make sure they’re not damaged.
All this and more is covered in our jet pump and how it works post, use that post to help you understand if the jet pump is fine.
8. Check Supercharger (If It Has One)
The supercharger on a jet ski, if it has one, needs to be checked for sure.
The jet skis with superchargers tend to be 200HP or more, so not every jet ski has one. Yamaha usually does SVHO to let you know it has a supercharger, as they don’t list HP ratings.
The superchargers on all jet skis that have them can fail, no matter the brand. Sea-Doo did have a few rough years around 2007, but most of those should be fixed by now.
The easiest way to tell if a supercharged jet ski is working fine is the RPMs it reaches on the test ride. The jet ski should be getting close to 8k RPMs, if lower than 7,600 RPMs then you may have a supercharger problem.
9. Has It Been Sunk?
It’s not the end of the world if a jet ski has been sunk, but some are never the same after.
Take the seat off to see if it feels heavy, almost like it’s water logged. If you flip a jet ski for too long, the seat will take on water and become heavy, and it won’t go away easily.
A jet ski won’t fully sink as they have foam inserts to keep the nose floating.
Besides the seat being heavy, there will also be a lot of rust/corrosion on the engine that gives away it’s been sunk or ridden in a very salty environment.
For most jet skis, them being sunk or hydrolocked is not the end of the world, but nice to know as the buyer. It’s like knowing the car you’re buying was in a wreck, as some things may not be the same after.
10. Look For Corrosion
Talking about rust/corrosion, it’s something to keep in mind when buying a used jet ski.
Rust, and more importantly, corrosion, is something to watch out for. I’ve seen jet skis so corroded it was leaking anti-freeze and nothing was supporting the engine block.
Tip: Use silicone spray lubricant* on the pump and engine compartment to cut down on corrosion. Spray twice a year and let it dry, and you’ll be doing better than most.
Look inside the engine compartment and around the jet pump for parts that are corroding. Some corrosion is fine, it’s only natural with any boat, but so much that parts are loose because of the corrosion is bad.
Corrosion and rust is a big problem for jet skis on the coast and salty water. Ideally, a jet ski should be flushed and rinsed off after every ride in saltwater, but many don’t, and it can destroy parts of the jet ski overtime.
The jet pump will often get eaten away first, so look it over when buying a used jet ski. Look for the sacrificial anode to make sure one is there as it corrodes first and when it’s gone the other parts go next. So replace it if you’re missing one.
11. Hull Damage
Some scrapes and bumps are to be expected on used jet skis, things happen.
Look under the jet ski and at its hull to see if there are any large scrapes or damage. You can tell the hull is badly damaged if the white under the fiberglass is showing through.
Fiberglass needs to be repaired or sealed if the white or fibers of the fiberglass are starting to show. The damaged fiberglass will start to absorb the water and make the crack or hole worse.
Cracks and holes on the top deck should also be fixed, as they can still split if you hit a wave just right.
Fiberglass repair shops are good at what they do, and many can fix it so well that you can’t tell there was ever damage. There are do it yourself kits that will work, but won’t look as good. The main goal is to keep the fiberglass from splitting or getting worse.
12. Drain Plugs
Often overlooked is the drain plugs of a jet ski.
The drain plugs are what keeps you from sinking, and the o-ring doesn’t last forever.
You’ll be amazed by how many people don’t know to put them in or take them out, or could be missing one.
The biggest thing with the drain plug is to make sure the o-ring is fine and not cracked and it closes fine.
13. Inspect The Trailer
If you’re buying a jet ski or two, and it has a trailer, you need to check it out too.
The most neglected item for most jet ski owners is their trailers, as many of them don’t use them but once or twice a year.
The wheel bearings should be greased every year, but most don’t do it, so make sure you do it before you get on the road.
The winch straps wear out and fade due to the sun, and will need to be replaced if they’re over 5 years old.
Don’t forget to look at the bunks, as the carpets wear out and the bolts can come loose over time.
And the trailer lights, they can be a hit or miss. It’s very common for one or both brake lights to be broken or missing. The light connector to be damaged or missing. Or everything looks fine, but the lights don’t work, and it might be the tow vehicle and not the trailer that is the problem.
In general, boat trailers tend to be a mess, but give them a good once over and make sure they’re not splitting in half, won’t damage the jet ski, are street legal and greased properly.
14. Get Service Records
If the previous jet ski owner took it to a reputable shop, they will have service records.
These records can show you how often they changed the oil, got it winterized, and what problems they had.
You can quickly learn if the used jet ski is a problem by the service records or lack of them.
This can be a quick and dirty way to determine if a used jet ski is worth it. Don’t take the seller’s word or documents, call the shop they got the work done and see if they can confirm working on that jet ski before. The last thing you want is someone faking these documents.
Some dealers won’t give too much customer info away, but can confirm this VIN has been in their shop before or confirm a work order number exists.
15. Was It Ever Winterized?
If it gets below 40F where the jet ski is kept, it’s ideal to get it winterized.
Some may even do a winterized with service, which is very smart, but overall, if it’s cold where the jet ski lives it should be winterized for storage.
I go over jet ski winterization here.
The big take-away is that the previous owner ran anti-freeze through the engine or used compressed air to blow water out the engine before it got cold.
Not always a huge deal if the jet ski was not properly winterized, as one that was damaged will show it’s damaged very quickly in a test ride. Someone willing to do the winterization shows they cared about the jet ski, which is what you want to see when buying a used jet ski.
16. Inspect The Seats
The seats of a jet ski are a good way to determine how well the jet ski was taken care of.
The vinyl seats of a jet ski will crack and split over time if they’re not kept covered. Someone who is not willing to cover their jet ski is more likely to not take care of other things of the jet ski, too.
Jet ski seats are not cheap either, getting a jet ski seat re-skinned can cost hundreds of dollars. New seats can cost double or even triple re-skinning costs!
As talked about before, seats that are heavy or water logged could be an indication the jet ski was sunk or flipped over for too long.
Mold, black spots, and fading are normal, so don’t hold that against anyone. You can often clean these spots, but sometimes they won’t go away, and is just normal for an old jet ski.
17. Test Ride It!
If you can, test ride the jet ski.
Starting a jet ski up on the trailer or hooking it up to the hose is NOT the same!
A jet ski may run fine on the trailer or while on the garden hose, but will act very different when put in the water.
The jet ski should take off quickly, it should not stutter or feel like it won’t catch.
After the test ride, take the seats off to see if the hull is taking on water. A little bit of water is fine, but gallons of water is not. Take the drain plugs out and if there are gallons of water, and you were not hitting the waves hard, then something is not right.
Let The Dealership Check It Out
There is a lot to take in, and the best thing you can do when buying a used jet ski is to let the nearest dealership or repair shop check it out.
It will cost you, but if you’re on the fence about a jet ski, it could save you even more.
The repair shops have seen it all, can spot a problem a mile away and know what to look for.
I know this is not the answer that many want to hear, but there are countless variables and having someone there in person who knows the jet ski is worth the cost.
There are a few other quick tips to keep in mind when buying a used jet ski, stuff that many forget to check!
Get All The Keys – When buying a used jet ski, make sure to get all the keys. It’s common for a Sea-Doo or Kawasaki to have two keys or more, one fast and one learning key. These keys are encrypted to your machine, so if they don’t have them all, it will be wise to get your jet ski key’s reprogrammed and the old keys erased. Yamaha has key fobs and PIN codes that work similar and can be changed.
Owner’s Manual – Most jet ski owners lose their owner’s manual, but that is okay. You can get a digital version of the owner’s manual online from the manufacturer. Sea-Doo – Yamaha – Kawasaki These owner’s manuals can tell you a lot about the jet ski and what maintenance needs to be done on that particular model.
Buy A New Cover – The previous owner may give you a cover, but if that cover is over 5 years old, I would buy a new one. The cover is to protect your jet ski, so they don’t last forever, and when they wear out, the jet ski is the next thing to start to look as bad as the cover. See jet ski covers and more about them here.
Service The Jet Ski – Even if the previous owner seems like they know what they’re doing and have records, still get the jet ski serviced. The jet ski shop might even find things you missed when buying the jet ski. It’s always surprising to me how few people do proper services on a jet ski, so when I get a used one, I go ahead and service it.
Get A Solar Battery Charger – Jet ski batteries are bad about going bad when not used for months. The best thing I’ve found is to get a solar battery charger, as covered in this post.
New Vs. Used Jet Skis – Buying a used jet ski is fine and often the best option if you’re new to the sport. But if you can afford a new jet ski, then go for it. Either way, you can’t go wrong, just don’t buy a 2-stroke is the biggest point I can make.
Most Reliable Used Jet Ski – People say Yamaha makes the most reliable jet skis, but I say avoid supercharged jet skis of any brand if want ease and low cost. All manufacturers have their issues, so pick a color you like and roll with it.
10 Years – Jet ski manufacturers design jet skis to last about 10 years, but they’re lasting double that when it comes to 4-strokes. The 10-year mark is more about parts, often body parts, that stop getting made after 10 years. The engine and the things that make the jet ski work are not changed as often, and you can get parts for it way after 10 years. Just don’t expect to find your seat in the original color after 10 years.
Gear – You’re going to need a few things for your jet ski to keep you safe and legal. I have a must-have jet ski accessories post that covers all that and more.