Step-by-step: How to Tell What Year a Jet Ski Is


Whether you’re buying, selling, or just want to impress your friends, being able to identify the year of a Jet Ski is a valuable tool that will help you appraise your watercraft correctly. Although the first Jet Ski wasn’t invented until 1972, numerous models have gone through production and it can be difficult to tell one year’s model from another.

How to quickly find the year of your jet ski:

On most brand jet skis, the model year will be the last two digits of the Hull Identification Number or (HIN). If the last two digits are 15, then the model year is 2015. HIN’s can be found on the year of the craft or within the engine compartment.

A short history: the first Jet Ski was patented by Kawasaki and was sold to the U.S. in 1973. It wasn’t until 1986 that another company, Yamaha, would produce the first Wave Runner to compete with Kawasaki’s market dominance of personal watercrafts (PWC). Since then, many other makers have produced and sold PWCs under their own names, all trying to get a piece of the market.

This article is going to cover how to identify the year your PWC was produced. When it comes to serial numbers and identification digits, this article is going to stick to the American standard. If you want to find out the year of a European PWC, then use this as a rough guide but adjust the identification numbers accordingly because European identification numbers are slightly different.

How to find the year of your Kawasaki Jet Ski

The first step in identifying the year a Kawasaki Jet Ski was produced is to identify the model number. This will create a frame of time that the Jet Ski could have been produced in, as certain models began production in one year and ended in another.

For example, the 800 SX-R was introduced in 2003 but stopped production in 2011. Thus, the year of this model must sit somewhere in this time frame.

The next step is to identify the Hull Identification Number (HIN). This is an identification system used by government regulators to track PWCs across the country. Think of it as a VIN number but for PWCs. All watercrafts are required to have a HIN if manufactured after 1972, so if you can’t find one then it’s technically illegal to be riding.

The HIN on a Kawasaki is found in the back gunwale of the craft, under the battery. The beginning of the HIN will read KAW to identify the brand, followed by a series of numbers. The last two digits on this series of numbers indicate the year the craft was made. A number ending in ‘92’ means that the craft was manufactured in 1992, etc.

If the HIN is worn off, identify the crafts model number on the back of the Jet Ski. Do a quick only search for this model, and find one that matches yours on the manufacturer’s website or another reliable website.

How to find the year of your Yamaha PWC

Yamaha introduced its version of the Jet Ski, the Wave Runner, in 1986. Jet Ski is a term that’s patented by Kawasaki, so we’ll use the term personal watercraft (PWC) to speak generally about every brand’s version of the Jet Ski.

Similarly to identifying the year of a Kawasaki model, the HIN on the Wave Runner should tell you what year it was made. The HIN for Yamahas are found in the hull under the seat, usually glued upside-down. Find the HIN and look at the last two digits and this will tell you what year the PWC was manufactured.

The HIN should be completely visible to be legal, but sometimes you may get an older model from a friend or family member without one. You cannot legally transfer the title of a PWC without the HIN, so this is one of the few ways you might encounter this problem. Interestingly, HINs omit characters like O and Q because they could look similar after the number has been worn out.

If this is the case, analyze the PWCs style and look and match it against the results you find online. The Marine Jet 500T was introduced in 1986 and is known for its sharp nose. The sharpness of the nose was rounded out throughout the years, so as long as you can match the model, you can find out the year it was made by comparing subtle stylistic differences to models you see online.

Identifying your Sea-Doo’s Year

Sea-Doo is a PWC brand that introduced its first model in 1968 under Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP). This model was called the Bombardier Sea-Doo and was designed by Clayton Jacobson II, the same engineer who would later design Kawasaki’s first Jet Ski.

The HIN on Sea-Doo brand PWCs is located on the very back of the hull on the starboard side. The last two digits of the HIN indicate the year the model was manufactured. If the HIN is too worn to be read, then identify the model number and try to match it to the model reference on a reliable website.

Certain engine features may be able to provide a clue on to what year the craft was produced as well. For example, if it has a four-stroke engine then the model must have been manufactured in 2002 or after. This is because Sea-Doo didn’t introduce four-stroke engines to their PWCs until 2002 with its 4-TEC engine.

Other stylistic choices also indicate what year the craft may have been made. Models from the 1990s have an edgier, more jagged frame. The models from that decade also have paint or vinyl on the side that resembles colorful graffiti that was a popular style for the era, it’s very recognizable.

Finding your Honda Jet Ski Year

Honda was a little late to the game when they introduced their first PWC to the market. It wasn’t until 2002 that Honda made its first PWC, patented under the name AquaTrax. The AquaTrax claimed to have the first four-stroke engine in a PWC and enthusiasts were excited about it. 

Unfortunately, Honda only made their AquaTrax for a few years due to the financial hardships of the 2008/09 recession. They failed to release a model in 2008, and by 2010 they stopped manufacturing new models altogether. 2008 was the last year that you could buy an AquaTrax as manufacturing stopped completely.

The HIN for an AquaTrax is found on the rear starboard side of the craft. There is an additional HIN inside the hull near the gas tank that may have been less prone to wear if the one on the rear is too difficult to read.

If both HINs are unreadable, then go online and match your model to a similar looking one on a model reference website. They only produced their PWCs for a limited number of years, so you don’t have to do too much digging to find one that matches yours.

How to find the year of your Polaris Jet Ski

Polaris is a company that makes snowmobiles, motorcycles, and ATVs. They decided to enter the PWC market in 1992 when the market was reaching its peak. Their PWC, branded as the Sea Lion, didn’t last too long as production ended in 2004. By this time, the PWC market was less than half of what its peak was in 1996 and the company wasn’t making enough money to continue production.

Like most other PWCs, a Sea Lion should have two HINs. One should be located on the rear starboard side of the craft, and another inside the hull near the fuel tank. If either of these numbers are still readable, then the last two digits will tell you what year the craft was manufactured.

If the HIN is unreadable, the engine should be able to tell you about when your craft was made. Sea Lions used Fuji engines from 1992 through 1996, so if your craft uses this engine type, you can narrow it down to these years. 

They started using ‘red domestic engines’ starting in 1996, which were painted red until 2003 when they started being painted black. The color of the engine will help you narrow down the time frame in which it was built.

Conclusion

Most PWCs should have a readable HIN either on the back of the craft or somewhere in the hull. If not, then use context clues with the type of engine or body style to narrow down the time frame that it was manufactured. 

Vintage models are likely to have unreadable HINs, so hopefully, it’s labeled correctly on the title. Use these clues to find the year your model was made, and make sure you’re getting the right price before you buy or sell a PWC.

Eric

I have been an avid boater / jet ski fanatic since I was a kid.

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