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Jet skis are one of the most popular watercrafts of our time, and with good reason. But, one thing most people don’t know about water jet skis is how they actually work.

Knowing how a jet ski works is part and parcel of learning how to ride a jet ski. With a deeper knowledge of how jet skis work, and how the components all work together to give you propulsion, you will most definitely be able to ride better. 

It’s like a regular car. If you don’t understand that the accelerator pedal feeds gasoline into the engine, you’re able to understand what it takes to control a car – gas. Plus, understanding how the spark plug ignites the gasoline to make power means when your car stops working, you have knowledge about at least one thing that could go wrong. 

We’ve put together this quick and easy-to-understand guide about how jet skis work because, as the best jet ski instructors in the New York City area, we believe understanding your machine is key to understanding how to have a thrilling and – perhaps most importantly – safe ride. See you on the waves! 

How A Jet Ski Works

Jet skis are pretty simple machines.

The basic premise is that, whereas a car’s wheels pull on the ground beneath them to move forward, the jet propulsion engine – one of the most important jet ski parts – in a personal watercraft does a similar thing. 

Jet ski engines pull in water, and push it out the back end. The water being pulled in moves the jet ski forward just slightly, but it’s the power built into the engine as it pushes it out that moves you forward. As the water caught in the engine collides with the water of your surroundings, you begin to move.

You can think of it like swimming. As you paddle your hands and feet through the water, you are changing your position by pushing water back behind you. Just like in a car, or rock climbing, movement is a consistent pulling and pushing of the medium in which you are traveling. 

How Does Water Get Into a Jet Ski Engine? 

Water gets into a jet ski engine with an impeller. 

An impeller is a motorized fan that pulls water into the craft. It is situated differently than a regular fan, which is designed just to push air away from it – the impeller in a jet ski keeps a constant stream of water entering the craft, for the jet propellor to push it out.

Once water is within the watercraft, the jet propulsion system shoots it back out. As above, its this propelled water smashing with the surrounding water around you that moves you forward.

Just to put it more simply – if you filled a jet ski with water, then lifted it out of the water, it wouldn’t go anywhere because air is significantly less dense than water. The water being pushed out the back would just fall down to Earth, giving you no forward motion whatsoever. 

Watercraft Engine and Motor

Motors for standard jet skis have a power of around 150 horsepower, which actually does mean “the power that can be produced by 150 horses.” It’s an old way of measuring power in engines and motors, but it seems to have stuck. 

Some people will choose to install motorcycle engines in a jet ski, as they have similar power ratings and, in some cases, fit right in. Modifying jet skis is only something that should be done with a licensed service professional, unless you have extensive experience. An improperly-installed jet ski motor or engine poses a major danger to its riders, so don’t skimp on those installation costs if you are able to cover them. 

In most cases, you can top out at speeds of about 40 MPH, but there are many which are much faster. Higher speeds come from having higher-powered motors, or those with a higher horsepower rating. 

Is a Jet Ski Safe?


Jet skis are vehicles made to stay afloat in water, so it’s exceedingly hard to flip a watercraft while riding it. But, as with everything that is exciting, there is obviously risk involved.

If you’re thinking of learning how to ride a jet ski, you should consider proper training. At Sea the City, we take the most inexperienced riders and get them up in running in minutes. With the right guide to walk you through the fundamentals of jet skiing and personal watercraft control, even your grandmother could ride a jet ski. 

Are You Ready to Try it Out?

If you think you’d like to try out jet skiing, contact us today. As New York City’s premier jet ski tour guide and training destination, you can experience the beauty of the city from one of the best places – from the water.

Book your jet ski tour today.

Ready to Ride with Us?

Our Jet Ski Tours Launch Just 10 Minutes from Manhattan.

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