Do Jet Skis Have Brakes? Reverse? Neutral?

Driving a jet ski is fun and great for the whole family.

If you’re new to jet skis or want to know how to drive them you may be wondering about the controls. Is it like driving a car or motorcycle? Do jet skis have brakes, neutral or even a reverse?

Jet Ski Brakes

Yes, most models of jet skis come with brakes. Not every jet ski will have brakes, some jet skis only have forward/reverse or forward only. But it’s more common for jet skis to have brakes, as it’s made driving a jet ski so much easier and safer.

Brakes on a jet ski don’t work the same as the brakes in your car. The brakes on a jet ski are putting the jet ski into reverse, using a bucket and an electric motor. The bucket acts more like a parachute to create drag and slow you down. But if you keep holding the brake lever you will go into reverse, so reverse and braking are pretty much the same on a jet ski.

While brakes are not common on boats, it is a thing for jet skis.

Jet Ski Reverse

Yes, most jet skis have reverse.

There are only a few models of jet skis, usually the cheapest options, that don’t have reverse.

Reverse on a jet ski may come from a manual lever you have to pull or a trigger on the handlebars that controls an electric motor that redirects the thrust.

Neutral On A Jet Ski

Jet skis do have neutral, but it’s not the same as a boat or car.

Neutral for a jet ski is the reverse bucket balancing between forward and reverse. There is no true neutral on a jet ski, the engine is connected directly to the impeller so when the engine is on the impeller is spinning. This also means if your jet ski doesn’t have reverse, it also won’t have neutral.

Since neutral is in between forward and reverse, you can still steer the jet ski while in neutral, giving you far greater control than a boat.

How Reverse On A Jet Ski Works

Before I can talk about brakes, I need to talk about how the reverse system on a jet ski works.

A jet ski is simpler than a regular boat in that it doesn’t have a transmission. No transmission means fewer moving parts and fewer things to break.

A jet ski takes in water from the jet pump and pushes it out the rear. A nozzle in the rear directs this thrust left or right, and that is how you get your steering.

The engine of a jet ski is a direct drive system; in other words, the engine is connected directly to the impeller. So if the engine is on the impeller is spinning.

To control where this thrust goes, jet skis with reverse will have a reverse bucket. This bucket redirects the flow of water to the front of the PWC and causes it to move backwards.

The Gif below demonstrates the movement of the reverse bucket.

When the reverse bucket is all the way down, the output of the water is redirected, and the jet ski goes in reverse.

How Neutral Works On A Jet Ski

At the start of this post, I said jet skis do have neutral, but I put it in quotes for a good reason.

Neutral on a jet ski is not the same as neutral in a boat or a car.

As stated in how reverse works on a jet ski, if the engine is on the impeller is spinning. If the impeller is spinning, water is being moved, and the thrust of that moving water is what moves the jet ski.

To move the jet ski forward or backward, a reverse bucket is used to control where the water goes. If the reverse bucket is all the way up, the jet ski goes forward. If the reverse bucket is all the way down, the jet ski goes in reverse.

Neutral is the spot between forward and reverse.

While you may not have a true neutral, you may find this better. Since you have this much precision, you’ll have better control of the watercraft while docking. With the introduction of iBR and RIDE, it’s made docking a jet ski almost too easy – it’s to the point that after a few minutes of learning, you can easily show off your skills.

History Of Brakes On Jet Skis

I need to make a note of the history of jet ski brakes as they have not always had them. Even to this day, you can still get jet skis without brakes.

When Brakes Were Introduced For Jet Skis

The first brakes came out in 2009 when Sea-Doo released their new iS models. Sea-Doo released two new features, and the first of its kind – suspension on a jet ski and brakes on a jet ski. Sea-Doo called their brake system iBR (intelligent braking and reverse).

This was some groundbreaking stuff at the time.

At the time, Sea-Doo was pushing the suspension as the best thing, but it was the braking that everyone loved. So much so that Sea-Doo doesn’t even make suspension models anymore, I talk about this more here.

No other boat on the market had ever done this, nor did it seem they ever wanted to. While brakes on a boat don’t make sense, it makes a lot of sense on a jet ski.

Why Brakes On A Jet Ski Makes Sense

Jet skis are fast and nimble, so they’re quick to get in trouble. People can’t see you sometimes, and being able to control the situation by slamming on the brakes is a huge benefit. So much so the US Coast Guard awarded Sea-Doo for such great innovation.

In 2015 Yamaha Released Their Own Braking System

Yamaha was not going to be left behind as the market loved the braking technology. In 2015 Yamaha released its version call RIDE.

The issue with Yamaha’s RIDE is that they could not call it “brakes” but instead called it “dual-throttle.” Since it was a different name, Yamaha even tried to pass it off as a first of it’s kind, but really it was them catching up to Sea-Doo from 6 years before.


Sea-Doo has all the legal stuff to call it “braking” and a patent too. Though Yamaha’s version may not be 100% the same, it’s not bad either.

With the Yamaha RIDE system making people think of it as dual throttle is kind of helpful. With Sea-Doo you squeeze the left handle, and you brake like you’re riding a bike. With Yamaha, you squeeze the left handle, and you put it in reverse. Where it gets confusing is that if you keep holding the Sea-Doo brake lever you’ll go into reverse. I find it easier to tell people that the right trigger is forward and the left one is reverse.

Interestingly enough, both versions work very well so you can’t go wrong with either. There are times where Yamaha’s RIDE reverse makes more sense, and there are times when Sea-Doo iBR makes more sense. For example, in a panic mode, iBR makes more sense as to not overdo it by giving it too much throttle. But RIDE makes more sense when launching from a trailer.

Either way is not wrong, and you’ll quickly get used to each other.

Kawasaki Jet Skis Have Brakes

As of 2022, Kawasaki has models with their own versions of brakes.

Kawasaki does it a little different, forward and reverse is done on the right handle bar. There is finger trigger for forward and reverse/brake is the right thumb.

How Jet Ski Brakes Work

I had to go over how reverse works before going over how brakes work because it’s pretty much the same thing.

When you hit the brakes on a jet ski, you’re essentially putting it in reverse. If you’re going 40mph and hit the brake lever you will stop, but If you keep holding the brake lever in, you’ll go in reverse.

To demonstrate this, I have a video on how to drive a jet ski with brakes and a post on how to drive a jet ski.

To say the jet ski is merely going in reverse when you hit the brakes is not 100% correct. That is what happens, but for example, Sea-Doo will also direct the nozzle down, which helps you maintain better control while stopping.

When the reverse bucket drops down, this scoops the water up and creates a wall of water when at speed. This wall of water is a visual cue that this jet ski is stopping. It also stands out as it goes higher than your jet ski to let others at a distance know you’re stopping.

Generations Of Braking

Since Sea-Doo released a jet ski with brakes in 2009 and most of their models getting it in 2011, they have gone through several versions of iBR.

Before iBR 2.0 was released on the 2016 models, there was an interesting quirk of 1.0. If you hit the brakes and didn’t let go at the very end, the Sea-Doo would take a little nosedive. It was kind of like an emergency brake full stop. This nosedive would throw water up in the front, and you would get a little wet – it was no big deal.

I like this because at the time jet skis were getting huge and getting wet was hard. So I would run up and hit the brakes to cool myself off.

Then iBR 2.0 came along, and that nose dive was no more. The best part was that iBR 2.0 could stop sooner too.

Not Every Jet Ski Has Reverse Or Brakes

Reverse and braking is still a premium feature.

The good news is that a lot of the models do have reverse and braking standard. It’s when you get to the more affordable models like the Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX that don’t have either.

If a jet ski has brakes it will also have reverse since they’re “pretty much the same thing”.

You can get a jet ski with reverse and no brakes.

The way the jet skis with reverse and no brakes work is similar to the ones with iBR or RIDE. Instead of an electric motor moving the reverse bucket in the rear, the rider moves a manual lever that drops the bucket instead.

Since this manual reverse doesn’t have an electric motor, it has fewer moving parts, which some people like. But to be honest, iBR and RIDE are still simple concepts and work very well.

Also, you may find manual reverse harder to move because you’re fighting the thrust of the engine. With iBR and RIDE, it’s easy because it’s a drive-by-wire system and an electric motor does all the hard work.

Can Manual Reverse Work As A Brake?

I get this one a lot.

Since iBR and RIDE are essentially putting the jet ski in reverse, can I pull my manual reverse lever and use it as a brake?

No… well, you can, but you’ll break stuff.

If you can manage to pull the lever going above idle speed (10+mph), which is very hard to do, the drag of the water will destroy the reverse bucket and hardware of a manual reverse jet ski.

The jet skis with iBR or RIDE have metal buckets or at least reinforced. Not only that, but more metal joints are connecting to the bucket to make it stronger.

It’s advised you don’t use your manual reverse as a brake as you will destroy it. It’s okay to use the manual reverse at idle speed for docking and loading.

I know there are videos of people “submarining” their jet skis, but all they’re doing is destroying the reverse and looking forward to a costly repair.

Jet Skis Don’t Have Transmissions

No, jet skis do not have a clutch or a transmission.

The engine is connected directly to the impeller. So if the engine is on, the impeller is spinning and moving water.

I’ve seen people get confused when they see a jet ski handlebar, as there are two levers, much like a motorcycle.

On a motorcycle, the left lever is the clutch, but on a jet ski, that is the reverse and brake lever.

Jet Skis Are Automatic

Yes, a jet ski is “automatic.”

Even though jet skis don’t have a transmission, they still have forward, neutral, and reverse. Though there are a few that only have forward like those on rental models or the super affordable jet skis.

The way forward, reverse, and neutral work are described earlier in this post.

Are You New To Jet Skis?

I usually find the people asking these types of questions are new to jet skis.

Here are a few articles I recommended you read while on your journey to learn about jet skis.

Jet Ski Beginners Guide

Must have jet ski accessories

What took for when buying a used jet ski

3 thoughts on “Do Jet Skis Have Brakes? Reverse? Neutral?”

  1. Great new article, thanks Steven! Quick ?. If I have a PWC with reverse but no brake (manual reverse – 2011 Kawi STX-15f), at what speed or point is it safe to pull the manual reverse lever? I have been doing it at idle speed while docking to control my speed approaching the lift arms. Is this bad? Does the ski need to be still and not moving to pull this manual lever? Thanks.


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