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What Is The Thailand Jet Ski Scam? (You Have Been Warned)

In recent years I’ve seen some troubling videos on the internet of jet ski riders getting themselves in trouble, not nothing worst than coming across this now-famous scam.

One that leaves people ruined financially and emotionally, and with little recourse. I’ve been to Thailand several times and have seen this happen first-hand in Patong Beach, Pattaya and Phuket and things can get real bad real fast.

In this guide, I hope to save you from being yet another victim of this case of greed in an otherwise beautiful part of South-East Asia.

Here’s How The Thailand Jet Ski Scam Works

It’s quite a simple process and after you realize it, you wonder how the tourists fell into this notorious trap without any help from local police. This is how it all plays out…

1. Dumb Tourist Interest in Hiring a Jet Ski

Because they’re on holidays in this beautiful part of the world, they decide to hire a jet ski for some exploring. He or she even need a licence…it’s that easy!

2. The Thailand Jet Ski Rental Shop Takes Their Money

They charge ’em a very affordable rate. It’s premium pay for them and cheap for any westerner. They won’t even check if you know their way around this thing. While the tourist is paying, they’re actually sizing ’em up to see if they scam them later in the day. If they appear weak, then they’re the perfect victim!

3. Secretly, They Don’t Let Anyone Know Of Pre-existing Damage

The jet ski they’re hiring probably has pre-existing damage but they don’t advise anyone of this purposely. Instead, they cover it up with black paint just under the waterline. Most tourists won’t even spot it because chances are they’ve never dealt with a jet ski before and won’t know what to look for.

4. Dumb Tourist Heads Out For 30 to 60 Minutes of Fun Riding

They’ll show anyone where they can ride and will keep an eye on you. They’ll actually encourage tourists to ‘let loose’ for a little while to really have some fun. Ultimately, they’re trying to get the paint covering the damage to dissolve. If this part doesn’t work, then they can’t scam anyone. One challenge is that the jet skis in these operations are typically 10 to 15 years old so don’t quite have the power that they used to.

5. When The Tourist Returns, Some Damage ‘Magically’ Appears

Immediately upon beaching the jet ski, they’ll point out some ‘fresh’ damage that western tourists did. Of course, it wasn’t there before right…? Of course it was. They all know it, including the locals but the foreigner has no evidence to the contrary.

6. Dumb Tourists Is Treated…Like A Dumb Tourist

This is where these Thailand guys (some call them the Thai mafia) start to get quite aggressive. They’ll make a mockery of any westerner. Apparently you sign a contract that appears to be legit, but it isn’t.

7. They MAKE Them Pay Up To $1,000 in ‘Damage Fees’

Yep, this is where they truly scam unsuspecting victims. Initially, it becomes quiet but they ramp up pretty quickly and become aggressive. You’ll be pushed for over-inflated fees in order to extort as much money from the rich foreigner (aka farang) as possible. This is how they get people to really pay up big, including following westerners with handguns to the local ATM for cash withdrawls.

What’s worst is that often the local police are in on the scam too so they can’t help you. Essentially, it’s corruption. Fortunately, in some of the more tourist-friendly areas, there are tourist police whose sole job is to help individuals get out of these difficult situations.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

The #1 tip I can give you is to NOT hire a jet ski in Thailand. That’s always rule #1. It might look cheap and fun, but it might turn out to be an expensive experience and the operators have fun this scam many times before.

Now – if you did REALLY want to get out there, then I’d aim to:

  • Take extensive photos before you hire
  • Bring a Thai-speaking friend with you
  • Tell the operators that you know of the scam
  • Keep your distance away from other vessels
  • If you have any issues, then start recording video

There are of course some safe and legitimate operators out there who actually do the right thing. Not every one of these hire shops are bad, but there are a few that give the honest guys a bad name.

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Joshua Smith - Editor of

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.