The cost, hands down, is the most important question new jet ski owners have. The answer may seem so simple, but when you get to the dealership, you learn how complicated it gets.
Not every dealership works the same, some haggle, some don’t, and some are all over the place. In this post, I want to answer the more general questions when it comes to cost and buying.
What is covered is not universal and not something every person in every part of the world (or US) will encounter. With that in mind, I want to give you some ideas of dealer markup, assembly costs, and some fees you may run into when buying a new jet ski.
4% To 8% Margins
Let’s get right to the point, a jet ski can have 4% to 8% margins.
I’ve had people think they have 40% margins, and some think they have 1% margins. The answer is closer to 6% on average for most.
What is interesting about this margin is that it doesn't include things like freight, prep, taxes and so much more. Even more amazing, is that a lot of the fees and taxes can't be hidden in the price of the jet ski either, so paying over MSRP is quite normal.
Just think about it, if your state has a 6% sales tax, there is no way a dealership could sell the jet ski and make money off the deal if it has a 6% or even 8% margin.
What Has The Biggest Margins
The more expensive the jet ski, the more the dealership will make.
If margins are equal, a unit that costs $16,000 will have more wiggle room than one that is $8,000.
So don’t expect to get a great deal on a budget model compared to the top of the line model.
Dealer Fees Explained
Every dealership will have fees, either from the manufacturer, state, or the cost of doing business.
To fully understand how all this works we need to do a made-up example, let’s assume a jet ski price of $8,000 and it has a 6% markup.
$8,000 * 6% = $480 Profit
But we’re not done, there are still…
- Trailer, if you get one
There can be even more fees depending on where you live. Let’s break down each fee to help you better understand why they exist.
I’ve also made a jet ski pricing calculator that takes all these factors in and allows you to play with the numbers to see how much you can afford.
If your state or country charges sales taxes, you’ll have to pay that when you buy your jet ski.
Some states have sales taxes that are greater than the profit the dealership would make off the sale. So, they can’t hide that charge in the price of the unit.
You also can’t avoid paying taxes, the tax man always wins.
Taxes are not the only thing you need to pay, but you must also pay and register your boat with your state’s wildlife center.
It may go by different names all over the world, but in many places you register your boat (jet ski) and get assigned vessel numbers.
Think of it as a license plate for your boat.
You also have to renew it every year or whatever interval you pay for, some can go multiple years.
Not keeping up with this can result in you being pulled over by the water patrol and getting a ticket.
Some dealers may not do the registration for you, some do, but overall, you’ll need to have it in many places.
Freight can be a sore spot for some buyers, but it is a cost.
The watercraft needs to get to the dealership somehow, and that is by truck. Shipping is not free, even though some online stores don’t charge for it, they actually do as their margins are just better.
And a jet ski is not that small, with most being 12 feet or longer, they take up a lot of room on semi-trucks. They are put into crates, so they can be stacked, but mostly two high.
What manufacturers do is average out the cost of shipping, so one dealership located further from the factory isn’t paying more.
While some think this fee can be negotiated, in a lot of case it can’t. The honest truth, you’re paying this fee even if you’re not, unless the dealership wants to lose money.
Freight is not cheap, it can vary, somewhere around $500, and it keeps going up every year due to inflation and shipping costs going up.
As covered in the freight fee, jet skis come in crates, which means they need to be assembled.
I’ve had a few people give me the line that they can assemble it themselves in an attempt to save money, but the reality is that they cannot.
Even if you’re skilled and have all the right tools, you still lack the software from the manufacturer to program the jet ski. Without that software, you have an expensive canoe.
The manufacturer isn’t doing this to force you to pay for prep, but instead to cut down on theft. Until the unit is programmed by the dealership and activated, it’s useless. Taking it to another dealership to get programmed won’t work either, as the stolen unit go in a database.
With prep, you also have the cost of the battery, fire extinguisher, gas and everything else that is needed to get the jet ski going. The dealership will need to add these things to make sure the jet ski runs fine, so it’s best to pay the prep charge.
The good news is that every dealership prep fee is different, so you can use that to your advantage.
The doc fee is short for document fee, and every dealership will have a different amount they charge.
Not paying the document fee can be tricky due to DMV laws, which apply when buying a trailer for your jet ski. Some states even have a limit a dealership can charge.
Negotiating the doc fee will be hard, it’s best to Google your state’s regulations on doc fees and get multiple quotes from dealerships to fully understand.
Do Dealerships Make Money Off The Backend?
A car dealership can sell a car at cost and still make money, as the manufacturer has holdbacks.
This is not a thing, at least in the way you think, for jet skis. A dealership selling skis at dealer cost will go out of business very soon.
Jet skis are a want, and not a need, so the cut-throat business that comes from car sales is not something that shows up in PWCs. Sure, there is competition, but the car dealer tricks are not a thing here.
Most often, the price is the price.
No hokey-pokey and turn yourself around like with car dealerships. There may be promotions from the manufacturers that lower the price, but most of the time they have a warranty offer that is a better deal if you ask me.
Where The Real Money Is Made
Selling new jet skis is not as profitable as many think, and the real money is made in accessories, service, and used sales.
If you want to get the best deal possible…
—Always haggle over the accessories and services—
They’re selling the jet ski to get you to the gear you’ll need, and often need routinely.
If you want to know what jet ski accessories you need, I have a post that goes over that here.
Will A Dealership Sell At A Loss?
There are jet ski dealerships that will sell at a loss, but not when the demand is high, as we’ve seen in the last few years.
A lot of dealerships finance their floor plan, and after a few months the units on the lot start to cost them money. If a unit has been sitting for too long, the cheaper option for the dealership is to take a loss and move on.
Jet skis don’t have auctions, or near as many, as you do with cars. Cars that don’t sell well go to the local auction to be sold, this is not always a thing for jet skis. A jet ski that doesn’t sell just sits on the lot until it does, or another dealership transfers it out.
A watercraft that has been sitting for too long is always going to be the best deal.
The Price They Say Vs. The Real Price
I’ve been price shopped a lot, and it’s okay, but it’s always interesting seeing some deal’s aftermath.
I’ve noticed a trend with some dealerships that they just want you in the door, so the price they give you is not always the price you end up paying. There are so many tricks that are played that it could be its own article
You’ve got to be careful when pricing shopping; I go over many tips for buying a new jet ski here.
What's interesting to me is the kamikaze deals. One dealership says a super low price, you agree to buy, but when you show up the price changes because of this or that, and now you're put off from buying a jet ski from anyone. It was a win-win for the dealership selling at the super low price, they either sell a jet ski for more or got you out of the market and the competition doesn't make a sale. Imagine the customer who spent weeks or month researching the perfect jet ski and found the perfect price after talking to several dealerships, then it all come crashing down. Some do end up paying more as they're ready to be done with it, and the others move on to something else.
Supply And Demand
PWCs suffer from supply and demand, just like most things in the world.
They are also seasonal, everyone wants one in the summer months, but not so much in the winter.
It’s important to keep this in mind when buying a jet ski, as the season and how hot the item is currently can affect price. In 2020-2023 we saw many jet skis selling for way more than they normally do, but they were in high demand and supply could not keep up.
Expect to pay more during the busy seasons for jet skis that are in demand.