How Shallow Can A Jet Ski Go?

A common misunderstanding by new jet ski owners is how shallow their jet skis can operate.

Many of these new jet ski owners were once or still are boat owners and think that since a jet ski does not have an outdrive it can go in shallow water, which is not true.

There is a process of operating your jet ski in shallow water and a certain depth you must stay above to avoid sucking things up. We’ll go over all this and more in this post.

How Shallow Can A Jet Ski Run?

A jet ski can run in 3 feet of shallow water, or about waist height for most people. Jet skis are very powerful vacuums and will suck up anything into the pump if you run in too shallow of water.

Many people think that since jet skis don’t have an outdrive that they can go in shallow water, and this is not true. A jet ski in shallow water will suck up rocks, sand, and other debris into the pump if you’re not careful.

Why 3 Feet?

You should not start or run your jet ski in no less than 3 feet of water because you’re riding a very powerful vacuum.

A jet ski works by sucking in water and pushing it out of the pump. Anything in front of that pump will get sucked up along with the water.

Jet ski pumps are so powerful that anything below 3 feet like sand, rocks, or tree branches can be sucked up along with the water.

Jet skis have an intake grate to block big items, but little things like sand, seashells, and rocks can pass through that grate.

Why don’t they put a protective mesh in front of the intake? – I have an article on why jet ski manufacturers don’t put a protective cover over the intake here.

Starting Your Jet Ski In Shallow Water

You want to be in about 3 feet or more of water before you start your jet ski’s engine. Keep in mind, when the jet ski engine is running, the impeller is moving as it’s a direct drive system. The reverse and neutral are not the same as it is on a boat, this post explains how it works.

I like telling people to be at least waist-deep before starting their engines. One trick I do when I’m waist-deep is that I put my foot on the reboarding ladder and then push off with my other foot to get me in deeper water before starting the jet ski.

I’ve been at the boat launch before seeing people hop on their jet ski with it in less than a foot of water, and before I can reach them, they fire up the engine and suck up stuff. It ruins their day because now you got to take the jet ski in and get the debris removed from the pump.

Luckily, many manufacturers, like Sea-Doo, have a wear ring that protects the pump in case you suck something up. But it’s not perfect and once it’s damaged it needs to be replaced.

Beaching In Shallow Water

When beaching your jet ski, you need to turn the engine off before you reach the shoreline.

If you see the bottom, it’s usually too late.

Aim your jet ski towards the beach and move that direction. When you’re 5 jet ski lengths away, you need to turn the engine off and coast in. Your momentum will carry you in and gently touch the beach.

Even if you come up short, you’re often close enough to hop off and beach the watercraft yourself.

An even better idea is to not beach the watercraft and instead keep it floating and use a screw anchor to keep it in place.

Can You Suck Up Debris When Driving Over Shallow Water?

Yes, even if you do 60 mph over a shallow water area, you still run the risk of sucking stuff up.

It’s best to avoid the shallow marker areas at all costs. Also, be aware of when the water level is down, many boat ramps will let you know, or it will be obvious the ramps are way down.

You might get lucky a few times, but eventually, you will suck something up if you keep driving over shallow areas, no matter how fast you go.

I Didn’t Drive In A Shallow Area But Still Sucked Something Up?!

This is a very common response I get from people.

They don’t remember sucking something up, and some even go as far as to say I’m lying to them.

I can’t blame them because sucking something up is not always obvious. Sometimes when you suck something up, the engine shuts off, and clearly, something is wrong. Other times you don’t hear or feel anything, but the next time you try to start the engine, nothing happens.

If the rock is big enough, it will jam the impeller and stop the engine. If the rock is not big enough, then it will get stuck and ride with the impeller cutting a groove in the wear ring. And sometimes the rock bounces around in the impeller and gets spit out the rear, only leaving a trace of a damaged wear ring.

You don’t always realize it because the engine is loud, and everything is happening underwater, so the sound of the rock destroying the wear ring is not apparent.

Tree bark or sticks are the worst about being quiet, and they are often the ones that are spit out and leave no groove in the wear ring. The worst part about sticks is that they can float, and they blend in. This is why I tell people to wait 24 hours before riding their jet ski after a bad rainstorm. The wind can knock all the sticks loose, and they float out in the water, waiting to destroy your wear ring.

How To Unclog Your Jet Ski

There is no good way to say this, but if you sucked something up, then you need to take the jet ski in and get it fixed.

If it was a rock, you run the chance it damaged the impeller.

If it was a stick, then it more than likely only damaged the wear ring.

I’ve even seen people suck up snakes and maps before, below is a jet ski pump that sucked up a map.

Sucked up something in pump wear ring

The best thing to do is get the jet ski to a repair shop because the pump needs to come off, and a few things need to be fixed.

Putting the jet ski in reverse won’t unclog the engine. Going from the inside of the engine compartment won’t reveal the pump that is clogged.

You need to take the jet ski in and get it fixed. Fixing something stuck in the pump is not something that most people should be messing with due to the sharp blades on the impeller.

Sometimes you can get lucky and turn the engine off, rock the watercraft back and forth and dislodge the thing that was stuck. Most often what gets stuck gets really stuck due to the power of the engine and the jet ski needs to be taken in for repair.

Is Sucking Something Up Covered Under Warranty?

No, sucking something up is NOT covered under warranty.

It’s not a manufacturer defect, so it can’t be covered under warranty.

Is Sucking Stuff Up Covered Under My Insurance?

Generally, no, but I’ve seen a few rare cases of insurance companies covering it.

I wouldn’t expect your jet ski insurance company to pay for it, especially if it means your rates will increase, but there are some circumstances that they might cover, and it might be worth it.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix?

You might be wondering how much it would cost you to fix your jet ski after sucking something up?

The answer is not so simple.

The cost will depend on what damage was done.

A new wear ring like the kind for Sea-Doo can cost anywhere from $50 to $200.

A new impeller, if it was damaged, can cost $100 to $400.

If you plan on doing it yourself, you’ll need the impeller removal tool along with the mechanic set of tools to take the pump apart.

Labor wise, you’re looking at an hour, if not 2 hours, depending on the jet ski and the shop you take it to. It’s not unheard of a repair shop to charge $150 per hour, if not more.

After all is said and done, you could see anywhere from $400 to $1000 to fix a jet ski after sucking stuff up at a repair shop. It could be more or less depending on many factors, but this is only to give you an idea.

Jet Ski Won’t Take Off Or Is Sluggish

If your jet ski won’t take off or feels like it’s slipping, then you more than likely sucked something up.

I have a post here that can help you with that.

Is Sucking Stuff Up A Huge Problem For Jet Skis?

After reading this, I’m sure I have a few people freaked out, thinking they’ll suck something up with their jet ski every time they take it out.

If you always start your jet ski in at least 3 feet of water, avoid shallow areas when riding, and be aware of ropes and your surroundings, the chances of you sucking something up is rare.

I’ve driven a lot of different jet skis and owned a few, and I’ve only ever sucked something up once. Yes, only once, and the only reason I sucked something up is because of bad luck. It happens, but it’s not a common thing, so I fixed it and moved on.

I had to write this post because I see people saying jet skis and jet boats can go in shallow water because they lack a prop, which is false. They can float better in shallow water, but they don’t run well in shallow water. A jet ski only needs a few inches of water to float, but floating is very different from running.

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