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How to Ride a Jet Ski: Top Things to Know for First Time Riders

a man riding on the back of a boat in the water

a man riding a jet ski in the waterAre you craving the thrill of speeding across the water and feeling the wind in your hair and the sea spray on your face? Imagine accelerating from zero to 60 mph in just seconds, all while skimming over the iconic waters of New York City. This isn’t just about finding an adrenaline rush—it’s about embracing a unique, exhilarating experience that only a jet ski can offer.


If you’re reading this, chances are you’re eager to make your dream of riding a jet ski a reality. Perhaps you’ve typed “How to Ride a Jet Ski” into your search bar and found yourself here with us at Sea the City. You couldn’t have picked a better place! Our team, fueled by a deep passion for water sports, is committed to introducing beginners to the exhilarating world of jet skiing in the vibrant and scenic NYC waters.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, a water sports enthusiast, or a curious adventurer, we’ve crafted this beginner’s guide with you in mind. Our aim? To swiftly transform you from a jet ski novice into a confident, wave-jumping enthusiast. Let us take you on a journey where the skyline is your backdrop, and the open waters are your playground.

Section 1: The Basics of Jet Skiing

You may see people using jet skis on the water or see them at your neighbor’s house on a trailer, ready for the next adventure. Still, that doesn’t mean you are infinitely familiar with these dynamic watercraft. Here’s a quick primer on jet skis.

What Are Jet Skis?

Jet skis, often synonymous with exhilaration and freedom on the water, are personal watercraft (PWC) designed for speed and agility. Originating in the 1970s, they have since evolved into a popular water sports activity enjoyed by thrill-seekers worldwide.

These vessels are unique in their ability to glide effortlessly over water, providing an unmatched sense of exhilaration. Unlike larger boats, they offer an intimate interaction with the water, allowing riders to feel every wave and turn with acute sensitivity.

Their popularity isn’t just due to the thrill they provide, either. Jet skis are also accessible to a wide range of people. Whether it’s a family looking for a fun day out on the water or an individual seeking an adrenaline-pumping experience, jet skis cater to all.

Their ease of use, combined with the minimal training required to operate them safely, makes jet skis a favored choice for water-based recreation, especially in scenic locations like New York City, where they offer a unique perspective of the city’s skyline.

Jet Ski Styles: Stand-Ups vs Sit-Downs

When it comes to choosing a jet ski, beginners often encounter two main styles: stand-up and sit-down models. Each style offers a distinct riding experience and caters to different preferences and skill levels.

  • Stand-Up Jet Skis: These are the original form of personal watercraft and are designed for a single rider. Stand-up jet skis require good balance and physical fitness, as riders must stand and maneuver the watercraft with their body weight. They are often preferred by those looking for a more active and challenging experience. Stand-up models offer a great workout and are typically used in sporting competitions and by experienced enthusiasts who enjoy the thrill of mastering the waves.
  • Sit-Down Jet Skis: More popular among beginners and recreational riders, sit-down jet skis can accommodate one to three people. These models are easier to handle and are ideal for those who prefer a more relaxed ride or are new to jet skiing. Sit-down jet skis provide better stability and comfort, making them a top choice for families and those who want to enjoy a leisurely exploration of the waterways. They are also well-suited for longer rides and touring, offering a comfortable seat and room for storage.

Section 2: Getting Started with Jet Skis

Getting started with jet skiing, like with most new activities, can often present challenges. For many, it may lead to apprehension. The key to overcoming these initial hurdles is preparation. By learning about what to expect and how to prepare for your first jet ski experience, you can transform those stomach butterflies into excitement and anticipation.

How to Drive a Jet Ski – For Beginners

To ensure a smooth and safe ride, here’s a step-by-step guide tailored for first-time riders:

  1. Know Your Boat-Ed: In New York, it’s mandatory to pass a boating safety course before operating personal watercraft, including jet skis. This is your first step towards a safe ride.
  2. Finding Your Comfort: Once on the jet ski, find a comfortable sitting position. Adjust until you feel stable and at ease.
  3. Hand and Feet Placement: Place your hands firmly on the handlebars and your feet in the footrests. This stance provides stability and control.
  4. Safety First – The Kill Switch Cord: Before starting, ensure the lanyard (or a similar device) is around your wrist and connected to the ignition key. This kill switch cord is crucial for safety – if you fall off, it immediately kills the engine.
  5. Igniting the Engine: Turn on the jet ski ignition switch to start your watercraft.
  6. Gentle Throttle: Gradually push the throttle, starting at a slow pace (about 5 – 10 mph) offshore. Get accustomed to the throttle’s sensitivity before speeding up.
  7. Navigating Away from Shore: Once comfortable, steer to a safe distance from the shore, away from obstacles and heavy boat traffic. Increase your speed gradually, but stay within your comfort zone.
  8. Steady and Slow: Maintain a consistent, moderate speed, leaning into turns.
  9. Understanding Turning Dynamics: Remember, jet skis require acceleration to turn effectively. Keep your load balanced and centered to avoid capsizing.
  10. Resist Standing Up: Initially, avoid standing on the jet ski. Wait until you’re more experienced to reduce the risk of losing control or falling.

Jet Ski Tips for Beginners

Alongside the basic steps, here are some additional tips to enhance your jet ski experience:

  • Stay Alert: Always be aware of your surroundings, including other watercraft and natural obstacles.
  • Understand the Weather: Check weather conditions before heading out. Avoid jet skiing in rough waters, especially as a beginner.
  • Life Jackets are a Must: Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times for safety.
  • Start Slow: Build confidence gradually. Begin with short, slow rides and increase the duration and speed as you get more comfortable.
  • Follow the Rules: Adhere to all boating laws and regulations, including speed limits and no-go areas.
  • Communication Tools: Carry a whistle or a horn for emergencies, and always let someone know your plans and expected return time.
  • Stay Hydrated: Bring water, especially on hot days, to avoid dehydration.

Section 3: Understanding WaveRunners

For beginners in NYC, especially those looking to enjoy the city’s waterways with ease and comfort, WaveRunners present an excellent option. They provide the thrill of jet skiing with added stability and ease of use, making them an excellent choice for first-time riders or those seeking a more relaxed watercraft experience.

What Is a WaveRunner?

The name WaveRunners is often used interchangeably with jet skis. That said, they are actually a specific brand of personal watercraft manufactured by Yamaha. Understanding the differences between WaveRunners and traditional jet skis can help beginners make informed choices about their watercraft.

The Key Differences Between WaveRunners and Traditional Jet Skis

If you are wondering how to ride a WaveRunner, it’s good to understand its key differences from traditional jet skis. The following differences can influence your riding experience and preferences:

  1. Brand and Design: The primary difference lies in the brand and design. WaveRunners are exclusively made by Yamaha, while the term “jet ski” is associated with Kawasaki’s line of PWCs. Each brand offers distinct design philosophies and features.
  2. Seating and Riding Style: Traditionally, the term “jet ski” referred to stand-up PWCs, especially those made by Kawasaki. WaveRunners, on the other hand, are typically sit-down models. This makes WaveRunners more suitable for beginners, families, or those looking for a more relaxed and comfortable ride.
  3. Performance and Handling: While both WaveRunners and traditional jet skis offer high performance, there can be variations in acceleration, top speeds, and handling. WaveRunners are often lauded for their stability and user-friendly controls, making them a preferred choice for recreational use.
  4. Features and Customization: WaveRunners often come with a range of features, including innovative hull designs, advanced control systems, and comfortable seating for multiple riders. They might also offer more storage space and options for customization compared to some traditional jet skis.
  5. Usage and Experience: WaveRunners are versatile and can be used for a variety of activities, from leisurely rides around scenic waterways to more adventurous water sports. They are designed to provide a balanced experience, catering to both performance and comfort.

Section 4: Safety and Regulations

Safety is a paramount concern in the exhilarating world of jet skiing. This section addresses common concerns and outlines the key safety aspects to consider for a secure jet skiing experience.

Is Jet Skiing Safe?

Jet skiing can be both safe and exhilarating when the appropriate safety measures are observed. One of the primary concerns for potential riders is whether the activity is appropriate for non-swimmers. While being able to swim is advantageous for safety, non-swimmers can still enjoy jet skiing, provided they wear life jackets and remain in calmer, supervised areas.

Pregnant women are often advised to exercise caution with activities like jet skiing. The activity’s high-speed nature and potential for sudden, jarring movements can pose risks during pregnancy. Therefore, consulting with a healthcare provider is crucial before undertaking jet skiing or similar water sports during pregnancy.

A critical aspect of jet skiing safety is adherence to age and certification requirements. According to the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Agency, anyone operating a Personal Watercraft (such as a JetSki or WaveRunner) must have a boating safety certificate and be at least 14 years of age or older.

This rule is in place to ensure that all operators have the necessary knowledge and skills to handle these powerful machines safely. For more detailed information about these certification requirements, interested individuals can visit the New York State Parks Boating FAQ.

Section 5: Handling and Maneuvering

Handling and maneuvering a personal watercraft with skill and confidence is crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience on the water. This section focuses on the vital aspects of steering and reboarding, along with recognizing potential safety hazards associated with PWC operations.

Steering a PWC: Key Things to Remember

To steer your PWC effectively, you have to master balance and control. Additionally, these vehicles steer through a jet of water expelled from the back, making throttle control and reboarding essential for maneuvering and handling emergency situations.

Maintaining Throttle Control for Safe Jet Ski Operation

Managing the throttle control is one of the most essential aspects of operating a jet ski, especially when it comes to steering and handling potential emergencies. How a jet ski is designed, with a water jet that propels it forward and allows for steering, means maintaining some level of throttle is essential for maneuverability.

Importance of Throttle in Steering

When you release the throttle on a jet ski, your control over its steering significantly decreases. This is because jet skis do not have a rudder such as traditional boats do. Instead, they rely on the thrust of water expelled from a jet at the back of the ski. This jet moves side to side to steer the machine. Therefore, when you slow down or stop giving the jet ski thrust altogether, your ability to steer effectively diminishes or is lost completely.

Handling Emergencies with Throttle Control

Understanding the throttle control is an integral part of driving your ski, particularly in emergency situations. If you need to avoid a collision or avoid danger, it’s vital not to release the throttle completely. Instead, maintain your speed or even accelerate slightly to ensure you have enough steering control to maneuver away from the threat.

This action might seem counterintuitive at first, especially in a panic situation, but keeping your finger on the throttle will give you the necessary control to steer the jet ski safely.

By practicing and getting comfortable with maintaining throttle control, especially in turns and emergency scenarios, you can ensure a safer and more controlled jet skiing experience. Remember, it’s not just about speed; it’s about maintaining the right amount of power, keeping you in control of the jet ski at all times.

Splash Down: How to Re-Board Your Jet Ski

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you fall off your jet ski. A splash down is typically no big deal and can even be a part of the thrill. Unfortunately, attempting to reboard from the side will cause the water vehicle to flip. Luckily, there is a tried-and-true method to getting back on we’ll look at next.

Technique for Safe Reboarding

Reboarding a PWC in the water is a common challenge, especially in rough conditions. The correct technique is crucial for both safety and ease.

You always reboard a ski from the stern (back). Simply reach up to the handle behind the seat and pull yourself out of the water onto the back deck of the ski. This approach helps maintain the PWC’s balance and prevents flipping. If you ride with another, only one person should board at a time.

Finally, don’t rush. If you’re out of shape and have several failed attempts to reboard, you can quickly become fatigued. Instead, go slow, relax in the water, and think about how you’re going to get back on board. Then, slowly climb back aboard.

Understanding PWC Safety Hazards

Awareness of potential safety hazards on a PWC, such as those posed to your hands, feet, and hair, is crucial for preventing accidents and injuries.

Handling the Intake Grate and Impeller

When operating a PWC, the intake grate and impeller at the back are particularly hazardous. These components draw in water for propulsion but can pose a risk of entanglement or injury if you come too close while the engine is running. Always keep a safe distance from these parts during operation.

Section 6: Maintenance and Care

Your PWC requires regular maintenance and attentive care for the best performance. Proper care not only extends the life of your jet ski but also enhances your safety and overall experience on the water.

Caring for Your Jet Ski

Proper maintenance and care are crucial for ensuring the longevity and safety of your Personal Watercraft. Regular upkeep not only extends the life of your jet ski but also keeps you safe while on the water. Here are some key tips on maintaining your jet ski and avoiding common hazards:

  1. Regular Cleaning: After each use, rinse your jet ski with fresh water to remove salt, dirt, and debris. This helps prevent corrosion and maintains the jet ski’s appearance and functionality.
  2. Engine Maintenance: Regularly check the engine for any signs of wear and tear. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for engine maintenance, including oil changes and inspections.
  3. Winterization: If you live in a region where you can’t use your jet ski year-round, proper winterization is crucial. This process involves thoroughly cleaning the jet ski, adding fuel stabilizer, and properly storing it to prevent damage during colder months.
  4. Safety Check: Before each ride, perform a safety check. Ensure that all components are functioning correctly and that safety equipment, like life jackets and emergency whistles, are on board and in good condition.

Addressing common concerns:

  • Hazards to Hands, Feet, and Hair: The most dangerous part of a PWC concerning hands, feet, and hair is the intake grate and impeller. These parts can pose a risk of entanglement or injury. It’s vital to keep your limbs and hair away from the back of the jet ski where the intake grate and impeller are located, especially when the engine is running.
  • Shutting Off the Engine: If you shut off the engine of a PWC, you will lose propulsion and, consequently, steering capability. Since jet skis steer with thrust from the jet nozzle, without engine power, you cannot maneuver the jet ski. This is important to remember in situations where you might be tempted to quickly turn off the engine to avoid a collision; doing so could leave you without the ability to steer away from danger.

Section 7: Enhancing Your Experience

Maximizing the thrill of jet skiing involves a delicate balance between pushing the limits and staying within the bounds of safety. For beginners, understanding how to harness the excitement of this dynamic water sport safely is critical. This section offers practical tips to help newcomers fully embrace and enjoy their jet skiing experience, ensuring both safety and maximum enjoyment.

Maximizing the Thrill of Jet Skiing

Jet skiing offers an exhilarating blend of speed and freedom on the water and for beginners, knowing how to maximize this thrill while staying safe is key. Here are some tips to help beginners fully enjoy their jet skiing experience:

  1. Start Slow and Gradual: Begin with a comfortable speed to get used to the handling and response of the jet ski. As your confidence grows, you can gradually increase your speed.
  2. Explore Different Environments: Try jet skiing in various water conditions and locations. Each environment, from calm lakes to the ocean waves, offers a unique experience.
  3. Learn Basic Maneuvers: Practice simple turns, stops, and speed adjustments. Mastering these will enhance your control and enjoyment.
  4. Join Guided Tours: Especially in areas like NYC, guided tours can provide a safe yet thrilling exploration of scenic routes and landmarks.
  5. Stay Aware of Surroundings: Always be conscious of other water users and natural obstacles. Awareness is key to both safety and enjoyment.

What to Bring on Your PWC Outing

Bring along the following for your first jet ski ride and any after:

  • Enough gasoline. If you don’t check your fuel gauge, you can get stranded!
  • A whistle, horn or other signaling device
  • GPS device or map in case you get lost
  • All the required safety equipment for the PWC’s Class A certification
  • A Coast Guard-approved PFD or life jacket (it’s the law)
  • The proper water-specific clothing and gear. For example, gloves will save your hands from painful blisters and help you grip the throttle and lines
  • Certification from your boating safety course or whatever certification or license your state requires for operating a PWC
  • Proper documentation, including vessel registration with all the displayed decals
  • A fire extinguisher (Coast Guard approved). Also, familiarize yourself with handling it since they have their own safety requirements
  • A functional backfire flame arrestor & ventilation system

Of course, if you rent your jet ski at Sea the City, you can leave many of the safety and regulatory features on this list to us. We provide Coast Guard-approved jet ski safety equipment, vessel registration and more. Contact us at 201-335-2732 to find out more about booking or what you need to bring for your outing.

Other Helpful Tips for Beginning Jet Ski Riders

Here are some parting tips and advice for riding your PWC:

  • Safety First: As far as jet ski safety tips go, it’s best to know the safety rules and regulations that govern the waters. For instance, a PWC is considered a Class A vessel by the Coast Guard. Because of that, familiarize yourself with rules and regulations that apply to boats under 16 feet. Also, growing overconfident when you’re learning is a common mistake.
  • Keep it Straight: First-time jet skiers often have difficulty keeping the jet ski straight. The good news is this is easy to correct. Riders often stare at the handlebars or the water just off the bow (front) of the ski.

Instead, lift your head up and look off in the distance. This will allow you to drive straight and enjoy your trip. If you continue to struggle, simply pick a stationary target on land or water (buoy) and steer directly at it.

  • Relax; it’ll Hurt Less: Many beginning riders complain their hands get tired or that they feel some shoulder soreness in their shoulders. Back pain can also happen after jet skiing. This occurs because novice riders hold on too tightly. Instead, just lean forward a bit and relax your grip.
  • Keep Your Elbows Slightly Bent: This stance will allow you to ride without fatigue. Don’t lean too far forward, and always be careful not to hit your chin or nose on the handlebar.
  • Hold Tightly…But Not Too Tight: We’ve talked about driving a PWC, but there is a trick to being a good and comfortable passenger as well. Holding the driver’s waist or the back of their life jacket is a good method for staying on. However, don’t hold on so tight that you make it difficult for your partner to drive the ski.

As with driving, relax. Keep your body loose, not stiff. This will lower fatigue and increase your enjoyment. Also, when the driver leans into a turn, passengers should too.

  • Learn the Correct Way to Jump Wakes: Jumping wakes is an amazing experience, but for beginners, it can be somewhat intimidating. To maintain your jet ski’s lateral stability, remember to always cross wakes and large waves at a 90° angle. Also, jump waves instead of pushing through them at high speed.
  • Stick with It: Riding jet skis is a blast, but doing it safely and correctly takes time and practice. Follow this guide, and the next time you climb aboard yours, you should be fully prepared!

“Sea” the City for the First Time

Now that you’ve equipped yourself with these essential tips and insights, you’re all set to embrace the thrill of jet skiing with Sea the City. Located just 10 minutes away from Manhattan by ferry, we offer an unparalleled opportunity for both beginners and seasoned pros to explore the breathtaking sights and attractions of New York City from the unique vantage point of a Personal Watercraft.

For those who might still feel a bit apprehensive about riding a jet ski, remember that our experienced and friendly team is always on hand to provide guidance and support. We’re dedicated to ensuring that your jet skiing experience is not only memorable but also safe and comfortable.

Starting at $169

Sea the City Jet Ski tours offer a unique way for tourists and New Yorkers alike to get up close to the sights and attractions on their very own Jet Ski. Book online today!

What you’ll see: Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Governor’s Island, Ellis Island, Freedom Tower, Janes Carousel, One Brooklyn Park, South Street Seaport, Empire State Building, and more!