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.
I would often get asked – what is the best jet ski for beginners?
Many assume to go with the Spark or EX…
But those watercraft have got to be the worst 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 far too many test drives with people new to jet skis, I can honestly say a Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX or any Rec-Lite category of watercraft is not where you should start.
The Best Jet Ski For Beginners
The best jet ski for beginners is Sea-Doo GTI or Yamaha VX or Kawasaki STX-160. These models of watercraft fall under the recreation category, anything in this category will be a great option for beginners.
While many think the Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX are the best jet skis for the money, they’re not the best purchase for someone entirely new to jet skis.
Why Is The Recreation Category Ideal?
There are 2 reasons to go with the recreation category.
The first reason is that this category will more than likely have iBR or RIDE, or even reverse.
The second reason is that the recreation category will be more stable than the Rec-Lite category and more perfect for a family.
Why Stable Matters
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“.
The best kind of jet ski for people new to the sport will be one that is stable and trusting!
Recreation Watercraft Are Made For Normal-Sized People
As someone over 200 pounds, I find the Sea-Doo GTI or Yamaha VX to be more comfortable and more trusting, especially when riding with passengers.
Let’s not forget all the stuff you’re going to carry, like tubes, ropes, and all the jet ski accessories. All this extra weight affects how the jet ski will perform, and a jet ski that is less stable is not new rider friendly.
A recreation category watercraft will have more storage than 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.
While I don’t think you should start off with a Spark or EX. If you want to get one, and you’re new, feel free to get one.
Just make sure to get the Spark or EX with iBR or RIDE on them.
Docking Is Hard For Beginners
Being able to dock and control the watercraft is the hardest for beginners to understand.
But throw a beginner on a Jet Ski with iBR or RIDE, and they get the hang of it quickly. They’ll be docking like a pro in minutes.
What is iBR or RIDE?
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. Kawasaki has released their version of brakes in 2022, so all major brands have at least one model with brakes.
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.
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.
Video On How To Drive
See our guide on how to drive a jet ski here.
Other Important Things
Jet skis are fast; there is no denying that. But many of them come with an option to allow you to slow down and 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.
Why Have A Slow Key?
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 35 mph, I can hear them laughing from here.
What many new riders don’t get is that 35 mph is fast if you’ve never been on a jet ski before.
Sure it feels slow in your car, but in the car you have a whole roll 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 35 mph 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 go 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 90 HP or 130 HP engine is still plenty and still fast for the average person too.
If you’re new, honestly stay away from 300 HP watercraft. Those suckers are no joke. At least have some riding experience on watercraft before you go to 300HP.
Not only that, but engines over 200 HP tend to have superchargers, and they require more maintenance and use more gas.
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.
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 that we require a driver’s license for operating a tiny 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 and that’s okay?
Small Engines For The Kids
If you’re getting a jet ski for the kids, they have taken the safety course and of legal age to drive, 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 or whatever might be perfect for you. Or you might hate the looks of all the recreation models but love the looks of the 300 HP models.
It’s okay to get what you want. Many of the higher-end models with plenty of power still have the features that can help to keep you in better control with the use of the learning key or different driving modes.
From all the years of selling jet skis, the best jet ski for beginners will always be something from the recreation category, especially if it has brakes.
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 2023 watercraft here.
If you’re looking at getting a new jet ski, I have 25 tips that can help you.
23 thoughts on “Best Jet Ski For Beginners – It’s Not What You Think!”
Thanks for the great article! I am currently completely torn between purchasing a new 2022 GTI 130 or a new 2022 GTX 170. I also just saw a 2017 WakePro 155 with 97 hours for $8,900 including trailer. Which is actually a very good price from what I have seen with the current supply/demand, at least in my area. Similar used skis are going for 10-12K here. I am a big person (6′ and 275 lbs) and want the option to take my two young children on the jet ski with me (they are 120 lbs combined). We currently have two 3Up Sparks, and while I can take one child with no issues, two is a no go. We are on Lake Ontario so we get a lot of chop, so stability is a big factor. Speed is not as big an issue, I am pretty happy going full speed on the Sparks. I want to be able to tour with the kids but also pull them on the tube and let them try out water skiing or wakeboarding. Any recommendations or suggestions on how to choose are greatly appreciated!
Any of the options would be a huge upgrade from what you’re using now stability-wise. The new GTI body is more stable than the Spark for sure and the GTX even more so. If you want to get something that is more futureproof and for the long haul I would lean more towards the GTX 170 especially if you want to do pull sports.
My son has a 2011GTI 130 and the Jetski group we belong to all are Sea Doo haters. May speak of them sinking because of the carbon seal. Our mechanic also favors Yamaha and feels they are a much better ski. Are the Yamaha’s a stable as the Sea Doo? What Yamaha would you recommend for power and comfort. We are big guys, 250, 290lbs. We want something that is smooth and comfortable that does in 60mph range.
Every group has its fans, from Ford Vs Chevy guys to Mac vs PC guys. It’s no different for Sea-Doo vs Yamaha. You’ll want to stick to the Yamaha FX series or Sea-Doo GTX series if you want comfort and to hover around 60mph.
Hello, I’ve never ridden a jet ski before but getting my licence and looking at purchasing second hand up to 10k. What would you recommend? I’m a tall guy.
If you’re over 6 foot a Sea-Doo GTX or Yamaha FX will be ideal but a GTI or VX is not that bad.
I’d like advice on what PWC to get. I’m 70, 6’1 and 210lb. My partner is 58, 6’4” and about 245 lb. I love boats and want to get a PWC which I would usually ride by myself in the bay or occasionally in the ocean off Va. Beach if it’s very calm. I have some age related neck issues but I think I’ll be ok in calm water. It looks to me like the 2020 Seadoo GTX 170 would be a good ski for me. I am concerned about reports of Seadoos sinking due to carbon seal issues. What is your advice. Thanks.
The GTX 170 would be perfect for your needs. I’m not sure where the sinking and carbon seal issues stem from as I never have seen it. I’ve dealt with 1000’s of Sea-Doo’s and the only major problems I see are user inflicted issues like sucking up ropes.
Every manufacturer will have its fanboys and haters. Just to give you the reverse side of the coin, Yamaha Nano hulls had issues too. Many called it an “eggshell” hull because of how fragile it was. Was this a huge issue that people made it out to be? No, just like the carbon seal on the Sea-Doo it was only affecting “0.01%” of riders.
My first time riding a jetski was a seadoo rxp 300 rs.(no learning key) And it was great and when you are 1 day on the water with a seadoo with less power you get used to it the same as one with 300 hp.
Excellent articles and thank you for sharing your expertise with us . We are new to water sports and purchased our our first jet ski a 2017 Yamaha ex deluxe last year . Even though we have rented jet skis many times over the years while on vacation and had no problems riding them our jet ski feels unstable .in choppy waters it feels like it’s going to roll. Would you advise upgrading to a recreational jet ski or do you think this an issue that needs to be looked at by the dealer . We are seriously thinking of upgrading to a recreational jet ski. Which one in you opinion is the most stable?
The rental jet ski you rode was more than likely a Yamaha VX model which is more stable than the EX especially if you have more than 1 person on it. If you can upgrade to the Yamaha VX or even the more stable Yamaha FX series you should. The EX and Spark models main appeal is that they’re nimble machines so there is no getting away from them being unstable in the chop. The most stable in the industry would be Sea-Doo GTX or RXT models.
Great informative reports. Thank you…. New to the sport but have rode a lot of quads and sportsbikes. Have water experience as I was in the navy as a young adult. Now 40 with two kids aged 10 and 7 and would like to invest in a jet ski. Looking to spend about 10k Canadian (as I live in Ontario, Canada). Looking for a two seater that will ride mostly calm lakes, but may have to endure minor choppy waters at time (lake Ontario). Tube pulling and maybe wakeboard abilities in the engine power. Basically looking for a good family ride that can let daddy open it up just a little when he needs to lol.
You could get a really nice Spark for that price and with minor chop, it’ll be a great machine. Stick with the Sparks that have iBR or if you can get a used GTI or VX if you plan on doing a lot of pull sports.
We are new to the sport but my son and I rented while in Florida and had s blast, we have children ages 10 and 16 that really want to be able to tube (one or two tubers) and wake board behind and my wife and I would like something roomy and stable. At first we were looking for a small jet boat but hard to find anything new for the around $10,000 range. I would prefer something new so we are not dealing with someone else’s problem we don’t catch and can enjoy time on the water. If you know of anyone that still makes jet boats let me know as it seems like most have went to PWC. Otherwise we are considering the 2018 Yamaha VX Limited or Ski Doo 155 Wake series. Do you have a recommendation between the two series and is the motor size of either series plenty to pull tubes? If you have other suggestions we would love to hear them. In case it matters we are in MN so fresh water lakes, also I am about 200lbs and my wife is about 240lbs if that plays into modelat all. Thanks for the great content and advice.
Scarab makes a small jet boat called the 165G, that is going to be the cheapest new option. Both the VX Limited and Wake 155 are great machines that come with a lot of accessories. Both, in my opinion, are a great buy. Both will pull tubes just fine, but the Wake 155 has a slightly more powerful engine so it will handle the get-up-and-go better. I’ve ridden myself (240lbs) with someone who was 200lbs on a GTI body and it handles and rode fine. I wouldn’t add any more people though. One thing of note is that the Wake 155 will have ski mode which is nice if you plan on doing a lot of wakeboarding or tubing – gets the speed and take off just right so the driver doesn’t have to do it. The best thing to do is go sit on each model at the dealership for at least 15 minutes to see how each feels. You can’t go wrong with either machine.
I have read all of your great advice. My wife and I are going to buy our first jet ski. We motorcycle and kayak together tandem, so we will need a machine for two. I like the sea doo gtx in either the 230 or 300 version. I also like the yamahas svho. I’m leaning towards the 230 because of fuel mileage thinking we could do some long distance cruising i.e. the san juan islands or florida to bahamas on this machine. For the ocean would this be a good choice. Of course as a former sailor we would not go alone, take serious cosideration of the weather, wave height, and carry gps and plb’s.
The GTX 230 would be a great machine for you and your wife.
You have become our “go-to” guy in researching our jet ski purchase, thank you for sharing all your knowledge. We are debating between a 2016 used wake 155 with 83 hours for $9100 and a new 2018 wake 155 with the polytec hull, 3 year warranty for $11700. Which would you recommend?
The 2018 Wake 155 will not have the Polytec hull, only models with the 90HP ACE engine will have the option to go with Ploytec. If you ask me the 2016 model is priced way too high, but then again these WAKE models do hold their value very well. If you’re getting the 2018 WAKE 155 out the door for $11,700 then I would for sure go with that one since that’s a great deal. Either way, you can’t go wrong, the WAKE series are good all-around machines that everyone wants.
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.