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How to Successfully Dock Your Jet Ski Like A Pro

I’ve been getting a few emails from people asking for tips when around the docks.

For most people, driving a PWC is a new and unusual experience. The way the craft works is often the opposite of what people think it should do. Along with the quirks of having to give the engine some throttle to steer in certain situations, it gets confusing fast.

I’ve helped a lot of people get better at driving their new machines. But no matter what, the biggest hurdle for them is mastering docks and trailers. It’s scary, for sure, but there are a few things you need to do and keep in mind. That is why in this post I want to give you tips and hard lessons I’ve learned through the years to help me and others do it like a pro.

What’s My Number One Rule? Go Slow!

The biggest take-away when docking a jet ski is to go slow. And when I say slow, I mean “painfully slow,” almost to the point where it might feel awkward or like people are judging your slowness.

The biggest mistake you can make is going too fast or playing with the throttle.

Shut Off the Engine

If you ever find yourself uncertain, the best practice is to shut off the engine.

Simply press the “START/STOP” button if you’re in a tight spot or unsure of what to do. It’s advisable to leave the safety lanyard on, just in case you need to quickly restart the engine.

Other Considerations

Jet skis are direct drive, which means that if the engine is running, the impeller is spinning, and the unit is always active. Unlike boats, PWCs don’t have a “true” neutral; instead, neutral is the point between forward and reverse. This gives you more control, even allowing you to steer it in neutral.

Regardless of whether you’re in forward or reverse, the nose will follow the direction you turn the handlebars. This can be confusing for some, as it differs from the way boats operate.

When at the dock, and you’re holding on to it, it’s essential to SHUT OFF THE ENGINE. There is no true neutral, and leaving it in neutral is not safe.

Remember to follow NO-WAKE ZONE laws, indicated by white floating buoys or when within 100 feet of land. This means maintaining idle speed and not using the throttle. It might be inconvenient, but it’s crucial for your safety and that of others around you.

While some boating experts advise against turning off the engine at the slip for traditional boats with a “true neutral” gear, this advice doesn’t apply here, as water craft lack this feature. With jet drives, the only way to stop all movement is to shut off the engine, which also grants you greater control.

Key Points:

Before you try to dock your jet ski, shift into neutral. Take note of the wind direction and observe what others are doing.

When it’s safe, and you’ve determined the wind direction, approach at an angle, using the wind to your advantage.

Control the slow approach by alternating between forward and neutral with the forward and reverse/brake levers. Avoid giving it gas; simply alternate between forward and neutral. Aim for an extremely gradual approach, almost like hooking up to the space shuttle in outer space.

If you feel like you’re going too fast, use the reverse lever to slow down. Your goal is to achieve the very gradual approach.

If you can reach the slip or are in a tight spot close to it, turn off the engine.

Remember, if you ever feel uncertain, shut off the engine. There is no true neutral, so the only way to stop all movement is by turning off the engine.

(A video to show you the way and what I mean about going back and forth on the levers.)

No Reverse

It can be more challenging to dock a jet ski if you don’t have reverse, but it’s doable. The key is to avoid using any throttle at the slip or no-wake area. About 20 feet before reaching the area you want to be, spin in a circle.

Before attempting the circle, check for nearby obstacles, and then rotate the craft without using the throttle. This will halt your forward momentum.

Direct the handlebars where you want to go, and as it regains momentum, you’ll be near the slip and can turn off the engine. Ensure you maintain idle speed throughout this maneuver.

Video

Tips & Tricks

To become better at docking your jet ski, practice is essential.

Try getting close to a buoy in the water without touching it, preferably using a no-wake buoy.

Experiment with the throttle and reverse levers at idle speed to improve your skills. Repeat this process a few times to become a expert more quickly.

Getting on A Drive-Up Lift

Most manufacturers recommend keeping them on a lift and out of the water when not in use. One type of lift, the floating drive-up lift, allows you to drive your machine directly onto it. This lift may seem intimidating, but it’s considered one of the best options available.

There are also lifts that elevate your craft in the air, which is suitable if your slip requires it. However, the drive-up lifts are generally easier to use and less complicated. The lifts that elevate in the air need precise centering and take more time to lift out of the water.

Drive-up Lift

Docking a jet ski on top of a floating drive-up lift is almost the same as docking at any boat slip. Here’s how:

  1. Before reaching the lift, shift into neutral and check the wind direction while observing others.
  2. When it’s safe, and you’ve noted the wind direction, approach the lift, making use of the wind’s assistance.
  3. Gently tap the center of the floating drive-up lift.
  4. Try to center yourself with the lift if you’re not already aligned.
  5. Give it a little throttle to get on top of the lift.
  6. Wait a moment to ensure you don’t roll backward. If you do, simply try again; it’s not a big deal.
  7. If you don’t roll backward, turn off the engine and tie everything up.

Video:

If you’re worried about overshooting the lift, just remember to go slow, lightly touch the lift, and keep yourself straight. With a little bit of gas, you should not overshoot it, but it may take a few attempts.

This is why waiting before turning off the engine is important to ensure you won’t roll back off and have to start over.

Tying up

When you have docked, you’ll need to tie your jet ski up to keep it from wandering away.

You can use regular dockline, but they do make stretchy dockline that makes it easier for jet skis. Most jet skis have a tie-down spot near the handlebars, a way to loop the rope through. You can also use the bow hook or the hooks at the rear, but they can be harder to reach.

Just don’t loop the line around the handle bars, always go to the hook as you don’t want to rip out your handlebars.

If it’s your home and want to lock it down, you can use a cable lock, but still have one regular dockline holding the jet ski on. The lock is meant to slow down a thief, not survive harsh storms.

Author

Steven

I started working at a power sports dealership in 2007, I worked in parts, service counter, and as a technician before moving to sales in 2013. I created StevenInSales.com in 2014 to answer common watercraft questions I would get from people. Now managing the site full-time, I continue to provide advice and web tools for my readers about watercraft. I've owned several watercraft, with a Sea-Doo Spark as my current main PWC.

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