Do all jet skis have reverse?

Most people today call personal water craft (PWC), jet skis.  Like many things, they have evolved throughout time. Originally most jet skis did not have reverse. The riders would engage the gas and away they would go bouncing on the waves in the lake and feeling the air blow through their hair and on their faces. They would enjoy the ride and if they needed to stop, they would just release the gas and the ride would slow down. If they needed to back it up, well the personal watercraft vehicles would turn around in a small space, so the original concept was why did they need reverse?  But as popularity increased with these vessels, so did the safety awareness.

Do all jet skis have reverse?

Most new models of jet skis have reverse, but there are several older models as well as stand up models that do not come with reverse. Reverse is built-in PWC’s for docking safely and used as a brake on many models of jet skis. Reverse greatly increases the slow speed maneuverability of a jet ski.

Why Reverse is Needed on PWC’s


Since personal watercraft or jet skis are not designed with brakes and letting off of the gas is how they are stopped, safety concerns arose. As the gas is released and basically the vessel is then just floating, the rider has no control of the steering of the vehicle.

If the rider is speeding across the lake and here comes a boat or another watercraft vessel and quick action has to be taken, just the ability to let off the gas was not stopping fast enough. If the rider needed to turn to keep from crashing into the other vessel, he had no control. Take a speed of even 30 miles per hour on the water and having to let off the gas to stop, the personal watercraft is going to coast for quite a distance before coming to a halt.

Many experienced riders know you can hit the gas and turn the handlebars and you can make a quick 180 degree turn and be out of harms way, but new riders first reflex is to simply let off the gas. This factor has been responsible for many jet ski accidents.


With the lakes and popular recreational areas becoming more inundated with personal watercrafts or jet skis, the accidents and injuries numbers were also climbing. Safety measures had to be taken to protect everyone involved. A reverse has now been added to most personal watercraft vessels such as wave runners, jet skis, and Sea Doo’s. Even though this has added cost to the personal watercraft vessels, the personal safety to the riders and others that are on the lake with them, has made this worth the increase.  The growth of the personal watercraft industry is still climbing even with the price increase. 

How It Works

There are differences in various types and brands of these vessels, but the overall concept is similar. As you see a personal watercraft bouncing over the waves in the lake you will see a tail of water shooting out behind them.  When the motor starts, it turns an inboard impeller, which takes water into the jet ski. The water is then pushed out through the rear of the jet ski through a steering nozzle.

The pressure of this is what pushes the jet ski forward through the water. This design was created for safety reasons in the beginning. As a rider could fall off and hit the propeller if it were on the outside like many boat motors are designed and cause serious injuries to the rider. This force when the gas is applied sends the jet ski scooting across the lake. 


As reverse was added to some of the watercrafts, here is how in a nutshell that is works.  It has been designed for slow use, meaning if you throw your watercraft into reverse at a high rate of speed, you could rip the pump out from the back of your watercraft. This would actually work as a brake in an emergency situation but know that you will be looking at some major repairs to your vessel.

On the handlebar or side of the jet ski, there is a control that is operated by the rider. As this control is engaged, a cable that is attached from the control to near the jet, control the “reverse gate”. A mechanism called a “reverse gate” will drop down over the jet over the back of the vessel.  This causes the thrust to change directions.  This makes the thrust go forward, which in turn will make the vessel go backwards. Always remember that this design was originally created to be used at a slow speed. So, you can back up your jet ski in case you are in a situation that you cannot turn it around.


On newer jet skis, there is now a brake function. This is the same function as a reverse gate, but it can be used at high speeds in emergency situations. Simply pull the brake lever and hold on.

The nose of the jet ski will dive down and stop the ski almost instantly. I have tried this going about 50 mph on a Sea Doo, and it is a rush, so make sure to hold on tight.


Giving the rider more control of their jet ski has increased the safety of these personal watercraft vehicles. I am sure most of us have seen a rider, zipping past their friends and making a quick turn spraying them with the water spray coming from the back. This must be done carefully because on some personal watercraft a rider can lose control and crash into the vessel that they are sending their spray onto. This could be a serious situation for everyone that is involved.  The more control a rider has the safer it is for everyone.

A reverse gate has made it possible to slow the watercraft down as it approaches the dock so you don’t hit it and do damage to the fiberglass on the jet ski. Reverse functions will also allow you to idle in one spot while waiting for someone as well.

Using the Reverse on a Jet Ski

The largest benefit to reverse on newer jet skis is the brake function as well as the ability to stop your jet ski or reverse at idle.

If you have an older jet ski but still have reverse, you can feather the reverse lever to be in the middle so you can actually stay in one space.

Jet skis are direct drive and are always “in gear” so having a reverse gate will allow you to back up or hold in place.

Know Your Jet Ski

Going to the lake for a day or spending the weekend offers a lot of fun for many water enthusiasts.  Taking your personal watercraft or jet skis out on the lake only intensifies the fun.  Many like to go out hot dogging and showing off, which is okay as long as you are experienced enough of a rider to safely handle that type of activities. 

Having the function of a brake with the help of a reverse gate will greatly improve your safety while riding. Before you take off on your jet ski, know how to operate it.  Know what to do if you need to make a quick stop or you need to use your reverse to avoid a collision with another vessel. 

Keep safety in mind and remember there will be a lot of bigger vessels on the water than your personal watercraft.  They may also be speeding across the water and not be able to see you as well, you need to be aware and alert of others on the lake.  This is for your safety and that of others that are also enjoying their time on the water. Know your safety guidelines for the area that you are in and follow the boating laws that are put in place to keep everyone safe. A safe trip to the lake will ensure many more for you and your personal watercraft.