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?

Do Jet Skis Have Brakes?

Yes, most newer 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 today to have brakes, as it’s made driving a jet ski so much easier and safer.

The first brakes on a jet ski came from Sea-Doo in 2009, Yamaha got their version in 2015 and now Kawasaki has an option in 2022.

The 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 just about the same on a jet ski.

While brakes are not common on boats, it is a thing for jet skis. The Sea-Doo Switch is the only boat, besides Coast Guard Boats, that comes with some type of braking system.

Do Jet Skis Have Reverse?

Yes, most jet skis have reverse, even older models.

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.

Do Jet Skis Have Neutral?

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

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 because you have more precision, 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.

Reverse Or Brakes?

A jet ski may have reverse, but no brakes, but if it has brakes it will have reverse.

Since reverse and brakes are controlled by the same system, you won’t find a jet ski that has brakes and no reverse.

You will find jet skis with reverse but no brakes, mostly because watercraft before 2009 never had any brakes. It wasn’t until 2022 that all manufacturers had at least one model with brakes. So, jet ski brakes are still new, but very worth it!

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 and a few without reverse or 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.

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.

No other boat on the market had ever done this, nor did it seem they ever wanted to.

Brakes on a boat are not new, the US Coast Guard has boats that work similar and can stop quickly. It also gives them better control, all because of jet drives like 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.

Sometimes, people can’t see you, 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 called 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 its 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 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 when 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.

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 the brakes work because it’s mostly 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.

How Do Jet Skis Slow Down?

Every jet ski slows down when you release the throttle, and it falls behind its own wake.

As talked about in this post, another way jet skis slow down is by using brakes. For most people, braking is mostly used for docking and quick stops, the jet ski naturally slows down when you let go of the throttle but still goes at idle speed.

The jet skis without brakes or reverse slow down by going in a circle at idle speed before docking. Spinning in a circle at idle speed kills your momentum, and you point the jet ski where you want to go and turn the engine off. When the engine is on, the jet ski is processing water and the only safe time is when the engine is off.

Another way a jet ski slows down is when the engine is shut off by the start/stop button or kill switch. When the engine off you lose control of the jet ski, but since it’s direct drive it’s the best thing to do when loading and unloading.

Where Are The Brakes On Jet Skis?

The brakes on a jet ski are located at the rear, right after the steering nozzle.

The brakes look like a bucket, it drops and creates drag to slow down a jet ski.

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 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 as standard. It’s when you get to the more affordable models like the Sea-Doo Spark or Yamaha EX that doesn’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 strengthen it.

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.

Do 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 / NO Shifting Gears

All jet skis are automatic and don’t have any gears or any shifting. Jet skis are all one speed, there are no transmissions to allow you to change gears.

Even though jet skis don’t have a transmission, they still have forward, neutral, and reverse. Though there are a few that only have forwarded 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 recommend 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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