How Shallow Can A Jet Ski Go?

A common misunderstanding by new jet ski owners is how shallow of water depth they can operate.

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

There is a process of operating 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.

Stay Above 3 Feet!

A jet ski can run in 3 feet of shallow water, or about waist height for most people.

These things 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 they don’t have an outdrive that they can go in shallow water, and this is not true. A PWC 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.

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

They do 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 manufacturers don't put a protective cover over the intake here.

Starting In Shallow Water Tips

You want to be in about 3 feet or more of water before you start your engine. Keep in mind, when the 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.

Push Off

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 engine.

I’ve been at the boat launch before seeing people hop on with it in less than a foot of water, and before I can reach them, they fire up the engine and suck up rocks and 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, you need to turn the engine off before you reach the shoreline.

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

Engine Off – Coast In

Aim your jet ski towards the beach and move in that direction. When you’re 5 Sea-Doo 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.

Screw Anchor

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.

It’s Not Obvious

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.



I began working at a jet ski dealership in 2007, initially in the parts and service area. I then transitioned to the technician side before eventually joining the sales team in 2013. I've done it all! While in sales, I created this website in 2014 to assist others with their common questions about watercraft. I now manage this site full-time, where I answer common questions, offer advice, and assist others with their PWC needs.

I've owned several watercraft and continue to buy, sell, and repair them. Currently, keep my Sea-Doo Spark as my main PWC. Additionally, I have developed tools like a used watercraft value calculator, a pricing calculator, an hour calculator, and more to better assist my readers.

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