Are Jet Skis Reliable? No, and Here’s Why [Video]


We’re just going to come right out and say it: Jet skis are not reliable – or, at least they are much less reliable than boats, cars, or even other powersports vehicles. Why? In a nutshell, the main reasons for jet skis’ unreliability are as follows:

  • High-performance engines (up to 310 HP)
  • Complex design and features
  • Water leaks into the engine compartment (corrosion and electrical failures)
  • They are ridden hard
  • Jet skis are high maintenance

If you want to find out more about jet skis’ reliability and discover the most reliable jet skis, this post is for you.

We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled the basics of this topic under one roof!

Are Jet Skis Reliable?

Are jet skis reliable? This question is asked by many jet ski buyers, and the short answer is no. Sadly, jet skis are considered much less reliable than boats, especially the high-performance models. Are you wondering why?

Without further ado, let’s drill into the details and discover the main issues affecting jet ski reliability!

High-Performance Engines

When it comes to motorsports, high performance and low reliability go hand-in-hand. This is why engines in race cars need to be rebuilt very often, while engines in the average Toyota virtually last forever.

This is because high power puts a lot of stress and wear on an engine’s internals. And jet skis are known for high-performance engines, as many of them can reach a whopping 200-310 HP.

Let’s compare the cc/HP of some jet skis, cars, and motorcycles in one chart!

Model HP cc cc/HP Category
Honda CBR1000RR 215 1000 4,7 Bike
Kawasaki Ultra 310X 310 1498 4,8 Jet Ski
BMW S1000RR Sport 205 1000 4,9 Bike
Suzuki GSX-R1000 199 1000 5,0 Bike
Ducati Panigale V4 214 1103 5,2 Bike
Sea-Doo RXP-X 300 300 1630 5,4 Jet Ski
Suzuki Hayabusa 197 1340 6,8 Bike
Yamaha GP1800R SVHO 250 1812 7,2 Jet Ski
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R 160 1309 8,2 Bike
Kawasaki Concours 14 160 1352 8,5 Bike
Kawasaki STX 160X 160 1498 9,4 Jet Ski
Yamaha EXR 110 1049 9,5 Jet Ski
Sea-Doo Spark 90 HP 90 899 10,0 Jet Ski
BMW K 1600 GTL 160 1649 10,3 Bike
Ford Mustang 460 5000 10,9 Car
Yamaha Super Tenere 109 1199 11,0 Bike
Nissan 370Z 332 3696 11,1 Car
Honda Fit 128 1500 11,7 Car
Toyota Camry 203 2500 12,3 Car
Toyota RAV4 203 2500 12,3 Car
Nissan Altima 188 2500 13,3 Car
Honda NC750X 54 745 13,8 Bike
Honda Gold Wing GL1800 125 1812 14,5 Bike
Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special 100 1868 18,7 Bike
Yamaha Star Venture 85 1854 21,8 Bike

As you can see, jet skis are typically more powerful than the average car. What’s more, the flagship models crank out about the same power (per cc) as race-replica sportbikes!

These jet skis are typically classed in the “Performance” and “Luxury” categories, and almost all of them are powered by supercharged engines.

As you may assume, if a 1600-1800cc supercharged engine puts out 250-300 HP it will neither be durable nor reliable in the long run.

This is why less powerful jet skis with non-supercharged engines are always more reliable.

Besides its engine performance the brand of the jet ski also matters. Some manufacturers are known for reliability while others stand out with their unique features.

Takeaway: High-performance jet ski engines are typically less reliable and durable.

Complex Design and Features

Unfortunately, jet skis feature a pretty complex design.

First, as their name implies jet skis are propelled by a jet propulsion system, which is known for lower reliability. In contrast, regular boat engines are much more solid.

Jet ski pumps are also prone to sucking up rocks and other debris from the bottom, which can damage the impeller and the pump housing.

What’s more, new jet skis are equipped with a ton of bells and whistles, like riding assistance, speakers, and so on. Certain models come with large touchscreens instead of regular gauges.

And as we know, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Although these features make the rides more enjoyable, they also lead to less reliability.

Superchargers are especially known for their high maintenance. This part can add a lot of horsepower to the engine, but on the other hand, it can cause many malfunctions a well.

If we compare a jet ski with a boat, it’s clear that the latter features a much simpler design. Therefore, they are more reliable!

Do you have any doubt? Don’t miss this video!

Takeaway: The more features a jet ski has the higher the chances for malfunctions.

Water in the Engine Compartment

As if all of the above were not enough, water can easily leak into a jet ski’s engine compartment. Some water can be found in the bilge virtually after each ride, which can be drained by removing the drain plugs on the stern.

Along with the engine, a lot of wires and electric components can also be found inside a jet ski’s hull.

And it’s common knowledge that water and electricity don’t’ mix well! So, water inside the hull can easily lead to electrical issues.

Another common problem is corrosion on the connectors, battery, or even the engine, which often causes connection problems.

The situation can even get worse if the jet ski runs in more corrosive saltwater.

Takeaway: Water can leak into the jet ski’s hull, which can lead to damage and less reliability.

Jet Skis Get a Lot of Abuse

Let’s face it, jet skis usually get a lot of abuse. They are ridden hard, which means a lot of “race-style” acceleration, top speed runs, wave jumping, and many other tricks. (In many cases without a proper warm-up!)

There is no question that this is part of the fun, but on the other hand, aggressive riding can make the jet ski less reliable. A lot of abuse may end in damage, malfunctions, and more wear and tear.

It’s safe to say that jet skis are typically ridden harder than any other type of powersport vehicle out there. Why?

For instance, on a jet ski you don’t have to be afraid about hitting an object on the road or another vehicle in traffic. The weather is warm, so you don’t get cold at high speeds. Even if you fall off the saddle, it’s still far less painful than landing on asphalt or dirt.

Consequently, many owners ride their jet skis as hard as they can.

Besides the aggressive riding style, another common problem is you can see many owners who don’t know how to properly use their jet ski.

They ride in water that is too shallow, hammer the throttle on a cold engine, keep the RPM too high for a long period, and so on.

Although these are “user errors” rather than faults of the jet ski, these practices finally contribute to a jet ski’s low reliability.

Many jet ski enthusiasts say that this is the main reason why buying a used machine is not a good idea!

Takeaway: Jet skis are usually ridden hard and get a lot of abuse, which usually ends in various malfunctions.

Are Jet Skis High Maintenance?

Yes, unfortunately, jet skis are high maintenance compared to cars and other street vehicles. Why? This is because, besides the annual services, jet skis require a lot of other attention and care such as:

  • Pre-ride inspection
  • After-ride care
  • Winterizing
  • De-winterizing
  • Battery maintenance
  • Supercharger rebuilds (on certain models)
  • And other types of maintenance, which is clearly stated in the manual

(What’s more, besides the jet ski, its trailer also needs continuous attention.)

But believe it or not, many owners neglect or even completely overlook the maintenance on their machines.

This is why many experts say that the other leading reason why jet skis are so unreliable is poor maintenance. It’s a lesser-known fact that the lack of maintenance can ruin a jet ski in a season, or even more quickly!

Again, just like riding habits, the quality of maintenance is strictly dependent on the owner. A properly maintained jet ski is always far more reliable and lasts much longer compared to their neglected brothers.

Takeaway: Jet skis are high maintenance and require a lot of care beyond the annual service. Poor or overlooked services always results in low reliability and durability.

Are 2-Stroke Jet Skis Reliable?

If you are considering purchasing a vintage model, keep in mind that 2-stroke jet skis need much more attention than modern 4-stroke machines. Their engines are aged and need periodically rebuilds. Also, the majority of them feature carburetors which also require continuous “carb work,” which means adjusting, cleaning, and rebuilding the carbs. What’s more, you have to deal with the oil as well.

Therefore, unless you have mechanical skills and like working on engines, it’s recommended that you stick to the newer, 4-stroke machines.

Conclusion

To the greatest regret of many fans, jet skis are not known for their reliability. As a rule of thumb, jet skis are typically less reliable than boats due to their design and high-performance engines.

These machines need a lot of attention like a pre-ride inspection, after-ride care, winterizing, annual services, and so on. Unfortunately, many owners simply ignore these tasks!

Finally, poor maintenance and improper riding techniques can dramatically lower a jet ski’s reliability.

When it comes to different categories, keep in mind that vintage 2-stroke jet skis are pretty aged and worn out. Even if they feature much simpler engines and much fewer gadgets, these models typically require a lot of care.

In contrast, new jet skis come with endless bells and whistles, which makes them less and less reliable.

If you are considering purchasing a jet ski, (and looking for a reliable model) here are some important factors to consider:

  • Don’t purchase a jet ski that is more than 6-7 years old.
  • Stick to 4-stroke models.
  • Avoid supercharged and high-performance engines.
  • Try to purchase a jet ski with fewer features.
  • Try to find a Yamaha jet ski if you can.

Jet ski rentals are always looking for high reliability and durability, that’s why you can find Yamaha VX WaveRunners in many shops!

Once you’ve purchased your dream jet ski, make sure to read its manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. With proper riding, maintenance, and care you can dramatically increase the reliability of your jet ski!

References:

https://www.jetdrift.com/jet-ski-maintenance-checklist/

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