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Best Beginner’s Jet Ski: The Ultimate Buying Guide

It’s hard being a beginner to the world of jet skis. You go into a dealership and all the models look near-on identical. What’s the difference?

Often I’m asked about my opinion regarding the best jet ski for first-timers. While there is no perfect beginner’s jet ski, I’ve got some great options.

Dealerships have been telling newcomers to the sport to pick up a Yamaha Ex or SeaDoo Spark. Trust me – these are some of the worst options you can choose as a beginner. Heck, some of the worst options overall!

Today I’ll tell you my own opinion about what you should buy if you’re a beginner in the PWC market.

Choosing the Best Beginner’s Jet Ski.

It’s frustrating when I see dealerships say “Get yourself a rec-lite jet ski like the Spark or Ex” when you walk in fresh. I get it – they’re cheap machines.

Trust me, you get what you pay for. I would never recommend you fork out your money for one of these because you’ll soon realize the mistake you’ve made.

It’s clear that the best beginner’s jet ski is one in the Recreation Category. These include:

  1. 2019 Sea-Doo GTI
  2. 2019 Yamaha VX
  3. 2019 Kawasaki STX-15F (not ideal for smaller riders)

These all represent great value for money.

Upgrading to the Recreation Category

There are two main categories for beginners. These are recreation-light (cheaper) and recreation (better build quality, performance but with a slightly higher price).

You just simply get a whole lot more, without paying that much more. You’ll find features in the recreation category nowadays that previously you’d only find in significantly higher-performing machines. Having the ability to hit the brakes and even reverse at the boat ramp is one prime example.

Perhaps the biggest one is the stability. It’s just much harder to roll these over. Not only that, but you open up more waterways. Rec-lite jet skis struggle to go out in even the mildest of ocean chop, so you’re restricted to rivers, dams and estuaries.

Going Beyond the Recreation Category

Right, whilst the recreation category is ideal for beginners, some of you just have bigger budgets. You’re looking for a bit of luxury and performance.

With most jet skis these days, you can get two different types of keys. One is a normal key whilst another is a beginner’s key, which is also known as a learner’s key.

This learner’s key reduces the performance of your jet ski through the onboard computer. It’s mainly the thrust and top speed that is greatly reduced.

Why is this important? So you can buy an even better jet ski today, without having to upgrade in 1 to 2 years time when you’ve outgrown the recreation category.

That said, there are many people who never outgrow the recreation category. All skis in this category can hit 50MPH which is very fast. It might not be fast in your car, but without a windscreen and airconditioning, it feels like 100MPH!

So I would recommend the next category up. Certainly I would never recommend anything beyond this though, as you’re getting into machines which are just too expensive and powerful for a beginner to use on the water.

Stability is Key

Jet ski manufacturers are famous for overestimating the ability of their skis. A 3-seat jet ski is really just built for 2 adults. A 2-seat jet ski is really for one person. The 3-seater does fit 3 people….if you take 1 adult and 2 children that is!

It’s daunting at first to get started with a PWC. This is why stability is key, and why I’d always recommend you spend that little bit extra to upgrade. Trust me – it’s definitely worth it!

  • You’ll be less likely to tip over in less than ideal conditions, or even when boarding normally
  • You can bring the toys such as tubes and fishing equipment with you.
  • Best of all – your significant other is less likely to complain about a sore back side!

Also remember that the wind and current plays a factor too. You’ll find greater stability in rough conditions such as open sea with a recreation category and above ski.

The Importance of Brakes (iBR and RIDE)

No manufacturer in the recreation-lite model lineup provides brakes. This saves costs for the buyer. But that could cost you a serious accident and I know friends who have been seriously injured because they didn’t have brakes.

Remember, it’s not you. You’re a good rider. It’s the other people on the waterways that you need to watch out for!

That is why brakes are important. Choose a better jet ski when you’re a beginner by skipping the entry-level area.

Not only that, but docking is so much easier with brakes and reverse. You won’t embarrass yourself with poor maneuvers or using a paddle.

Both leading manufacturers have such features, but with different names.

SeaDoo has their iBR system aka Intelligent Brake and Reverse.

Yamaha has their RiDE system aka Reverse with Intuitive Deceleration Features.

That all sounds fancy when it doesn’t need to! This is the jet ski market, not a designer gallery. It’s basically brakes/reverse functions.

What NOT To Do

Right, so I’ve shown you why you must get out of the entry-level market (aka Rec-lite) because in all honesty, the Spark isn’t the best machine out there. It’s cheap, but it’s not fun at all.

Plus, it’s a bit…embarassing. When you rock up to the boat ramp, everyone knows you’re a beginner. No experienced rider would ever choose one of these basic machines.

Now the biggest mistake people make is choosing a stupidly excessive engine. You don’t need that 300HP beast showcased at the dealership.

Stay away from those. You’re still learning. It will take 12 months MINIMUM before you can handle those speeds and the power. It’s the type of power that will rip your arms off.

Quite literally, you just won’t enjoy your day out on the water. Give it a month or two after purchasing and you’ll be listing it on Craigslist, when you should have just bought a standard ski originally.

Essentially, learn to walk before you run. Avoid those big racing machines, but look forward to it! You can always upgrade down the track.

Now some of these machines do have a slow key. A good option if you’re learning but don’t want to transition between two machines. The price difference however is quite high.

Best Beginner’s Jet Ski is One That Delivers the Fun

When you’re starting new, you don’t want anything fancy. Yes – you must get a model with brakes and reverse, but that’s all you need.

Most important is that you must enjoy your day out on the water. You can arrive back safely at the boat ramp ready for another session next week.

Best of all – you can bring the toys and the kids! Even the GTI and VX are powerful enough to pull tubes and even a wake board.

Given that you’ve got a safer machine, your children can take the controls too depending on your state/country laws and regulations. At least here in Australia you can in some places. Much easier to do than on a 300hp machine.

My recommendation is that you get training. Yes, you can get a jet ski license but you should also take a safety course too. What I did was tag along with a jet ski tour for my first few rides before buying my own machine.

In Summary

I understand the allure of buying a cheap machine to just get out on the water. But cheap machines aren’t much fun. Sorry SeaDoo Spark, but you don’t get my tick of approval here.

You’re really limited in what you can do and where you can go with these machines. Their power is limited, with minimal safety functions and they just look so average.

Spend that little bit extra on a proper ski. You’ll also be seen as a real PWC rider at your local boat ramp.

I also understand the allure of buying an expensive machine. If you have the cash, then this is possible too. Just use the learner keys for a few months first.

At the end of the day, I’m just some dude on the internet who loves jet skis. I was once a beginner just like you. Your needs and riding conditions might be different. Just find the right beginner’s jet ski that delivers you years of enjoyment.

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Joshua Smith - Editor of JetSkiAdvice.com

As the editor, I started this resource to share my knowledge of jet ski ownership globally. When I’m not out there riding, I’m engaging with industry trends and eagerly awaiting the development of electric jet skis.

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