Using a Dolly to Launch Your Jet Ski at the Beach

A jet ski is a nimble, quick and smooth handling toy on water, but anyone who’s tried to manhandle a PWC around his garage or lift it off the back of a truck knows it’s a lot less elegant on land.

There’s an easy and obvious way to avoid the skinned knuckles, crushed toes, and reduced enthusiasm for water sports that these efforts bring: a set of wheels! 

A dolly will help you get your PWC into the water and back out again with a lot more ease…and a lot less swearing. But not all dollies are made equal, so it pays to do your research, read the fine print, and follow the safety guide.

How do I pick the right PWC dolly? To choose the right PWC dolly for your needs, start by considering important factors like the size and weight of your jet ski and the load rating of the dolly.

Next, you should think about more flexible elements, like your budget and whether you can afford luxury elements such as adjustable rails or an electric winch.

What is a Jet Ski Beach Dolly?

You may see websites and forums referring to beach dollies, jet ski buggies, caddies, PWC carts (or karts) and wonder what the difference between all these things is.

The answer: nothing. They are all more or less the same contraption. But the designs vary depending on the intended use. A dolly for launching at the beach will be different than a cart in your maintenance shop.

What a dolly is, essentially, is a frame mounted on a pair of wheels (or four, six, or even eight wheels, depending on how big a PWC it’s rated for).

The frame includes rails to cradle the hull of your PWC, as well as attachments for straps and a winch.

The whole apparatus is intended to help you transport your jet ski easily to and from the trailer attached to the back of your car. 

Is a Dolly Really Necessary?

Although research has shown that 60% of PWC owners have access to a house on the water (source), those without docks will need to travel at least a few hundred yards to the water’s edge.

And this means the transport of your PWC is likely a constant problem to be dealt with. 

Many beaches do not allow vehicles to drive right up to the water’s edge, or restrict them to a boat ramp that may be some distance away from where you want to launch.

Sometimes there is no ramp in sight, and you face the prospect of carrying your PWC into the water.

Since the average PWC weighs in at around 805lb (385kg), attempting to carry it is likely to be both unsuccessful and dangerous, and could easily turn a day out with the kids into a quick trip to the emergency ward.

As for dragging your jet ski across the sand or gravel, you’ll be lucky if you get away with only cosmetic damage to the paintwork and shell. 

Can you imagine the hull scrapes? Just don’t…

Wheeling a dolly into the water that’s deep enough to allow your PWC to float as it’s designed to, is a much safer option and one that’s more likely to leave your sense of humor — and your hull — intact.

When you are finished with the fun, it also helps you get your PWC out of the water and back to your car to go safely home. 

Many people also use dollies for storage during winter or as a stand when they’re doing some work on their PWCs.

Because the rails of the dolly are specifically designed to hold the jet ski’s hull safely, there’s less chance of damaging it than by propping on a frame that’s not designed to hold it. 

What’s more, a dolly takes up far less space in your garage and guarantees you can keep your jet ski sheltered inside during bad weather.

So although it might seem excessive to spend another few hundred dollars on what is already an expensive sport, forking out a bit more money on a good, quality PWC beach dolly is well worth it and will likely repay you in safety and convenience down the line.

How Do I Choose the Right Dolly?

When you’re choosing a beach cart for your PWC, the most important thing to do is to match the cart to its passenger.

Depending on the size and weight of your PWC, you’ll need a certain load rating in your dolly. So first do your research about specifications to make sure the dolly is up to the job.

Once you’ve covered the basics, you’ll also want to think about the more luxurious options available to you, and whether you can afford them.

Consider manual winch versus electric winch, adjustable rails, and fat tires for sandy beaches.

Size

Size is the primary consideration you must assess first. 

Although jet skis began as single-person watercraft, today the biggest customers are families, and the most widely sold model is the three-seater (source). This means most PWC users are transporting large, heavy watercraft that can weigh over 1000lb.

Trying to load a three-seater PWC onto a dolly designed for a single-seater is going to end in disaster for you and your expensive toy. 

The size of the jet ski not only influences the size of the dolly’s frame but also the number of wheels.

Whereas the market’s lightest PWC, the Sea-Doo Spark (weighing in at just 410-425lb, or 186-193kg), can probably be moved around on a two-wheel dolly, larger models need more wheels: usually four wheels for a two-seater, and six wheels for a three-seater.

If in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t try to squeeze your PWC onto an optimistically small cart.

The smaller cart may be cheaper, but damage to your jet ski and injury to yourself and others could cost you a lot more in the long run. 

It’s best to check the manufacturer’s recommendation and match your jet ski to the right dolly. One of the easiest ways to do this is by looking at the weight rating.

Weight Rating

The last thing you want is for your dolly to snap or buckle under the weight of a jet ski that’s too heavy for it. This could not only waste your investment in the dolly but damage your precious PWC as well. 

All dollies come with a maximum load capacity calculated by the manufacturer, and it’s best to take this seriously.

If you’ve overloaded your dolly, you may void the warranty, and it might affect your ability to claim from your insurance as well. Make sure you know what your PWC weighs and check the maximum payload rating of the dolly you’re planning to buy.

Remember that the weight you’re placing on the dolly is greater than that of the empty hull; it includes the engine, fuel, and oil, as well as the seat and any additional equipment and gear you may have added. 

The maximum load capacity applies to your dolly’s winch as well. Overload it, and it will break, which could cause your jet ski a nasty fall.

Since this would constitute use of the winch beyond its recommended limits, your warranty and insurance likely will not cover you for that damage either.

Other Important Considerations

While the size and weight rating are probably the most important considerations, you may also want to think about these points when you’re choosing a make and model of beach dolly:

  • Wheels: Are they large and wide enough to roll over the surface? Narrow wheels easily sink into sand.
  • Height: Is the dolly the same height as your trailer for easy transfer? Will it fit into the space designated in your garage?
  • Price: Dollies start at just a few hundred dollars but can head into the thousands – you can spend as much as you have, but what can you afford?
  • Servicing availability: Imported brands are sometimes cheaper but will you be able to get replacement parts or repairs done locally?
  • Storage: Do you need to be able to disassemble the dolly for transport or storage?

The Luxury Items

Now that you’ve covered the basics, it’s time to think about the nice-to-haves.

As with any hobby, PWC-ownership brings a wealth of clever gadgets and labor-saving devices, and if you’ve got the money, you can get yourself a really upmarket beach cart for your jet ski!

Think about whether you want your dolly to have adjustable rails (or bunkers). These allow you to size the frame of the cart specifically for the shape of your PWC’s hull.

Carpeted or padded bunkers can also help prevent scratching to the hull when moving the jet ski on and off the dolly.

Although not all dollies come standard with brakes on the wheels, you may find these useful, especially if you plan to use the cart for storage in your garage.

You may also want to consider a lift to transfer your PWC from the trailer to the cart, especially if your cart is a different height from the trailer.

The winch question: electric or manual?

Most dollies come ready-fitted with a winch system, which provides the muscle power when pulling your jet ski off the trailer and onto the dolly, or out of the water, ready to roll up the beach and back to the car. 

Some models come standard with one or the other, but an electric winch is likely to increase the price. On the other hand, an electric winch will definitely make life a little easier, saving you the impromptu arm work-out.

Manual winches mean more work for you, but they are cheaper and don’t run the risk of wearing out your car battery. However, if you have a large, heavy multi-seater jet ski, or if you’re not strong enough to work a manual winch, you may not have a choice. 

Whichever way you go, make sure the winch is rated to deal with the fully-loaded weight of your PWC. And to ensure longevity, don’t run it at maximum load. Try not to exceed 75% of the weight capacity of your winch.

Can I Make My Own Dolly?

Going DIY is definitely an option if you are technically inclined. Just as many people paint their own jet skis, many also make their own dollies, often from wood or PWC which are cheaper materials than metal – but remember, they are also weaker.

If you do decide to go DIY, make sure you have the skills, materials, and tools to do a good job. No one but you will be responsible if a joint doesn’t hold and you drop your beloved PWC on the tarmac.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, factoring in labor, home-made is not always cheaper!

Using a Jet Ski Dolly: The Basics

The correct use of a PWC cart is not to be taken lightly. Your physical safety is at stake, as well as the safety of anyone trying to help you maneuver your jet ski. Also in the balance is the safety of your jet ski itself — yes, the one you’ve spent all winter spray painting and polishing.

And before you get too casual about losing a finger or breaking a couple of toes, remember that a lax attitude could cost you when it comes to your insurance and warranty.

No company is going to pay out if you’ve used the wrong dolly for your PWC, failed to secure it properly, or otherwise acted negligently.

The bottom line is to read the safety instructions and act at all times with a large dose of common sense.

Step One: Transferring Your PWC From Trailer to Dolly

Line the dolly up against the back of your trailer and secure it with a strap to stop it rolling away while the transfer is in progress.

Extend the winch cable and hook it to the towing eye on the PWC, then slowly and steadily crank the winch to pull the jet ski from trailer to dolly. Reverse these steps to get the PWC back onto the trailer from the dolly.

Note: this will only work if your dolly is the same height as your trailer — otherwise you will likely need a lift to get the PWC on and off your trailer. 

Step Two: Launching Your PWC

Wheel your cart, with the jet ski firmly attached, to the water’s edge. Remove all the straps and ensure there is nothing holding the Jet Ski to the cart. 

Roll the cart into the water, ensuring the PWC will have enough depth to float. Usually, the PWC will slide off due to momentum, but you may need to give it a gentle push.

Step Three: Loading Your PWC Back Onto the Dolly

Getting your jet ski back onto the cart is probably the hardest part of this process, but it is possible to do this from either the water or solid land.

From the water

Move the jet ski close to the water’s edge, but don’t get into water that’s too shallow if you don’t want to ground the PWC and scratch the hull. Wheel the dolly into the water and line up the back with the bow of the jet ski if you can. 

Extend the winch cable and hook it onto the jet ski’s towing eye. Crank the winch slightly to take up the slack in the cable, then allow the PWC to position itself as you slowly and steadily work the winch to pull the dolly underneath it. 

Secure the jet ski firmly to the dolly before rolling the dolly out of the water.

From land

Position the dolly at the bow of your PWC, lining them up as best you can. Extend the winch and hook it to the Jet Ski’s towing eye as above. Steadily crank the winch, guiding the dolly’s runners underneath the jet ski and slowly pulling the PWC onto the rails.

Handling a PWC Dolly: Safety Tips

Avoid moving the loaded dolly around if the jet ski is not securely fastened to the cart. The PWC could slide around and get scratched on the rails or fall off altogether.

You can secure the PWC firmly by ensuring it is firmly settled on the rails with the bow resting against the bow stop.

Then, strap the PWC firmly to the dolly using retaining straps that are properly secured to the attachments indicated on the manual, and fully tightened using buckles. 

Be very careful wheeling the dolly down steep slopes or on uneven surfaces as you may lose control and overturn or crash the dolly with the jet ski onboard.

Don’t push the dolly, loaded or unloaded, off piers or jetties. When the dolly is loaded, make sure there is more than one person available to maneuver it.

Be aware of your position relative to the dolly and PWC while loading and unloading. If you stand behind the dolly while winching your jet ski onto it, it may roll backward into your legs, causing injury. 

Hook the winch only to the correct towing eye on the jet ski. Connecting it to part of the hull or a fitting could cause serious damage to the bodywork and fittings of your PWC, and could be dangerous if the winch breaks free. 

Remember to perform basic maintenance on your dolly, the same as you do on your trailer and PWC. If it has inflatable tires, you’ll need to check the pressure.

Keep all bearings and moving parts clean and well-lubricated, especially if you use the dolly in the sea. Keep the dolly out of the sun and rain when you are not using it (source).

Legal considerations

Be mindful that, although a dolly can help you reach the water’s edge when there is no ramp easily accessible, it does not allow you to contravene coastline and water-use restrictions. If you are in an area that allows restricted access to the water by PWC users, you will still need to abide by those restrictions. 

For example, in San Francisco county, jet skis may not enter a 1200-foot buffer around the shoreline of the county and must use a designated access corridor to travel further out to sea (source).

Make sure you understand the rules governing your state and county, and abide by them in the interests of everyone who makes use of the coastline and water.

Final Thoughts

A beach dolly is an indispensable tool that will make your life as a jet ski owner both safer and easier.

What will ultimately decide which is the right dolly is the size and weight of your jet ski, as well as your budget constraints and what ‘nice-to-haves’ fit within them. 

But choosing the right dolly is only the first step. Next, you must apply common sense and carefully follow the instructions to use the dolly safely.

Whether you’re spending a couple of hundred dollars or a couple of thousand, a good dolly is a pretty big investment and, after all, your warranty, your insurance, and the safety of you and your jet ski hang in the balance.

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.

Recent Content