As someone who sold both jet skis and boats, I would get asked the “jet ski vs. boat” question all the time.
Over the years of hearing what people need and what suits them the best, I have found the answer – and it might surprise you!
Buy A Jet Ski Over A Boat!
I’m not going to leave you hanging; you should buy a jet ski over a boat.
Simple, I’ve learned that the only people who asked me this question never owned either. This is someone new to jet skis and boating, and of the two, a jet ski is a way easier for a beginner.
A boat is not a simple thing, while a jet ski is a “get on and have fun” kind of thing. Let me explain.
Jet Ski Pros
There are many pros and cons to owing both a jet ski over a boat, so let’s go over the pros for jet skis, which also will be the cons for getting a boat.
1. Jet Skis Are Cheaper Then Boats
Sure, jet skis cost can reach over to $20K, but it’s still cheaper than a boat.
And if you could find a boat for under $20K, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the reliability and coolness of a similarly priced jet ski.
Boat prices, like everything, have gone way up; jet ski prices have gone up too, but at least they’re still cheaper. With the cost of everything going up, it makes more sense to get started with a jet ski than a boat.
Even a used jet ski can be found that is in good shape at a great price to let you get your “feet wet” and find out if boating is for you.
2. Jet Skis Are Easier To Drive
If you’ve never been on a boat or a jet ski before, you’ll find modern jet skis easier to drive and more forgiving.
Many jet skis you get today have brakes, and it makes docking and driving a lot easier. Brakes on a jet ski are not new, Sea-Doo had it in 2009, Yamaha since 2015, and Kawasaki in 2022, so there are used jet skis that have this feature.
Jet skis don’t have transmissions, so there is no shifting gears and no moment when you’re not in control. When the jet ski engine is on its processing water and doing something, you can even steer in neutral.
You don’t have this type of control in a boat, you’re doing a lot more on a boat to maintain this level of control with a jet ski.
3. Jet Skis Don’t Have Exposed Impellers
Jet skis don’t have any exposed impellers as a boat would.
Yes, those spinning blades of death are tucked away inside a jet ski.
I still recommend turning the jet ski engine off before you get near the jet pump. Also, keep your fingers and limbs away from the impeller, too.
Since there are no exposed impellers on a jet ski, I find myself using that over a boat for pull sports like tubing. You still have to worry about sucking up the rope, but I have a guide on that and how to stop it here.
4. Jet Ski Maintenance is Easier & Cheaper
Boats are more complicated than jet skis.
Here is an interesting fact, a jet ski doesn’t have a “transmission” like a car, or a boat would have. If the engine is on, the impeller is moving. What controls the thrust is a bucket, yes, a simple little bucket in the rear. This bucket directs where the water goes; thus you move.
A boat’s transmission has gears, and gears need maintenance and extra upkeep. These gears also wear out and make a thud sound when shifting them (very off-putting for a new boater to hear, but it’s normal). What you’re doing is forcing a spinning engine to flip over a gear to redirect which way the propeller is spinning. This is far more complex than a simple jet ski bucket.
Not only that, but boats have more moving parts. It’s common to see a boat engine based off a “truck engine” that is adapted to the water-world. And just like a truck, you have belts and many other things that need to be replaced every so often.
A jet ski engine is simple; one could argue it’s only slightly more complicated than a lawn mower engine. There are no exposed rubber belts like a boat engine would have – everything is self-contained. Jet skis will even have fewer cylinders and spark plugs to worry about, too.
Since the jet ski engine is smaller and easier to get to, you’ll find servicing them cheaper and more accessible. As someone who worked around technicians that serviced both jet skis and boats, they all rather work on jet skis.
Other expenses will be cheaper on a jet ski too, like gas, insurance, towing if you need it, and many other factors.
5. Jet Skis Are Easier To Clean
Cleaning a jet ski is far easier than cleaning a boat.
You have fewer crevices to clean, and boats are super awkward to clean with taking all its seats out and carpet – it’s a whole ordeal.
The worst cleaning is when getting ready for the season. A boat is a giant bucket that collects leaves and other gunk that falls into it (even if you have a cover on it). The rain still finds a way under your cover, and your carpet starts to smell like mold.
Let’s not forget the after-ride cleaning that your friends tend to magically disappear for or won’t help out.
Compared to cleaning a jet ski, at most a quick pressure wash, and you’re good to go. Even a simple soapy bath is a 15-minute job at the most.
I don’t know about you, but I rather spend my time on the water and not cleaning a boat.
6. Jet Skis Are Great For Quick Rides
You just got home from work, and the kids want to go on the water before the day ends.
This is not an easy thing to do on a boat. If you have a jet ski, you hop on and go — no need to think about it.
Even the people who have both a boat and a jet ski find themselves using the jet ski more because the boat is too much to get ready. The most common feedback I get from owners is that you have to plan a day beforehand when you want to take the boat out. Planning is something you do at work, not something you aim to do on your day off.
7. Jet Skis Have Brakes
Yes, you read that right.
Sea-Doo, Yamaha and now Kawasaki, have watercraft with brakes. This is something you don’t get on a boat, unless it’s the new Sea-Doo Switch.
Not only does this make docking easier, but it gives you better control too. If someone pulls out in front of your watercraft, you can stop quicker, unlike a boat.
8. Jet Skis Are Easier To Store
I store my Sea-Doo Spark out behind a small corner of my shed. Could I fit a boat there? No, but more importantly, I couldn’t get a boat and the towing vehicle back there.
I can put my jet ski anywhere that it’ll fit because it’s so small. Not only that, but I can also physically move the single jet ski by myself without needing to hook up to a truck.
Since jet skis are so small, there is always room for them at the sandbars or docks. Boats take up a lot of room, and you often get the angry look from other boats if you take too long at the docks. With a jet ski, if the dock looks full, I still have the option to carefully beach it instead. Beaching a boat is not ideal due to its size.
With a boat on a busy weekend, it can feel like parking a bus in a busy parking lot. Stress like this is not what I look for when I’m enjoying my time on the water.
9. Jet Skis Are Easier To Tow Behind Your Truck
For many people, this could be their first time towing something. Trust me, from experience, it’s better to learn to pull something small, than something big.
And if you can master backing a jet ski trailer down a boat ramp, you’ll have no issue backing up any trailer.
Another thing to consider is your vehicle. Make sure your vehicle can tow the boat or jet ski you want. This could mean purchasing a new truck or continually having to rent one.
With a jet ski, I’ve had people tow a Sea-Doo Spark with a Toyota Prius or Ford Mustang and have no issue.
To learn more about towing and jet ski weight, I have a post on that here.
10. Jet Skis Have The Power!
A jet ski is like the motorcycle of the water, it’s fast and nimble!
You can get some jet skis with over 300 HP, that is quite a lot when most of them only weigh 800 pounds.
Jet skis are so fast that they’re having to put in different modes and keys to keep people from going too crazy or hurting themselves. You can even make jet skis faster with many simple modifications.
If all you want is speed and power, a jet ski is the best way to go.
Jet Ski Cons – Boat Pros
I can’t go without pointing out the negatives of owning a jet ski compared to a boat.
So let’s cover all the pros of owing a boat and the cons of jet skis.
1. Jet Ski Can’t Drive At Night
For the most part, you can’t drive a jet ski at night. Sure, there are some places that will allow or ignore it, but for the most part, you can’t nor should you even try.
Jet skis don’t come with navigation lights and the general rule is that it’s not safe to drive them at night due to their size and how careless people can be. Driving at night is a different and more dangerous game. You got to go slow at night, which many jet skiers can’t do.
2. Jet Ski Carry Fewer People
Most jet skis are a 3-person seating capacity, and a few are 2 or even 1.
It gets even worse, as many 3-seaters only seat two adults and maybe one child, sure it’s 3 people, but don’t expect to stretch it beyond that. You get three grown adults on a 3-seater, and it’s bound to roll over.
You also have a smaller weight capacity with a jet ski, due to its smaller size, a jet ski can only carry so much.
3. Boats Are A Little Safer
A boat will naturally be safer than a jet ski because they’re physically bigger.
Also, people tend to do more stupid things when it comes to jet skis. Along with jet skis being more nimble and quick, and boats being slow and big, you’re going to have better odds on the boat at being safer.
It’s to say you can’t be safe on a jet ski, with so many driving modes, learning keys, and safety features like brakes, they have come a long way.
4. You Can Do More On A Boat
Boats are larger, and it allows you to do more things.
The gap is closing with more jet skis adding things like fishing models and exploring models to the list.
Fishing on a jet ski used to be hard or nonexistent, but with new jet ski accessories it’s not that much of a gap anymore, but boats still have more room for activities.
5. More Tow Sport Options
A jet ski can pull tubes and other pull sports, but it’s not the same as a boat.
Sure, you can get models made for pull sports like the Sea-Doo WAKE, but it’s not going to make a wake similar to a wakeboard boat.
A boat can also pull more people on a tube, not because the jet ski is lacking power, but due to laws. A 3-person jet ski can only have a total of 3 people, that’s people on the tube, the driver, and anyone else on the jet ski. It’s if someone gets hurt, there is enough room to get on the jet ski and back to land.
You can get jet skis with over 300 HP, so pulling power is not an issue, but laws and safety is, and a jet ski will always lose the debate against pull sports with a boat.
Why Not Both?!
I’m not saying you should get both a jet ski and a boat.
But what if you could combine the two? Well, you can, and it’s called a jet boat.
Both Scarab and Yamaha have their own jet boats. They use the engine from a jet ski, so it’s simple and still very powerful.
Sea-Doo came out with the Sea-Doo Switch in 2022, it’s a jet-powered pontoon that gives you a cross between a jet ski and a boat. The Sea-Doo Switch is the perfect in-between for a jet ski and a boat.
No exposed prop on a jet boat, as they use the same drive system that a jet ski uses. Plenty of room like a boat would have with some of them having a toilet/sink/changing room.
Scarab even uses Sea-Doo engines, so they have closed-loop cooling, which means the engine never takes in lake or ocean water to cool it. No salty lake water corroding things and no debris to clog the cooling! You usually have to pay extra for this on other boats, but it’s standard on Scarab Jet Boats.
This is the few times in life where you can have your cake and eat it too. Why not take a look at jet boats!
4 thoughts on “Jet Ski Vs. Boat – What Should You Buy?”
I just voted solidly for: jet boat!
Bought a used 2008 sea-doo 150 speedster and trailer. Carries 4 ppl and gear. Low cost, so easy, way more flexibility.
What about longevity of a PWC versus boat?
People say a PWC lasts between 300-500 hours. They also say a boat engine lasts 1500-2000 hours.
Wondering about Yamaha waverunners that use same engine found in their boats.
If numbers are accurate, seems like a boat would be a much better deal since it would last longer.
500 hours versus 1500 hours longevity is a no-brainer.
We are considering spending $30000 for a pair of PWC or a boat so cost will be about same.
The old 2-strokes would max out at 300 to 500 hours but the 4-strokes you get today can go well beyond 500. The fact they go beyond 500 doesn’t mean you’ll see many jet skis over 500 hours. The average person puts 30 hours a year on their jet ski so that would take 16 years and most don’t keep a jet ski that long because the parts start to get hard to find for them after 10-15 years. You also have some boats count hours differently than jet skis. A jet ski will only count engine hours while some boats will count when the key is on and you’re just listening to music. The Yamaha and Scarab Jet Boats are interesting too because a lot of them are going to dual jet ski engines which helps with the load and keeps them lasting longer too. I usually tell people to go with the jet skis first because if they don’t like them they will be easier to sell than a boat. Plus, if you’re new to boating you’ll find a jet ski easier to learn and take care of. But boats are nice if you need to take more people out or want something for leisure.
Imo, Jet Ski motors are easier to work on. Basically the same motor technology that’s in an ATV/4 Wheeler, SxS (Polaris RZR/Can Am X3, etc), and Snow Mobiles. And in the jet ski there’s no transmission, it’s way easier to get the motor out/in and do a motor rebuild than say on a truck motor in a boat.
So engine work on a PWC is a lot cheaper.