How to Ride a Jet Ski as a Passenger: 11 Practical Tips

The thrill of flying across the water with the wind in your face is a blast.  Nothing can make it more thrilling than sharing the experience with some friends.  But riding a jet ski with two people can be much different than riding alone.  It is important to know how the ride changes when more than one person is on the jet ski.  Some practical tips can help both the driver and the passenger have a better ride.

So, how do you ride a jet ski as a passenger? Riding a jet ski tandem means several factors must be monitored for proper safety and balance.  Knowing how these factors impact the jet ski will improve safety and fun for all the riders.  Follow these practical tips to make the ride more enjoyable.

  • Consider passenger experience and skill.
  • Give some basic instructions.
  • Always use correct seating.
  • Know the water conditions.
  • Follow limitations on the number of people.
  • Have a way to communicate.
  • Be willing to help out.
  • Work to maintain balance.
  • Start slow, but not too slow.
  • Stay alert.
  • Know how to re-board from the water.

Riding double changes the way that personal watercraft (PWC) handles.  It takes some getting used to for both the operator and the passenger.  Even experienced operators can struggle with the differences until they adjust.  However, riding double can be extremely fun once both people have learned the basics.  Follow these tips to have the most enjoyable ride.

It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure the passenger is on the PWC at all times. I once dumped my daughter off of a rental ski 100 yards from shore in the Bahamas but didn’t even know she had fallen off. She was in the water out of danger, but invisible from shore due to a rocky outcropping. I continued on to shore to hand off the ski to the rental guy, and he asked “didn’t you have a passenger when you left?” Brief moment of parental panic before my son came around the rocks with my daughter on the back of his ski.

So learn from my bad parenting moment: the passenger has a lot of responsibility, but ultimately everything falls on the driver. I got lucky we were in the open ocean. Had this happened on a river or lake, or with no one behind to help out, I could have gone quite a distance before realizing she wasn’t there. This would put her in danger of being struck by another boat. It’s also another point in support of riding using the buddy system, but that’s a topic for another article.

Example of riding a Sea-Doo with a passenger at high speed and others following

Tip One: Passenger Experience and Skill

  1. It is important to consider the experience and skill of both the driver and the passenger. Pairing an inexperienced passenger with a beginner driver could be risky.  When the driver is experienced and the passenger is not, the ride will likely need to be shorter and easier to allow the passenger time to learn. This will help decrease the chances of the passenger falling off.
  2. Passengers that are experienced in riding a bicycle or riding double on a motorcycle will adjust more quickly to the expectations of coordinating balance, body language and leaning into turns.However, this experience will not help them know how riding waves and sudden, unexpected changes of direction can impact that balance.  They will adjust faster than others, but still need time to adjust.
  3. The closer to the maximum the more difficult it becomes to maintain stability, handling, and control.  It will take more skill and working together with the higher weight to keep the craft from floundering.

Child Passenger

  • When riding with a child, the driver needs to remember the child is not as strong as an adult.It is even more important to keep the ride short and smooth until they have more experience.  Children may not have the endurance to ride as long and may be more likely to forget to hang on tight.  Children will also tire easily.
  • Very young children shouldn’t ride at all. Some states have age restrictions for passengers even when an adult is driving for this reason.
  • It’s not advisable to ride with a child between the driver and the handlebars or steering mechanism. This will interfere with safe operation of the steering system and other controls. And anyone riding in that position is subject to getting a lot of face spray from waves or wakes. This isn’t comfortable or fun for younger kids. Salt water makes it worse.
Example of why a front PWC passenger gets in the way of proper steering.

Tip Two: Instructions

Give the passenger some basic instructions beforehand if they have never ridden double.  Instructions can go over basic safety information, what to wear, what to bring, and what to do if they fall off.  It is also important that the passenger learn some basic skills in driving the jet ski in case the driver becomes incapacitated and the passenger must drive the jet ski back.

Even if the passenger has ridden before, some of the basics should be gone over again, especially if the PWC is different from the one they have ridden before.  This will make sure the passenger understands how to ride this specific model as a passenger and is also able to drive it.

Tip Three: Correct Seating

 It is the responsibility of the passenger to secure their seating by finding something to hold on to.  The typical choices are the seat strap, rear grab handles, or the driver’s flotation device.   When riding double with children, a ride belt or harness may be needed.

Tip Four: Water Conditions

Be aware of the water conditions you will be riding in.  For newer riders, choppy surf, high waves, and other conditions that are likely to cause the craft to make sudden changes of directions can be tricky to maneuver. These water conditions make the ride more difficult and more likely to unseat an inexperienced passenger. 

The smoother the water, the more the ride can start slow and easy, allowing the passenger time to adjust and learn.  As the passenger gains experience, the driver can begin to increase the speed and add some more advanced maneuvers.  However, even with an experienced passenger, the combined weight must be considered as a factor that will impact which water conditions are safe for riding.

Tip Five: Number of People

Do not exceed the number of people that can safely rid the PWC.  Each model will have its own maximum rider and weight limits.  It is important that all operators and passengers be aware of this so that only the correct number of people ride.  Putting two people on a PWC that is under-powered or designed to only carry one rider is not only illegal, but it is also dangerous and asking for problems.   

Some PWCs are designed to be 3-seaters.  However, they generally fit only two people comfortably.  When the third person is added (unless it is a small child), the passengers become cramped.  Choppy rough water will create more bouncing movements and make them even more uncomfortable. PWC’s are typically only meant to carry three people when doing pull sports, not for all-day or touring use.

These 3-seaters may not fit three people well, but they are the most stable for riding double.  They also tend to have more power to handle the extra weight of the additional person.  Typically, the touring models are more stable, even at lower speeds, and have enough power to carry two passengers.

Safety Tip:  Most jet skis are designed for three or fewer passengers.  It is not safe or legal to go over that limit.

Tip Six: Communication

Make sure the passenger has a clear way to communicate with the driver.  This starts with good communication on land.  The driver should make sure the passenger knows how to hold on while riding, what communication is expected, and how to properly communicate.  Signals for slowing down and stopping need to be reviewed so the passenger can let the driver know.  

Communication should also include what to do if the craft flips over, how to re-board the craft and a discussion of what type of outing the passenger wants.  The passenger needs to communicate clearly their level of knowledge and skill, so the driver knows what to expect.  Being less than honest about ability level is likely to land the passenger in the water.

Tip Seven: Be Willing to Help Out

Riding double can make a fun activity even more exciting because of the companionship.  However, having a passenger can create extra work for the driver as they try to keep the craft balanced and not laboring.  By helping, the passenger can make the ride more fun and enjoyable for the driver and not just be along for the ride.

The passenger can help with docking, fueling, launching, or going through a lock.  All these things can be accomplished more easily with two people rather than one.  When taking in the scenery and sights, remember that four eyes can do a better job of watching out for threats, such as changing weather, buoys, and other boats.  This help will make the ride more fun for the driver so they can enjoy it also.

Tip Eight: Balance is Key

The passenger needs to understand their role in maintaining balance.  Two-seater jet skis can tip easily when two people are riding.  When the passenger and driver do not work together in the turns, it can result in them both landing in the water.  The passenger has no control over direction or speed but must be able to read the driver’s intention and lean correctly to prevent tipping.

The slower the jet ski is going, the more likely it is to tip.  Therefore, balance is especially important around docks, shores, other jet skis, and any other places that it will be running at a slow speed.  The PWC will also be slower to respond and slower to turn when riding double.  Once the PWC is free of hazards and has attained some forward speed, the hull will plane, and it will be more stable.

Tip Nine: Start Slow, But Not Too Slow

Remember to start slow, but not too slow.  The driver does not want to start with the throttle wide open, but the passenger needs to realize that the driver cannot go too slow.  Part of the stability of the craft comes from the forward motion.  When that is decreased too much, the craft becomes more and more unstable. That is why people will often see those riding double fall off sitting at the docks.

The other reason to not start too slow is that the slower the craft is going, the more it will labor to respond to controls and fight the waves or chop.  The boat needs a minimum basic speed to be able to power through any swells and to respond to commands without floundering.  The minimum speed will vary with different crafts and depend on the make, model, and horsepower of the engine.

Demonstrates a passenger riding a jet ski while standing up

Once the passenger and driver have adapted to riding double and with each other, the speed can be increased slowly.  The time needed for this to take place will depend on the rider’s age, body type, and previous experiences.  Even when the craft is moving faster, the driver should still warn the passenger and slow down when taking turns until they have fully learned how to correctly lean in on the turns. 

Tip Ten: Stay Alert

You must remember to stay alert at all times.  Whenever possible it is the driver’s responsibility to alert the rider to any changes in the directions.  However, when encountering certain situations, the driver may have to make sudden course corrections for reasons of safety.  If the rider is staying alert, he/she may notice these situations or hazards and be more responsive to any moves made by the driver.  

The PWC will share the water with many others, such as swimmers, water skiers, and others that will not have the mobility and speed to get out of the craft’s way.  It is the responsibility of the driver to avoid slow-moving, less maneuverable people or boats in the water.  Another hazard is larger boats because the PWC sits low in the water and is often difficult to see for larger boats.

Remember:  Don’t wait for the driver to notice problems.  The rider can point out potential hazards to the driver allowing more reaction time.

Tip Eleven: Falling Off

Make sure the passenger knows how to get back on the PWC if they fall off.  Typically, it is difficult to fall off a PWC when riding single.  However, it does become more likely when riding double.  A sure-fire way to end up in the water is overloading the craft with too many people or too much weight.  A re-boarding step makes it easier to get back on if a person does fall off.  However, not all crafts have one.

Getting back on a PWC takes upper body strength because the person will need to pull not only their weight but also the weight of all the water that has soaked into them and their clothes.  This can create a very heavy weight until the bulk of the person is out of the water.  The bouncing and motion of the PWC moving in the water will make this even more difficult.  

Typically, the driver gets back on first and then helps the passenger re-board.  When climbing on from the back, use the step until a knee can be placed on the back of the craft.  The nose of the craft will often raise up when a person is climbing back on from the rear.  It will take some balance to move the rest of the way forward until straddling the seat.

Stay Safe and Legal

Many people do not consider a jet ski a “boat,” but they are licensed as personal watercraft and must follow the same laws and regulations as boats.  This means many of the restrictions are not just suggestions but legal requirements.  It is important to remember that, even as a passenger, a person can still be cited for failing to wear a personal flotation device and not sitting facing forward.

For safety reasons, all people riding the jet ski should know some basic safety tips.  Many of these can be learned through a safe boating course for those that are going to be riding frequently.  Some of the basic safety tips are:

  • Children under the age of 16 should not operate/drive a PWC.
  • Make sure the flotation device fits properly and supports the individual’s weight.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs when operating or driving a PWC.
  • As a passenger, always communicate any problems with grip to the driver immediately.
  • Each rider should wear eye protection, footwear, gloves, and a wetsuit.
  • Be alert for bad weather
  • Keep hands, feet, hair, and clothing away from the pump intake.
  • Keep hands and feet out of the water when the craft is moving or getting ready to move.
  • Never operate the PWC in less than 24 inches of water
  • Know the water and underwater terrain in the area.

Go for a Ride Today

Riding double on a jet ski can take some practice and patience. But, by following these tips, the rider will soon be skimming the waves with the wind in their face.  It is important that the passenger has a clear understanding of what it means to ride a jet ski, the driver’s expectations, and how the rider and driver will communicate on the water before leaving the docks.

It is important to consider what type of ride and water conditions are safe to ride double in.  Rough water conditions can make riding difficult and uncomfortable.  The size of the jet ski can make long-distance rides uncomfortable.  Once the rider is set, it is key that they spend some time going slowly so they can adapt to the motion and balance of the jet ski before the speed is increased.

Remember to also ride safely and legally.  PWCs can be extremely fun, but they are also licensed as a watercraft and all laws need to be obeyed and followed by both rider and passenger.  A passenger’s claim of not knowing the law will not protect them from being cited and can ruin a perfectly fun day of skimming the waves.

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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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