How to Buy a Used Jet Ski: 10 Things to Look For

Buying a used PWC or jet ski is a great way to save some money while still buying a fun watercraft. Like with any used purchase, there are some things that can go wrong, but with a little research you will be able to find the right used Jet Ski for your needs. 

So, how do you find the best used jet ski while avoiding some classic pitfalls? Here are the top 10 things to look out for when purchasing a used personal watercraft: 

  1. Avoid purchasing a stolen PWC.
  2. Decide on freshwater vs. saltwater.
  3. Consider the engine hours on the PWC.
  4. Look for wear ring.
  5. Test drive the PWC.
  6. Is the seller reluctant?
  7. Has it been stored indoors or outdoors?
  8. Compare prices of similar models.
  9. If you have a local shop, do they recommend any brands?
  10. Look at recent trade-ins.

Read on to learn more about each of these 10 concerns, and for a few more tips and tricks on how to make sure you are getting a great value for a good used jet ski!

What are the Most Important Factors to Consider when Buying a Used Jet Ski?

Since there are so many things to consider, let’s look at some of the top concerns you have and things you should research when you are deciding on a used jet ski to purchase. You want to do everything in your power to become educated and make a good decision on a jet ski that will meet your needs for years to come.

Avoid Purchasing a Stolen Jet Ski

Obviously, you want to avoid purchasing a stolen jet ski. Not only is that illegal, but the ski could have a lot of hidden problems that you will not find out about until it’s too late.

The biggest reason why you want to avoid purchasing a used jet ski is because it could get you in legal trouble and you would also lose out on the money you used to pay for it. While you might be able to prove you thought the jet ski was legal, thus avoiding legal trouble, it will still be a hassle for you. The jet ski will be confiscated and you will not recover your money. Plus, there is no guarantee they will not accuse you of the theft.

There are a few things you can look at when trying to make sure you are buying a legit jet ski:

  • Does the seller have the paperwork? If not, why not?
  • Double check that the hull number and paperwork match.
  • Are you able to legally register it and insure it? You need legal paperwork for this.
  • Is the seller over eager in selling it? Be mindful of an eager seller.
  • Can the seller answer your questions about the maintenance and history of the watercraft? If not, why not?

Another reason why it is important to buy a legal PWC is the insurance. You will probably have a problem insuring it if you buy it illegally and cannot obtain proper registration. The other primary concern with buying a stolen PWC is the maintenance. You will have no way to know if the jet ski has any major structural problems.

Photo of a used red saltwater jet ski

Are you buying a Freshwater or Saltwater Jet Ski?

What type of water will you be riding your PWC in and what type of water was it used in previously? Make sure you buy the right type of jet ski for what you will be using it for. Jet skis are designed for different things:

  • Speed
  • Size
  • Type of water

These all come into play when you are purchasing a jet ski. 

While most jet skis can accommodate either type of water, you want to know where the jet ski was used previously. You are going to need to store, maintain, and care for a jet ski that is used in saltwater a little differently than if it is primarily used in fresh water. 

A saltwater PWC or jet ski needs to be cleaned more thoroughly and you might need to replace parts more frequently. Salt can cause corrosion and can cause some of the rubber seals to wear out faster than fresh water would. It is not a big deal, but you should know this going in. 

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Consider the Engine Hours on the Jet Ski? 

Why do engine hours matter and how can you tell how many hours are on your jet ski’s particular engine? Engine hours are like an odometer, and a good way to measure how active the engine has been. This can give you an idea of if the engine will need to be replaced anytime soon, which can be the most important part of the jet ski to replace.

How many hours are too many? A good measurement is that a normal amount of PWC hours in one year is about 30. So you can multiple the age of the craft in years by 30, and come out with estimated number of hours that should be on the engine at that point in its life. If the ski you are looking at far exceeds that ratio, you might want to consider a different option. Anything over 300 hours is also something you want to get a mechanic to look at before purchasing.

How can you tell how many engine hours are a on a PWC? Some will have a digital read out of engine hours. A good rule of thumb is that if it does not have a digital read out, it is probably an older model and should be looked over by a technician. In these cases, many times a dealership can run diagnostics and give you an idea of engine hours.

Look at the Jet Ski’s Wear Ring

You should always look at the wear ring before purchasing a used PWC. This means you should take a look at the ring that surrounds the impeller. It should be tightly fastened, and if it is not, it might need to be replaced.

The good news is, if the wear ring needs to be replaced, you can usually do this cheaply and easily. 

Test Drive the Jet Ski 

Always test drive a used jet ski you are thinking of purchasing. If the seller gives you any issues, this is a red flag that something drastic is wrong with the watercraft and you probably should not purchase it. If buying using a site like eBay listings, you can order an inspection by a professional and get a full report before buying.

Things to look for during a test ride:

  • How does the ski feel? This matters. You are buying a PWC to enjoy it. If you have visions of traveling at high speeds across glassy water, make sure the ski can do what you want it to do. Even if it’s great on paper and the price and mileage are right, make sure it rides how you want it to. 
  • Are there any mechanical problems? Does it cough and chug, or do you see any smoke or other visible problems? This is part of the reason for the test drive, so you can check out its functionality and make sure there is nothing noticeably wrong with it. If there are any visible problems, don’t buy the ski. Most problems lurk where you cannot see them, so if you can see a problem remember than there might be an even bigger problem that you cannot see.

If the seller or dealer does not let you test drive the vessel, but tries to tell you it is in perfect working order, you should be suspicious. What are they trying to hide? What is wrong with the ski that you are not allowed to drive it?

Launching a used jet ski for a test drive

Is the Seller Reluctant or Eager to sell it? 

What is the body language of your seller? Also consider if you are purchasing from an independent seller from Craigslist or from a reputable used watercraft dealer. A reputable dealer will most likely be neither reluctant nor eager, to him it’s just another sale.

Be a little more cautious with an independent seller. You could be looking at a jet ski that hasn’t been run or maintained in years, and someone is looking to dump it on an unsuspecting victim. Ask good questions and get an understanding for why the ski is being sold. Learn more about its history and make sure you are not buying a bad product. 

Has it been stored Indoors or Outdoors? 

You can safely secure and store a jet ski either indoors or outdoors, so do not let either particularly deter you. However, try to get a look at how the ski has been stored. Was it stored correctly, under tarps, winterized, etc.?

Don’t buy a unit that has been sitting out uncovered and unmaintained for years during cold winters. Even if it looks ok at first glance, you will not know what is lurking. If the ski was kept outside in a cold winter without being winterized, you will encounter severe problems, but it might be after you purchase it and it’s too late.

Harsh outdoor conditions are going to affect a ski more than if it was stored in a temperature control indoor storage unit. It is not a reason alone not to buy a particular used ski, but you might be able to negotiate it to a lower price, since you might face more repair and maintenance costs.

Abandoned jet ski on a beach with plants growing out of it
Probably not a great way to store a jet ski

Compare Prices of Similar Models

You should absolutely price compare. Why pay top dollar when you can buy a new PWC for the same price? Once you decide on what brand you want, use the following factors to price compare:

  • Age – the older the ski, the less expensive it should be as it likely as more wear and tear and will cost you more in maintenance than a newer model. Even if it is in like new condition, a really old ski is going to have parts that wear out faster than parts that are not as old. There are some parts that have a short shelf-life and will only last for so long before wearing out no matter how perfectly the ski has been maintained.
  • Engine Hours – High engine hours mean the jet ski has been run a lot. You will want a mechanic to check over any unit you are thinking of purchasing that has more than 300 hours on it. It is not a bad idea to have a mechanic check out any used ski you purchase, no matter how many hours are on the engine – it would likely give you a lot of peace of mind.
  • Brand – brand does matter. A reputable brand should be less likely to break, easier to acquire replacement parts, and generally just more reliable. This does not mean you should stay away from certain brands, or have to buy a certain brand, just do your research and be mindful of the brand you are purchasing.
  • Size – Personal watercraft come in many different types, sizes and speeds. Some are designed for fast solo riding, while others can accommodate multiple passengers. When you are comparing prices, you should make sure you are comparing similar types of jet skis, as different types are going to cost different amounts. Make sure you are price comparing apples to apples.

You should be able to find a few different watercraft within the same classifications so you can properly compare them and get a good idea of the true value of that type of jet ski.

Does your Local Shop Recommend any Brands? 

Ask the experts. Do you live in an area with a lot of jet skis? Is there a local marina or particular PWC brand dealer nearby? Even if you are not purchasing the watercraft directly from them, it is ok to ask questions to help get informed so you can make the best purchase. 

A dealer might be able to at least recommend a specific brand watercraft . If your dealer also does maintenance and repairs, he can probably tell you if there are any brands that he does more repairs on than others. Ask for an unofficial recommendation about brands, and if your dealer thinks one brand fails more and breaks more often than other brands in its classification. 

Look at Recent Trade-ins 

Whether you talk to your local dealer, or look at old classified ads to see what was available, you should find out what the market has been for used skis in your region. You want to become an intelligent buyer, and to do that you want to find out what other people have paid to;

  • Buy
  • Sell
  • Trade

Each region is different so find out what the norm is in your region.

Ask your dealer if they have any trade-ins available for sale. Perhaps your local dealer just received a trade-in from someone reputable in the neighborhood and they can vouch for the history of the watercraft. This would be a great option, if a dealer has an actual ski that he can recommend and knows how it has been maintained. You will have less to worry about than buying one from a seller off the street.

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Consulting a specific model shop manual can help when buying used.

Maintenance Records of the Used Jet Ski

No matter the type of watercraft you are buying, if it will be used on fresh water or salt water, if you will be using it to race across the ocean or mosey around a lake, get the maintenance records for the that particular ski. The more records available the better, and if the seller cannot produce any records at all, you should take that as a red flag.

Here are a few of the things you would expect to see records of when buying a used jet ski:

  • Engine hours – if there is no digital read out, does the seller have any record of how many hours are on the jet ski? If not, will he pay to send it to a dealer to run a diagnostic test to give an estimate of the amount of engine hours? If not, what is he trying to hide?
  • Oil changes – Like most engines, your ski will need regular oil changes. With any luck, the previous owner and seller will have a record that the oil changes were performed. 
  • Winterizing – If you live in a cold climate, is there any proof this Jet Ski has been properly winterized every year? It might be hard to see actual maintenance records for this, but just by visual inspection and talking to the seller, you should be able to get an idea if it has been winterized properly.

How to Find the Right Used Jet Ski for you 

You have a few different ways to go about shopping for a used personal watercraft and learning all you can before your purchase. Here are some ideas for you as you are shopping for a used jet ski:

Watch some How-to Videos on YouTube

Take a look at some videos on YouTube from other people that have shopped in the used jet ski market. 

  • This video gives some pointers on how to buy a used personal watercraft, and includes a run down on what you should look over before making your purchase. 

If you are the type to prefer watching videos to reading articles or talking to your local dealership, there are plenty of options on YouTube to help educate you in the world of used jet skis. We also have an article on 10 things to look at when buying used skis that may be helpful.

Examples of where to shop

You have a few options when considering where and how to buy your used Jet Ski. Here are a few options to consider for your shopping needs:

  • Online
    • Craigslist
    • Facebook Marketplace
  • In Person
    • Local dealers
    • Ask around at your local marina and talk to other boaters
    • Talk to your neighbors. If you live in a boating community, maybe somebody you know is looking to sell.

Even if you make the initial connection to buy online, you are still going to want to see it in person and give it a test drive. For that reason, it doesn’t really matter where you buy. The biggest thing to consider is if you prefer buying from a reputable dealer or from an individual seller. An individual seller is going to be a little bit riskier. 

What else should you consider when buying a Used Jet Ski?

While we have covered the major considerations, what else do you need to know?

  • Overall, decide what it is you want, and then brainstorm accordingly. Do you want a jet ski that can carry multiple people, or are you looking to zip around by yourself? Make sure you are shopping for the right type of ski for your needs, as there are several different options. 
  • What is your budget? Budget does matter, but you might want to consider that once you hit a certain dollar amount, you might be able to buy a new PWC, which could save you some of the headaches a used one would come with.
  • How long do you expect to keep your new toy? You should consider the future when you are looking to buy. Are you just looking to use a PWC for one season, in which case you can ride it pretty hard without worrying about the future? If you are keeping it short-term, you might not have to consider as many factors when you are purchasing it, as if you are planning on keeping it for many years into the future.

How easy will it be to Re-sell your own Used Jet Ski?

If resale value is a concern, you might want to consider buying a used model from a reputable dealer or marina and not from an individual seller. Developing a relationship now with a salesman, can help you be able to more easily be able to sell your ski when the time comes. 

This is especially true if you are also going to pay to get your ski serviced at the same place. If you wind up paying a dealer a lot of money to either purchase or service it, they will be more likely to give you a good deal on a trade-in or sale when you are ready.

Buying a Used Jet Ski versus Buying a new Jet Ski

Overall, which is really better? Of course, there is no exact answer. It is a balance act of how much money you have to spend now versus how much you want to spend later on in maintenance and repair costs. Here is a high-level list of things to consider:

  • Price – How much do you have to spend? And, is it better to spend that money on a top-notch used model, or a lower quality new watercraft?
  • Maintenance fees – Just because a PWC is new does not by itself mean it will cost more or less in the long run than a used unit. Which is going to be more costly to maintain? That might not be a clear cut answer, but it is something you should consider when making your purchase.
  • Storage – What is your plan to store your ski? The most optimal storage in the off seasons is in a temperature controlled indoor unit. The worst conditions would be outdoors in freezing conditions. You want to consider this because you might want to buy a cheaper less perfect ski if you are not going to be able to store it in perfect conditions. Imperfect conditions will lead it to wearing out quicker and potentially causing more in maintenance costs. 
  • Features and options – The entire boating industry changes quickly. New options and features are added every year. If you have specific things in mind that your new ski must have, that could narrow down your purchase options to certain model year ranges.

With the right amount of research and patience, you can and will find the perfect personal watercraft for your own needs. Just be a smart consumer and make sure you ask the right questions, and never accept a used jet ski that you cannot test drive, or pay to get a professional inspection. You always want to make sure to have access to history and maintenance records before making any purchase.

Articles contain affiliate links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. The site is also an affiliate for other brands covered in our the content. We may earn a small commission when readers purchase through these links at no extra cost to the buyer.

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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