I suspect most personal watercraft owners are like me. We buy our PWC’s to ride in our free time, not for business purposes. Some of us keep them at a marina or dock, sometimes with another jet ski or boat. Others may use them at a lake house, the beach, or tow them to wherever they want to ride.
But some enterprising jet ski owners have also found ways to make money with their rides. Can you expect to actually make good money using your personal watercraft? Absolutely yes, and there are several ways to go about it.
There are several items to consider before you start a part-time or full-time business around your Jet Ski, Waverunner or Sea-Doo though. Make sure you understand how to set up business records, how to handle tax accounting, and the complexities of using personal property as part of a business.
Depending on which of the following businesses or services you want to offer, you may need to buy or borrow extra life jackets, ropes, tubes, extra fuel cans, or other accessories. Renting out your ski is the most obvious way to earn some side income, but there are many lesser known routes to some extra cash.
So how can you make money with your jet ski?
There are several things you can do to bring in a little side income. I’m just going to cover part-time work here. Obviously you could start a full-time shop, rental service, sales business, etc, but that won’t be the focus here. Instead, I’m going to cover ways you can make a little extra money on the side while you still get to enjoy your ski.
- Renting rides for specific period of time
- Offering to take others for rides
- Teaching new owners how to operate their PWC
- Towing riders on tubes or banana boats
- Flyboard rides
- Take groups on guided tours of your favorite areas
- Selling guides to your local riding spots
- Servicing/Winterizing PWC’s for others
- Washing/Detailing jet skis for others
- Work with dealer on test rides for prospective buyers
- Fixing up broken skis and reselling
But before starting on any of those services and setting up your business as described in the intro, your primary concern should be to make sure you have proper insurance in place should the any of the various problems that could go wrong actually do happen.
Liability insurance is a must
Your insurance company probably covers theft, boating accidents, sinkage, towing accidents, and liability for any injuries or property damage caused by an accident. Those things are most likely covered if you, family members, or invited friends are riding the ski. Using your PWC for a business may require a different liability policy. Prices for this can be all over the place.
If your PWC insurance runs a few hundred dollars per year, you may be able to add a personal liability umbrella policy for $1-2 million above this for another few hundred dollars more per year. Discuss your business intentions with your insurance agent. You want to be upfront about this. The worst thing that could happen is that a rider crashes causing injuries and property damage, and you discover this isn’t covered by your insurance.
You could be facing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability. Take care of this first before you do a single business activity with your PWC.
Personal watercraft business info
- Keep track of all payments, cash or credit card
- Keep track of all expenses with paper or digital receipts. This includes fuel, service, maintenance, equipment, insurance, dock fees and more
- Keep a record of personal time spent riding
- Keep a record of the times the ski was used for business
- Remember that percentage of time used for business determines the amount of your expenses you can deduct and also affects depreciation
- Insurance cost above normal is a business expense
Those topics are beyond the scope of this article, however. Search around the internet or YouTube for small business advice. Check PWC forums or look for ads for other similar businesses. Pay for an hour with an accountant or small business attorney. You don’t need a separate company, LLC, or any other entity to get started. You can just report the income and expenses on your personal taxes as long as you keep good records.
Safety briefings and waivers
For some of the above methods of using your personal watercraft to make money, you are going to need to prepare your customer in advance. Be sure to give simple and clear instructions. Tell them where they can ride, point out the no-wake zones and local rules, and give them the exact method of returning to dock or shore.
Develop a routine. Create a written document outlining the instructions and expectations, and have the customer read, initial each line and sign the page. You’ll also need a standard legal waiver signed by every customer before handing over your ski, taking them for a ride, pulling a tube or using a fly board. Adults are generally required to sign for minors. Keep both of these papers in your permanent records in the event someone files any sort of complaint about you later. Make sure riders know about all the potential problems that could occur, or be ready yourself to step in and help.
Renting out your jet ski or PWC for extra money
I’m sure you’ve seen lines of jet skis for rent at the beach or lake when on vacation. Maybe that’s how you got your first riding experience. It was in my case years ago. If you live near or often hang out at the beach or a lake, renting your PWC can provide some extra cash.
The most common length of time that I have seen people rent their skis for is 30 minutes. Rates vary widely for that time. At a busy beach or resort area, you may charge $80 or more for 30 minutes. But at a quiet marina or lake, you’d likely drop that to $40-50.
Making sure that people know your ski is available for rental is the first step. This can be done with a small sign and a table or chair, or you can walk up and down the beach offering rentals. Some even prepare a small flyer to hand out. Just make sure it doesn’t end up as trash on the beach or lake.
Like everything else in life, there’s also an App for that. The GetMyBoat App lets you list boats, kayaks, PWC’s, and more for rental. Customers then search for locations and times. It’s the Uber or Lyft of boating.
If the area where you are offering rides is quieter, a simple sign on the side of your ski with your name and phone number will suffice. If you’d prefer to be on the water until someone wants to rent your ski, post an ad or flyer on a marina bulletin board or in a public place at the beach.
If you don’t have constant walk by or drive by customers, use the App mentioned above, place ads on Craigslist, message boards, free classifieds in your area and on old-fashioned bulletin boards at local stores, marinas, schools and so on. Create a flyer with those handy tear off tabs at the bottom with your phone number. They’ve been in use for decades, and they still work. Or make your phone number large and urge the reader to “be sure to screenshot my phone number.“
By doing this, you can schedule rides when you and your PWC are available at a site convenient for you and your customer. Try to schedule multiple riders on the same day for efficiency. Keep in mind you will have no-shows, or the weather could change your plans, so don’t let surprises discourage you.
Charge others for rides
In some cases, people may want to experience a jet ski ride but aren’t comfortable operating it on their own. Or maybe there are kids who aren’t old enough to legally operate a personal watercraft. In those cases, you may be able to sell rides to passengers with you as the driver.
Be sure to stay focused on rider safety and be aware of your passenger at all times. Give them specific instructions on how to let you know to slow down or stop if they are having a problem. Remember they may not be used to hitting 70+ mph on a PWC or sudden direction changes, so start at levels geared toward their comfort and then advance as they wish.
Pricing for this will be less than fully renting the ski out to a rider. I’d suggest taking 25% off the current going rate of full rentals for these rides. This is just a starting point, adjust for your region and demand.
Make money teaching owners how to use their PWC’s
Many dealers do a good job going over the basics of new jet skis when they sell them. But there is a lot more to learn than just how to push the button, pull the throttle and go. In the case of the Sea-Doo Intelligent Brake and Reverse (IBR) system, there are some specific situations that can catch new riders off-guard.
For example, if you completely release the throttle and then turn, the ski will rev back up to give itself power to make the turn. If you happen to be approaching an obstacle, that quirk could cause you to make contact with whatever you were trying to avoid. Maneuverability varies between Waverunners, Jet Skis and Sea-Doos, so new owners may want some practice riding or particularly docking and trailering their skis.
You could start this service just like rentals by placing ads online, on local free classified services, and on bulletin boards, but you could also create a flyer and ask your local dealers if they would pass one along to every new buyer. They will probably welcome that, because it will give them a little more credibility as a shop that cares about their customers.
As far as pricing goes, ask your dealer what might be a fair price. When you rent your ski, the fuel, wear and tear and expenses are all yours. When teaching others, you simply are charging for time and expertise. The only expense will be the gas used in your car to and from the water. If rentals typically cost $50-$75 per 30 minutes, then you could consider $60-$90 per hour as a good starting point. Lower the price if demand is low at that level. Or you may be able to raise prices after you get some good ratings and feedback.
Charge for jet ski tube rides
We’ve all seen the banana boat tubes being pulled on the ocean or at lakes when we’ve been out on the water. Of course, some of those are for personal use. But at resorts or lakefront hotels, people often pay for tube rides. Personal watercraft are capable of safely towing many things, including single rider tubes, multi-rider tubes, water skis, wakeboards and kneeboards.
Offering this will require you to buy the needed equipment if you don’t already own a tube, skis or a board. As our kids got older, we bought a commercial quality “hot dog” style tube that holds up to 6 adults comfortably. Here’s the Airhead 5-person Hot Dog on Amazon. I couldn’t find the Jumbo Dog 6 that we own. While these can be pricey, you can charge $10-20 per person for 20-30 minute rides. This adds up quickly with 3-5 riders per trip.
You’ll need a quality rope, a rope float to keep it from getting pulled into the impeller, maybe a second backup rope, enough life jackets for everyone, a good swiveling hook setup for your particular ski’s tow hook, and really good mirrors. In some areas, you may need a second rider as a spotter because mirrors don’t fulfill the mandatory requirements. Check your local boating laws on this one, as every area of the world has differing regulations. If you’re still not sure about towing, check out our article on this.
You will need to haul the equipment in your car to the rental site, as most of the tubes, boards and skis won’t fit in your PWC. You’ll likely need a portable air compressor to inflate tubes on site as well. The advantage of offering tube rides is that you can quickly unhook the rope and rent the ski separately if you have a request.
So a day at the beach or lake could be spent renting out your PWC for 30 minutes at a time and towing riders on tubes depending on what your customers want. You may even have multiple towables to offer customers at different price levels.
Flyboard rides and rentals
This option is pretty much like all the above ways to make money with a personal watercraft. The biggest difference is the investment in equipment. Many of these systems sell for over $5,000 new. They have specific minimum PWC horse power requirements to get riders out of the water and up. They also come with weight limits. See my Weight Limits for Flyboards post. Your riders don’t have to be able to swim, but they are required to wear a life jacket. Check out fly boarding instructional video in that post. Read my post on the costs of flyboarding equipment for more.
My dealer has also told me to avoid using a flyboard with a supercharged ski, as it will cause long-term problems due to excess heat generated. The life of the supercharger will be decreased, and rebuilds will need to be performed more often. I don’t own a flyboard or flyboots, but owners I’ve talked to said to use an older ski if you have more than one, use a ski with mid-range power, and try to buy used boards or boots to save money.
Promoting this is pretty much the same as all the other services. However, it takes about 10 minutes to set up and another 10 minutes to take down all the hardware, so don’t expect to quickly switch between this and renting or towing tubes.. Also, you can refer potential customers to my most recent post on Is flyboarding difficult?
The image above was taken at Lake Cumberland Kentucky on a houseboat trip in 2017. An enterprising jet skier rode around handing out flyers, and we scheduled him to come back the next day. He spends winters in college in Florida, and rents out jet skis with his friends. In the summer, they come north and camp near a lake to offer flyboard lessons and rides. He pays for his camping trips and college expenses this way. Something to keep in mind when reading all of the above ways to make money with a PWC.
He rode the ski to our boat with all the equipment and an extra can of gas. He set up right there and gave four of us rides. Then he took it down and headed to his next customer. One tip he gave me about buying used flyboards: inspect the tubing for leaks. If a few small ones develop, you can keep using it. If a larger hole opens near the ends, you can cut off the section. But you need a minimum length, so once you’ve cut a few times or gotten a leak in the middle, you have to replace the tubing.
Guided tours and selling guides
I have a friend who was previously the business manager for the local Sea-Doo, Yamaha, and ATV dealership. He usually accompanied the shop owners on many trips around the country for racing weekends. My local shop is partially owned by a world champion Sea-Doo racer, so they went all over the place. They usually worked in some personal riding time in the areas they visited or passed through on the way to and from the races.
When I told him I was starting this website to help PWC owners, he immediately asked me to publish travel guides for locations all over the United States. He wanted the best recommended rivers or lakes in the area, the easiest launch ramps to access, the hours of the local marinas, warnings and danger areas, local regulations and more. That’s well beyond the scope of this web site.
This may be a perfect business for any of you who live in popular tourist boating areas. You could create a local guide with all the information above plus whatever else you can think of, add in some photos, set it up as a PDF, and offer it for purchase online. If you have knowledge of more than one area, you could create and sell a series of guides. Or get together with personal friends or internet friends and create a catalog of different guides for sale.
Alternatively, you could offer guided tours or group rides with either tourists or locals who haven’t been to specific less known waterways in the area. For those lucky enough to live near the beach, many riders are uncomfortable riding beyond the range of easily seeing shore. You could put together guided advanced trips for those riders/owners.
This idea is probably the hardest to implement of all the topics covered in this article. I tossed it in here to give you as many ideas as possible to make money with your PWC. Most of the time, these types of tours are offered by companies that own multiple PWC’s and rent them out for 2-3 hours along with a guide.
This article isn’t intended to educate you on that; its a full-time business endeavor. But it wouldn’t cost much to market this option using the methods I’ve mentioned above to see if there’s any interest or if you can gain any traction with this business option.
Servicing, detailing, and repairs
I’m going to lump these into the same section, as they are closely related. Chances are that if you’ve read this far, you know how to keep your PWC clean and serviced to look good and for optimum performance. Many owners take their skis back to a dealer for this, and often pay $400-$600 or more for the services.
Along with those costs, they have to invest time in towing their watercraft to the dealer and picking it up when finished. And we all know having a car detailed means you hate to pick it up in the rain. The same is true for boats and jet skis.
Owners would likely be willing to pay a pretty good price to have their skis winterized, serviced and/or detailed in their driveway, garage or storage location. You can winterize a ski using the basic steps we outlined in our article, and the parts and supplies often cost $90-$120. You could offer a one-stop price for service for any brand of PWC and include the service kit in your price, or the owner could buy the required items and pay you for the labor.
If you have a lot of experience, you could do the same for repairs. Create a list of the specific brands you work on, the specific repairs you are comfortable with, and the pricing structure.
Detailing is even easier. You need a bucket, cleaning supplies, and microfiber drying cloths. Or if you’re like me, you can use a Master Blaster for drying to further prevent water spots.
Advertising your services would be the same as mentioned for the other services. This is another area where a flyer with a list of offered services and prices would help. To set prices, call a few dealers or shops in your area and get quotes. Then try to hit 60-70% of their charges as a starting point. Make sure you state whether needed parts are included or extra. But if the dealer quotes include all the needed parts, you should price your services as the same package.
Helping dealer with test rides or lead generation
Unlike cars, arranging a test ride for boats and watercraft can be a pain. The dealer has to tow the craft to a launch ramp, unload, let the buyer take either a solo ride or go out with a salesman as a passenger, load the PWC back on the trailer, and take back to the shop. Then it must be cleaned up before returning it to the showroom floor.
Most people don’t realize that profit margins on personal watercraft can be quite low compared to cars and sport boats. So the expenses for just a few test rides could eat up most of the profit on the sale. Of course just like with cars, dealers make more money on the back end with accessories, service and repairs. Some also offer seasonal storage to boost their bottom lines.
If you have a common PWC, more than one ski, or a ski with similar specs to other ones sold by the dealership, they may be willing to pay you to give prospective customers a test ride or drive. In this case, you’ll need to reach out to as many local dealers as you can to see if this is an option. Then you’ll need to determine who pays: the customer or the dealer. Rates should pretty much be the same as your rental rates. Some customers may only want 10-15 minutes of time. In that case, I would charge a minimum of 30 minute rate if you had to tow and launch the ski.
If your ski is already on the water, you could be more flexible with pricing. You could also work with your dealer(s) to have a small group of potential customers do this on the same day and time to save on hassle for you.
You may also help drive customers to buy skis based on rentals from you. Make your dealer aware that you rent out your PWC for drives or rides, and ask them if they would be interested in paying you a flat fee if one of your customers ends up buying after renting from you. Keep a business card handy to give your renter in that case, and try to get the customer to let you know if they end up buying. Relying on the dealer to track this and inform you probably isn’t a good idea.
Repair old PWC’s and sell for profit
There are many YouTube channels devoted to doing this. I don’t advise doing it unless you have a good working knowledge of the specific PWC’s you are buying, trust your skills in assessing what will be needed to get them back to good operating condition, and what the market prices are for one in good condition. But it’s one way of recycling old PWC’s and helping your wallet at the same time.
Remember to factor in all costs and time expenditure. It doesn’t do much good to buy a jet ski for $500, put another $500 into parts and supplies, and then spend 25 hours working on it before selling it for $1,500. While you are making $500, it only works out to $20/hour. You probably make more from your day job if you are already a personal watercraft owner. So be sure that the profit margin provides you with a return high enough to justify not only the costs of the parts, but also your labor time.
The same friend mentioned above in the travel guide section does this on the side. He was previously the business manager for the local Sea-Doo, Yamaha, and ATV dealership, but occasionally helped out in the shop. He’s owned Sea-Doos and Waverunners for years.
He has told me he can buy a jet ski in poor condition, find cheap used parts in good condition from other broken or junked skis, spend about 10 hours of labor and then makes about $1,000 on the resale. That’s certainly a much more attractive return for the time investment ($100/hour), and makes better financial sense.
There are many ways to make money with your jet ski
As you can see from the above list and explanations, there are several ways to make a little extra money from owning a personal watercraft. While my primary reason for creating this list is to give you as many ideas as possible so you can find one that works for you, there’s no rule that says you must choose one.
In fact, you could easily rent your ski and offer tube rides on the same day. You could do this all summer at random times when you’re available. Then in the fall, you can start cleaning and winterizing PWC’s for others. And while doing all this, you can work on the relationship with your dealer to sell test rides or get customer lead generation payments.
And while some of the listed methods require insurance, others require investment in extra equipment, a few can be done without any up front investment at all. Make sure to read up on tax records, learn your local rules and laws, and maybe set up a separate checking account for your business. Then pick one or more of the ways to make money with your PWC and get out there and promote yourself!
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