Mistakes People Make When Buying a New Jet Ski

So, you’ve landed here, probably with some burning questions on your mind. Maybe you’re eager to learn how to snag the perfect jet ski, or you’re on the hunt for insider tips to score the best deal. Or perhaps you’re here to uncover the tricks that sneaky salesmen might play to overcharge you for one?

Well, guess what? You’ve hit the jackpot because you’ve come to the right place. I’m about to spill the beans on all the common mistakes folks make when buying a personal watercraft (PWC), and my goal is to turn you into a well-informed buyer.

By the time you’re done here, you’ll be armed with the knowledge and savvy you need to make a jet ski purchase. So, let’s dive in and make sure you’re ready to ride the waves without breaking the bank!

The Number One Mistake

I want to start off with the number one mistake that most people make when buying a watercraft… it’s not like buying a car.

Forget about all the bad experiences and all the horrible things you’ve heard about how or what car salesman do.

A car dealership can sell you a car at the dealer invoice price and still make a profit. However, if a dealership were to sell you a ski at the dealer invoice price, they would risk going out of business. This is partly because cars are shipped ready to use, except for the removal of some cosmetic pieces. In contrast, jet skis are shipped in crates and, due to the need for compression, require assembly upon arrival.

A dealership will have to pay someone to get the units out of the crate, not easy work, especially since jet skis are sold during the hottest days of the year. Moreover, some manufacturers don’t even ship a battery with the units and if they do ship one it doesn’t have the fluid nor is it charged. A “good” battery will cost you anywhere from $100 to $300, so don’t be surprised if a dealer charges a prep or doc fee to help with this cost.

Also, don’t be surprised if a watercraft dealership charges you freight, especially on the lower price models. It costs money to get anything shipped these days. The manufacturer ships the units in crates to protect them in transit on semi-trucks. Just like when you buy anything on Amazon you get charged shipping, so does the dealership with jet skis. You might be wondering why can’t the dealership just absorb the cost of shipping? They can’t, which leads me to my next point.


Jet ski are not 40% off

In the world of 40% off to even some places with 80% in retail stores, people seem to think that dealers have great markup.

The fact is that people like to feel like they’re winning, and seeing signs that say 50% off makes people feel like they got a good deal. The problem is that this places a wrong mindset for people, and they think everything has at least a 40% markup, especially luxury items like watercraft.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good deal myself, but you must realize that everything doesn’t have a great markup. Don’t be off-put if a dealership charges you freight, since some jet skis may only have a $200 markup, while it costs the dealership $500 to get it shipped there.

Yes, you read that right, some jet skis only have a $200 markup, with 6% margins being about average on new jet skis. You can’t run a dealership on $200, especially if it costs $500 to get the unit to your store.

2020 And Newer

This article was written in 2015 and 5 years later a few things have changed.

The market went crazy in 2020, 2021 and 2022 with everyone stuck at home due to the events of the time. Jet skis were being sold like crazy and manufacturers struggled to keep up.

This caused prices to go up and many people were paying full price and then some. I talk more about the current pricing and what to do about buying a new waverunner in my 2024 Sea-Doo vs Yamaha vs Kawasaki post.

The Best Time to Buy

Finding the best time to buy can affect markup. Throughout the year, manufacturers will come out with various rebates to help lower the prices of the units. You can always find the rebates on the manufacturer’s website, and they’re usually dealership direct rebates, meaning the dealership will subtract the rebate from the machine when you buy.

The good news is that you can save more money by getting rebates. The bad news is that usually rebates are only given at the end of the season or on leftover models. In the summer, most dealerships have sold out of all the prior year models.

So, the best time to buy is the worst time to ride one, but you still get some deals in the summer. For example, the manufacturer may give some extra warranty or promotional financing.

Tip: if a manufacturer gives you an option of either a rebate or extra warranty, always go with the extra warranty. The money you save with the rebate will never be as good as the dollar value of the warranty.

Financing a PWC is Different From a Car

A little trick that car dealers have is to make some extra money off the financing. PWC dealerships usually get their financing from the manufacturer and make no extra money off the deal.

What happens is that a manufacturer will team up with a bank to buy down their rates on watercraft. These rates are different for different parts of the states, but they run lower for people that qualify.

So, the dealership doesn’t get to choose the rates or the terms, but merely acts like a middleman for the bank and the customer. The rates that are usually offered are sometimes better than going somewhere else to get the same loan because the manufacturer buys down the rates.

Also, keep in mind that getting approved for a watercraft is a lot harder than getting approved for a car. A car is seen as a must-have for your daily life, while a jetski is more of a toy. As the bank sees it, if you lose your job, the first thing you’ll stop paying on is all your toys.

I created a financing calculator here, so you can play with the numbers to see if you can afford the monthly payments on a jetski.

Cash Discounts

Financing a watercraft and paying cash (check) is the same for the dealership.

The only difference is that the money from financing might take a day or two for the dealership to get. So getting the money today vs tomorrow is not a huge advantage to most dealerships.

Also, cash is messy. You got to count it, trust the people counting it don’t steal or miscount, and you have to take it to the bank, which may be the next day anyway. And with government regulations, you need to report actual cash you get over a certain amount and the extra paperwork is not always ideal for the dealership. Walking in with a wad of cash is not a great motivator, unless it was the dead of winter, and they haven’t seen a customer in 3 days.

Paying With Credit Card

I do it too; I like getting those points from my credit card. I often get people asking if they can pay with a credit card so that they can get the points or the cashback offers that their credit card company gives them.

Most dealerships will have a cap or a certain amount they’ll allow for you to use a credit card for. Many dealerships might not even allow credit cards for a big purchase like a waverunner.

Why can’t you use a credit card?

Well, the margins are not great on watercraft as I showed early in this post and that cashback or points you get is paid by the dealership to the credit card companies. That is where the money comes from to pay for your points, and most dealerships can’t afford to eat that cost.

To give you an example, many credit card processors will charge the dealership a 2% fee to use them. So if you buy a waverunner that is $10,000 it will cost the dealership $200 just for that one purchase. With some watercraft only having a $200 markup, that eats away at all the profit. If using a credit card is preferred, then talk to the dealer about it and see what they can do, sometimes they’ll allow it if you pay the processing fee.

Don’t Compare Used Prices To New Prices

I’m surprised that I even have to add this, but it does happen. You find a prior year model watercraft (new 0 hours – never been registered) and your local dealer gives you a price. To make sure you’re getting a good deal, you go online to NADA (now J.D. Power) to see what price it should be and see that the dealership is thousands more than what J.D. Power says.

To see what you should pay for a used jet ski, please give our guide a read.

The reason why you don’t use J.D. Power to tell you what price you should be paying for your NEW jet ski is that J.D. Power is there to tell you what price you should pay for a USED jet ski. Just because the jet ski is a leftover model does not mean it’s USED. The leftover model is still NEW, since it has no hours on it and the warranty has not started.

If the unit was actually used than J.D. Power would be a great tool for getting a price on a unit, but if a dealership has a leftover model that’s never been registered than J.D. Power would not be a fair way to get a price. YOU WILL NEVER FIND A NEW UN-REGISTERED JET SKI WITH ZERO HOURS ON IT FOR J.D. Power PRICE. J.D. Power IS ONLY FOR USED.

Test Drives

Comparing jet ski dealers to car dealers, test drives differ.

Car dealers have ready-to-go cars for test drives, which makes it easy to try any before buying.

In contrast, watercraft dealerships may lack easy water access, and not all units are prepped for immediate testing. Many prefer keeping jet skis in crates to maintain their newness.

Some dealers offer demo models, but they may not match your desired model you want to test.

It’s best to look for “demo days” events or schedule a test ride appointment with a knowledgeable salesperson who can recommend the right jet ski for you based on your needs, potentially saving you from getting wet unnecessarily.

They Get Busy

If you ever worked with the public, you’ll know that one minute you’ll be bored with no customers coming in and the next you’ll be super busy. Jet ski dealerships are the same, and it’s worse in the summer.

Sometimes you’ll go to the dealership and everyone is busy and helping another person. Don’t worry. These things happen and to be honest, in about an hour it will probably be slow again – unless it’s a Saturday or Friday in the afternoon, as those will be busy until it’s time to go home.

The best thing to do to beat the rush of people and to make sure you get helped and have your questions answered is to email the dealership first. The perks of emailing is that everything is in writing, so if you strike up a deal, then you’re good to go. Also, with email, they can answer your questions better by linking to things like video’s or attach a PDF of current promotions. I do still recommend going to the dealership and looking/sitting on the machines to get a feel for them.

Often enough, Mondays through Thursday’s are slow or just steady. Those are the best days to check out jet skis.

Not Buying the Correct Gear

You’ll be surprised by what dealers won’t tell you when it comes to the correct riding gear. I created the 23+ must have accessories for Jet Skis to help you get started on riding your new watercraft.

Don’t forget you’ll need to wear the proper riding gear, I go over why that’s important.

If you’re in the market to buy a new jet ski, I have 25 more tips to help you in the process.



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 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.


  1. Hello,
    I am looking to buy a 2021 FX Cruiser Limited MSRP $16,499. Below is the breakdown of how my cost for my new 2021 Yahama FX Crusirer SVHO MRSP $16,499 comes to over $30k out the door.

    Total cost of trailer: $1099 (trailer cost) + $799 (trailer freight) + $699 (coast guard kit for trailer) + $599 (dealer trailer prep) = $3,196. This doesn’t include the $75 and the $38

    The Cost of the ski is: $16,499 + 3,000 markup + $2899 Freight + 1899 (dealer prep) = $24,297

    Total cost of registration/titles: 75 (ski title) + 75 (ski registration) + $38 (ski tag) + $60 (trailer tag) + $489 documents = $737

    Tax: 1799.38

    Is this too much mark-up?

    • Is this for two or one? If it’s one that is crazy! Jet skis are in high demand but charging more in fees than what the actual trailer cost is just crazy to me. Also, how do they still have a 2021 model when most were sold out and dealers are now getting 2022 models? This deal is too crazy for me, I would move on to a different dealer if I got this quote.

  2. A salesperson says he ahs a VX Deluxe in stock today that the deal fell through on. He said it was around $11600. When I asked for the price out the door with everything, he said “right under 15k with no trailer”. I asked what happened to $11,600 and was told that it was an assembly charge and TTL. Does this seem normal/accurate?

    • 2 years ago that would be crazy but with current events, prices on things have gone up and demand for jet skis has gone up too. Dealerships don’t have a lot of inventory and a lot of people want to buy so the market is not fair to buyers right now. You can try price shopping him against the closest other dealers to get the price down but they may not have many themselves either. It’s such an odd time right now.

  3. It is going to be tough to get a good deal this year. I priced a 2020 FX SVHO last year with double trailer out the door (everything) was $18.5k. This year (2021) Yamaha is producing 30% less as a result there will be less inventory when there is a high demand. Dealers cannot keep the few models they are getting on the floor and not willing to deal. They are making up for losses and if you do not buy it, someone else will. End result, that same FX SVHO is $20.5k OTD this year with the double Zieman custom trailer. Dealer said it will probably be 2 years before prices drop below retail again.

  4. Hi Steven,

    My husband and I are looking to buy a 2021 Seadoo Gti 130. The dealership has quoted us $475 for destination charges and an additional $1500 for dealership fees ( that’s what they call them). In addition we would pay taxes, Dmv fees and $60 in document fees. Does this sound reasonable in your opinion. The salesmen said the price was not negotiable as there is a shortage of watercrafts in California (where we live). Thank you in advance!

    • Unfortunately, 2020 and now 2021 has a huge demand for new and used jet skis. Normally, that would be too much but since demand is so high there are people willing to pay that much. Your best bet is to email the 3 closest dealers to you and get prices from them to compare. You never know you might get a dealership with lower fees.

  5. Should I buy a 2015 Sea Doo Spark? It only costs $5000 and only has 21 hours. It is a 3up without IBR but comes with a trailer and has a new battery and spark plugs and has just been water tested and goes through the 20 hour maintenance check. I am skeptical because I have heard that the earlier sparks have had handle bar problems and PTO problems. Does this mean I should still get it or look elsewhere?

    • There was a batch of early Sparks that needed the handlebars replaced but that should be under warranty. Get the VIN and call your local dealer to see if there are any open warranty items on it before buying.

  6. Thanks! They are not going to be in until mid July. The deposit is refundable also so I’ll keep an eye out on other dealers

  7. I just put a deposit down for two 2021 2up and 3up spark trixxs (girlfriend and I) and they’ll both have the sound system, convenience package and a double trailer. The sales rep said that they don’t even have prices for msrp on these yet but the total was around 8700 msrp for the 3up. The trailer was a metal trailer and their cheapest for $1785. What advice could you offer I’m buying all this to help with the price negotiations?

    • Sparks and EX’s are hard to haggle on because of the low margins. It cost $400 get it shipped to the dealership and some model Sparks only have a $200 markup. The trailer will have more margins than the Sparks to be honest. But you’ve put money down on 2021 which are not out yet and we don’t know for a few months the price or what they look like. I would ask the dealership to leave a refundable deposit, get that in writing, just so you can have your name in the box and get first pick. Then when they come in price shop your 3 closest dealers to see what they can offer. I go over this and more tips here…

  8. In reference to your article and the number one mistake, are you saying because jet ski dealers have low mark up that as a buyer I should not try to get a good deal because they would not make any money? I’m confused. I thought just like cars, trucks, boats, planes ect, there is an invoice price and msrp and as a buyer if I’m armed with the knowledge of what the invoice price is shouldn’t I use that to my advantage to get a better deal? Don’t get me wrong I know dealers are in the business to make money but I’m looking at purchasing a 2019 jet ski and I know dealers need to move those units to make room for the 2020 units or pay taxes on the 2019. With that being said why not use NADA to see what the average retail is to get a great deal? What are your thoughts?

    • Jet skis don’t have a holdback like cars do, so a car dealership could sell a car at invoice and still make money. Car dealers have trained people to think the invoice is the bottom when it’s not. Car dealers wouldn’t be in business if they sold all cars for invoice. This has created a bleed over into many other industries.

      Also, some jet skis only have a $200 mark up like the Spark or EX, with freight costing the dealership $400 to get it there they can’t sell at invoice. But there does exist some with over $800 mark up especially the more it costs and it’s reasonable to expect a dealership to come off of that price. Also, jet skis come in crates and have to be assembled where cars are 99% ready off the truck so there is a cost with that. Some manufacturers don’t even give you a battery with the ski and that is an easy $100.

      The tricky part is figuring out the real invoice price. Many of the places that say they know the price are wrong, often way wrong. They don’t take the time to research jet skis like they do cars so they often just base everything on cars and their markups. Since jet skis are a very niche thing compared to cars most websites don’t do the real research and just often guess. I had one person think jet skis had a 40% mark up because that is what markup they have on the glasses they sell. You’ll be lucky to get an 8% mark up on a jet ski.

      Then there is the honest truth that a jet ski dealer only sells during the warm months which last 4 months of the year. So they have to make a years worth of money in 4 months. This is why it’s a great idea to buy around this time as the season dies off and the new models come in. The manufacturer releases the best deals and rebates which helps you get below invoice on many PWCs.

      I do have a new post that I think you’ll enjoy as I spill the beans on how to get the best deal possible on a new jet ski in my new jet ski buyers guide…

        • There is a markup on jet skis but it’s not as great as people assume especially when compared to car dealerships. There are 2 reasons why your local dealer has his units priced so low.

          1. The manufacturer gives out rebates that the dealership puts directly to the jet skis to sell them lower. There can also be two prices, one with the warranty and without. The one without the warranty cost less but the warranty value will always exceed the monetary value they give off.

          2. Since the 2020 models are out the dealers can price the 2019 models anything they want. Unfortanly some dealers will price the units at a crazy low price to get people in the door. They will even keep up the lie on the phone or email until you get into the dealership and everything changes. It’s kind of sleazy that they do it but they do.

  9. Thanks for all your advice—this has been super helpful as I navigate my first PWC purchase. Quick question—a dealership offered the option of purchasing a demo Sea Doo GTX 155 with 8 hours of ride time for the same price as one out of the crate, but with an extra 6 months of warranty (on top of the original one year warranty) and a complimentary first service. Is the trade off on ride time worth the extended warranty and free service? Thanks!

    • It’s funny you mention this, I wrote a post on tips for buying a new jet ski and one of the tips I recommended is getting the demo model if you can.

      In your case, I would ask for more money off along with the free first service. Or at least have him throw in a cover and two life jackets if he doesn’t do that. That first service can be expensive so getting that thrown in is worth it.

  10. Great, informative article. I just purchased a new, 2019 Yamaha FX HO. I bought my first from the same dealer in 1995, 2nd. in 2016. When I called about the new one he gave me a price that didn’t include any discounts, whatsoever. He was charging for shipping and dealer prep. The NADA value on my 2016 VX Cruiser with 85 hours is $6550.00. He said he would give me $7000.00 on trade if we did the deal before July 4th. I contacted another nearby dealer who advertised no dealer prep and shipping fees added due to volume. I was first pricing a FX HO Cruiser. This dealer quoted a $1,090.00 discount off MSRP, plus tax and title and registration. When I mentioned trading my 2016 VX Cruiser he quickly stated the discounts disappear with trades, so we’re at MSRP plus tax, title and registration, still no prep or shipping. My regular dealer’s sales person called the next day to follow-up. I told her that I was sorry, that I had always liked dealing with the owner, but, I had received a better price from a nearby competitor and I would have to take my business to them. The owner called me back, never asked what price I had gotten from the other dealer and re-quoted the deal to within $200 of his competitor and discounted the Y.E.S. extended service for two years, at then end of the 3 year promotional factory warranty, by $200. I ended up buying the FX HO because of the color combination. That saved an additional $500.00. I am very satisfied with being able to stick with my closest dealer and consider the owner a friend. I am 66 years old and this PWC is for my 40 year-old daughter and 14 and 10 year-old grandchildren to use at or lake house. I’ve broken it in and they will have a ball this July 4th. with their new PWC.

  11. Looking at buying a 2018 SeaDoo GTI SE 130 for $8795 all in out the door including tax. Now Dealer asking me if i want to buy extended 3 year warranty and batter replacement warranty…thoughts?

    • I never heard of a battery replacement warranty, must be a local dealer thing. It looks like he’s giving you the rebate promotion that is going on and dropping the extended warranty. Check out Sea-Doo Promotions going on now to see how you fair. If it was me I would rather get the extended warranty then money off because the value of the warranty is greater.

  12. That makes sense! I definitely would like to get an aluminum trailer as It will be trailered a couple hours to some of the places I ride. I’m not sure if the dealers around me stock trailers in bulk or not. I live in Missouri, but I found a dealer in Orlando who tends to have their stuff listed a couple hundred under MSRP and the skis I have looked at say they come with a free aluminum trailer. It may be worth the drive and gas money to travel to Florida when I purchase.
    Thanks for the quick reply!

    • Careful with out of state dealerships, the lay the bait in hopes of out of state buyers. It may seem like a good deal online but when you get their things change quickly and since you’re so far away you’re stuck. It’s best to get everything in writing before leaving. And out of state jet skis can get messy with taxes, each state is different and just because you bought out of state doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay your local state taxes, and if you forget they will find out eventually and charge interest. I highly recommend sticking to best price you can get from your 3 closest dealerships instead of traveling several states over, mostly because warranties/promotions are different especially in FL (they usually get way different warranties and promotions then everyone else and they can sometimes be worse).

  13. What is your advice on purchasing a trailer at the same time? Do dealerships have some wiggle room if you are purchasing PWC, trailer and accessories all at the same time?

    • Trailers can be tricky because they don’t have much wiggle room themselves. Some dealers even sell them for real cheap because there is more money to be made in the jet ski. The trick is to find out if the dealership buys all their trailers at once to get the discounts, they usually have several in stock and keep them stocked. Don’t let price be the only factor, try to get the aluminum trailers as they’re far better and last longer than painted trailers.

  14. I am considering an FX Cruiser and your article really gave me a better expectation of how to handle the deal.

    One question – the dealer told me the PWC does not come with a cover.

    What gives?

    • Some models come with covers but those are usually the Limited models. I know the feeling – you’re spending a lot of money on this PWC they should at least give you a cover – but the markup on the PWC and cover is not as good as everyone thinks. What you could do is ask them to discount the cover to something like their cost so that you both come out ahead. What I would honestly do is not get there cover as covers don’t last long and maybe look into getting a cheaper universal cover. If the cover is going to wear out in 3 to 5 years might as well go with a more affordable option. I answer some common questions on covers and give tips on them here that you might find interesting.


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