Every year millions of us Personal Watercraft (PWC) owners spend the long months of winter dreaming about sunny days and getting back on the water. As summer approaches, it’s important to know how de-winterize our toys and get them ready to run again.
So, if you’re wondering how to get your PWC out of storage and ready for the summer season, here’s a quick list to show you how:
- Check for any loose connections/wear/damage (fuel & cooling lines, wires, belts, etc.),
- Wash and wax exterior*
- Drain and replace old fuel and oil*
- Add a fuel treatment*
- Check the spark plugs for signs of rust or moisture
- Grease and seal all bearings
- Check fluid levels in battery and make sure it’s fully charged,
- Don’t forget to check for any wear or damage on your trailer as well!
A PWC that has been properly winterized and de-winterized should give you many care-free seasons of fun in the sun, without any serious mechanical headaches. Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps and see why each is important…
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Clean it Up!
The first step to de-winterize your PWC is to break out the hose and bucket and get rid of any dust, dirt, or cobwebs that may have accumulated.
Washing & Waxing Steps (20-30 minutes):
- First, gently spray the exterior with a garden hose to wash away and dirt/dust that might scratch paint when scrubbing/waxing. Be sure to clean out the exhaust, as well.
- Wash/scrub the footwells – likely the dirtiest area on your PWC
- Wipe all of the excess water off, and (air drying will leave streaks/water spots.)
- Carefully hose down the inside, avoiding electrical connections as much as possible.
- Do NOT spray water on your engine. Wipe away dirt/algae with a damp microfiber rag, then dry.
- Lightly spray the engine and electrical connectors with anti-corrosive aerosol lubricant, and close/latch the engine cover.
- Wash the exterior using a car or marine soap (marine soap tends to leave a glossier finish). Don’t use dish soap – it can damage the paint and strip away wax.
- Use a soft microfiber rag to scrub away any remaining dirt. Never use a hard-bristled brush, microfiber is far easier on your paint.
- The last step is waxing. This is the best way to protect the paint and maintain the shiny “showroom” finish. Be sure to use a good high-quality liquid marine wax and follow the instructions on the bottle.
You may need to hose it down again, after the rest of the de-winterizing steps, but it’s important to get rid of any contaminants that can foul exposed engine and carburetor parts before you open them up.
Now, let’s go to work…
Check for Wear & Damage
Next, position your PWC is a well-lit area (outside, if weather permits) and remove the cover.
Wear & Damage Checklist
- Fuel lines
- Cooling lines
- Power steering cables
- Electrical wiring
- Belts (should be tight, no wear or slack)
Slowly run your fingers up and down each line/cable; check for any cracks, leaks, or signs of wear (sometimes you can feel a problem before you can see it.) Repair or replace any parts as needed.
Getting stranded on the water with a busted fuel line can take all the fun out of a play day!
Fuel & Oil
Drain any fuel and oil that was left in the machine from the previous season and add fresh. Use an approved gas treatment or stabilizer to help clean out any deposits that may have collected while sitting idle.
Don’t forget any reserve tanks.
Check the spark plugs for rust or moisture. If you fogged the carburetor and spark-plug sockets for winter, moisture shouldn’t be an issue, but it can’t hurt to check, right?
Before you put the spark plugs back in (or if replacing*) check the owner’s manual for the correct gap sizing. Plugs that aren’t gapped properly will cause poor engine performance. I have a full post on changing spark plugs.
Also, don’t forget to remove the distributor cap on non-injected skis, wipe it clean, and re-seat it when you’re done.
*Many PWC owners put in a new set of spark plugs and replace the air filter at the start of each season, while others do it before winter storage.
Protect your engine from dirt and gunk by properly sealing and lubrication any mechanical elements that may be exposed to water. This is one simple and inexpensive de-winterizing step that can save you a very large repair/replacement bill in the future.
Parts to lubricate:
- Carrier bearing/drive shaft seal (grease)
- Steering mechanism (grease)
- All bearings (grease)
- Engine exterior (anti-corrosive aerosol lubricant)
- Metal hinges and moving parts (anti-corrosive aerosol lubricant)
Batteries are one of those things that we expect to just work, and typically they do. It’s worth a few minutes of preventative maintenance, however, just in case, before you’re sitting on the lake, turn the key, and nothing happens!
- Make sure all cells are topped off with fresh (distilled) water. Re-cap when done.
- Remove any exterior corrosion with a scrub of water and baking soda,
- make sure it’s fully charged using a tester to check for proper volt and amp levels.
- Seat the battery in place and affix braces or holding straps securely.
- Apply a light coating of battery grease to the terminals.
- Attach battery cables and tighten connects with a socket-wrench to insure a good, tight connection.
Finally, close everything up, and give your PWC a final rinse, as needed.
Please note: While this list covers the general “best practices”, different machines can require different procedures, so always remember to check your owner’s manual for any steps specific to your make and model of PWC.
Additional Steps that are Probably a Good Idea
That’s not all. You should probably perform these additional steps to ensure that your entire PWC is in working order before taking it out on the water.
- Test your bilge pump
- Replace the in-line oil filter
- Inspect your impeller for wear/damage (dings or chips in the blades)
- Test that rudder and shafts move freely
- Test the horn
- Test the VHF radio, if you have one
- Replace the drain plug, as needed
- Look over personal flotation devices for wear or damage
- Make sure your anchor and (current) fire extinguisher are on board.
Oh, and don’t forget to check your trailer for wear and tear, tire pressure, lights, etc.
Give those hubs and bearings a fresh coat of grease, as well. The best-maintained, best de-winterized, jet-ski in the world isn’t any fun sitting on the shoulder of the highway.
In fact, do yourself a favor and make yourself a note to complete this list a few weeks before you plan to play. Discovering you have an issue or repair the night before your first outing isn’t fun.
Personal Watercraft season is too short for many of us anyway (right?) Make sure you don’t miss a minute of it by taking a little time to get your baby ready in advance!
If have plans to tow friends and family on tubes, inflate them and check for leaks. Smaller tubes inflate quickly with a small air compressor, maybe even a 12V portable model. But for the big tubes on our Recommended Gear pages or in the home page article about best tubes, I use my Master Blaster from Amazon. Open the larger cap, fill the tube and then quickly screw the cap back down. Top it off with the smaller compressor.
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When in Doubt De-Winterize Your PWC at a Service Shop
If you simply don’t have the time or are afraid of busting something expensive, a local dealer should be able to point you to a service shop that can de-winterize (and winterize next fall) your PWC fairly inexpensively.
Some shops even offer discounts if you purchase a winterization/de-winterization package in advance, or even free de-winterizing if you’ve had your PWC winterized in their shop.
See you on the water!