New vs Used Jet Skis: 17 Things to Consider


So, you’ve been jet-skiing a few times, maybe at a friend’s lake house or on a summer cruise, and you’re considering investing in owning a jet ski of your own. Congratulations! Owning a jet ski is a great investment that opens many doors to different kinds of water recreation. You may be wondering, though, about the difference between buying new or used and which option is better. 

Should I buy a new or used jet ski?

There are several factors to consider when looking at new vs. used jet skis, including cost, commitment level to the sport, who will be the primary rider(s), and how you intend to use it. Depending on your personal goals and priorities, you may find that either a new or a used jet ski offers the benefits you are looking for.

Factors to Consider about Buying a Jet Ski

There are pros and cons to buying a new vs. used jet ski. Both are great options, but which option you ultimately choose will depend on several factors.

1. Costs of Owning a PWC

The first and most important factor to consider when buying a jet ski is the cost.  When buying a jet ski, you are not just purchasing the watercraft.  There are several other added costs you will need to consider.

  1. Upfront Costs. Some additional upfront costs other than the initial cost of your waverunner you will need to consider are the cost of a trailer, jet ski license/safety course, insurance, and any accessories you want or need. These will add to your initial purchase price.
  2. Maintenance Costs. Jet skis, like any power vehicle, require seasonal and annual maintenance.  Between the cost of fuel, oil changes, minor repairs, and winterizing your jet ski, plan on spending between $300-600 a year on maintenance. If you buy a used jet ski, your upfront costs may be lower, but you may have higher maintenance costs because parts will likely wear out sooner.
  3. Budget vs. Desired Features. It’s also a good idea to consider how much you want to spend vs. what kinds of features you want.  If you’re just looking to tool around in the water, there are some great new jet skis that aren’t very expensive, but they may not have as many features as larger or more luxury models.  If you are interested in particular features like being able to tow or fish from your jet ski, you may need to look at a used model to get the features you want at a price you can afford.
  4. Initial Cost: New vs. Used. After considering the additional upfront costs, cost of maintenance, and the features you’re looking for, consider what your budget is for the actual jet ski.  New jet skis range in price from $5,000-20,000 and average at around $12,500, while you can find used jet skis for as low as $2,000 and an average of $7,500 for a few year old model.

How much you’re willing to spend may depend on what you can afford, or you may want to consider the following additional factors before committing to a particular price range.

2. Commitment Level to the Sport

In addition to your budget, you should consider your commitment to the sport.  If you’re a beginner and just testing the waters to see if jet skiing is going to be a long-term leisure activity for you, you may not want to invest a ton of time and money into a brand-new jet ski with every available feature.  The same is true if the jet ski is only going to be used a couple of times a year on vacation or when relatives come to visit. 

If, on the other hand, you’ve been jet skiing for a while and have developed a strong interest in the sport, or if you plan to use the jet ski regularly to tow someone who will be doing a lot of wakeboarding or wakesurfing, you might be ready to invest in a new jet ski.

3. Who Will Be Using It

Like commitment level, it’s a good idea to consider who is going to be using the jet ski the most before settling on buying new or used. If kids/teens are going to be the primary users, or if the primary drivers are adults who are beginners, you might want to consider starting with a used jet ski.  Most accidental dings and damages happen when riders are younger or less experienced. If the whole family is learning, you may want to get the “learning” parts out of the way before investing more money in a brand-new watercraft.

4. What You’re Using It For

Lastly, you’ll want to consider your primary purpose for the jet ski.  Different jet skis are made for different purposes, so think about how you’re going to use it.  Are you just keeping it around for recreation when people come into town to visit? Is your goal to go as fast as possible? Are you planning on taking it on the ocean? Do you want to be able to fish or tow a tuber/wakeboarder behind you? These are some of the questions you will want to ask before buying new or used. 

Different models are capable of different riding styles, so think about what you want the jet ski to be able to do, and then look at the average cost of those types of jet skis new vs. used.

Once you’ve decided whether you think a new or a used jet ski is a better choice for you, there are additional factors to consider when purchasing either.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Jet Ski

Buying a used jet ski can be a great way to get into jet skiing if you are a beginner buying your first jet ski or if you’re looking for a second jet ski for the kids to use. They are affordable and easy to find from both licensed dealers and personal sellers. However, before buying a used jet ski, there are several things you should be looking for.

2-Stroke vs. 4-Stroke

There are two types of jet ski engines: 2-stroke and 4-stroke. 2-stroke engines are commonly found on older jet skis, but almost all new models come standard with a 4-stroke engine. Because of this, it is highly recommended that if you choose to buy a used jet ski, you buy one with a 4-stroke engine. 

Although you may be able to get a better deal on an older, 2-stroke engine jet ski, you are almost certainly going to run into problems when you need to take it in for maintenance.  Many repair shops won’t carry the parts needed to repair a 2-stroke engine and you may not even be able to order the necessary parts because the model is so old. 

Save yourself the headache later on and go with a 4-stroke engine, trust me.

Engine Hours

The engine hours on a jet ski are kind of like miles on a car.  Many people look at this number to gauge how much “life” there is left in the jet ski.  You may hear people tell you not to buy a jet ski with over 300 engine hours, which is considered a high number. 

This is a tricky one, and not a hard and fast rule.  You definitely should at least look at the number of engine hours. This information can be found on the jet ski’s dash.  In a general sense, finding a jet ski that doesn’t have so many engine hours that it’s on its last leg is a good idea because it could save you major repair costs down the road.  No one wants to buy a jet ski only to have to replace the engine six months later.  That being said, high engine hours shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker for you either.

The reason you may not want to discount a jet ski with a high number of engine hours is that although engine hours can tell you how much use a jet ski has had, it can’t tell you how well cared-for the jet ski was or how much work has been put into it over time. 

People who use their jet skis frequently tend to also do a better job keeping up with regular maintenance.  So, in that sense, if you’re looking at two 8-year old jet skis and one has 275 hours on it and another only has 50, the one with more hours may actually be in better shape if it’s had more regular maintenance done.

Any vehicle that sits for a great amount of time will develop problems verses one that is regularly used.

For that reason, it’s best not to rely on engine hours alone as a measure of a jet ski’s condition.  Looking instead at how well the jet ski actually runs as well as records of damages and maintenance are better measures of the jet ski’s true condition.

Engine Power

Besides engine hours, you will want to look at how much power the engine has while in operation.  Ask to take the jet ski for a test drive to see how it handles on the water.  You should be able to feel the power pulling you back when you hit full throttle. 

Besides the power, test driving on the water allows you to see how the jet ski handles in general and whether or not you like the feel of that particular model.

Damages

Checking for damages is another critically important thing to look at when buying a used jet ski.  You should never buy a jet ski that hasn’t been cared for properly, and evidence of damages will tell you a lot about how the jet ski was maintained by the previous owner.

Check the seats for tearing and the engine compartment for signs of rust or water staining from failing to drain properly.  These two types of damage will tell you whether or not the jet ski was properly stored when not in use. Tears in the seats suggest that the owner didn’t cover the jet ski between uses.  Rust can be caused by several maintenance issues, such as not flushing saltwater out of the system, not performing seasonal maintenance, or not winterizing the vehicle in the off-season.  If you see rust, you are likely to have electrical problems in the future. 

You also want to check the hull for damage.  On most well-used jet skis, there’s bound to be some scratches in the fiberglass of the jet ski in various places, but you do not want the hull to be one of those places.  If the hull has any missing chunks or large tears, it’s not a good buy. Repairing a hull is not the hardest thing to do as depicted in our how to guide, but you may want to get out on your new jet ski as soon as possible and not take the time to repair it first.

Lastly, you want to check to see if the jet ski has ever been sunk.  The easiest way to assess this is to check the weight of the seats. Once a jet ski has been sunk, the seats permanently maintain extra weight from the water damage. Heavy seats are a sure sign that the vehicle has been sunk. Depending on the conditions of the accident and how the owner responded, it may still be okay to buy, but you will definitely want to ask what happened, how bad the damage was, and what was done to repair the jet ski. For more info about water damage and how owners should address a sunk jet ski, see our guide on why jet skis sink.

Maintenance Record

Next, ask for any maintenance records the owner has on the jet ski.  It’s important to know what kind of work has been done to the jet ski and by whom.  If the owner can furnish detailed maintenance records from a dealer or repair shop and/or receipts from parts they ordered to do repairs themselves, you can be pretty confident that the jet ski was well maintained.

On the other hand, if the owner doesn’t have a record of maintenance, you should be very suspicious.  Jet skis are expensive and although they don’t require a ton of maintenance, if they aren’t regularly maintained, they will deteriorate in quality quickly.  If the previous owner didn’t keep a good record of maintenance, they may not have done very much maintenance, which could mean you are in for a long list of repairs soon.

Warranty

Along with maintenance records, it’s a good idea to ask if any added or replacement parts are still under warranty.  If the previous owner claims to have just put in a new battery and new spark plugs, you should expect those parts to work for a long time. 

Ask if you can have a copy of any receipts and warranties for any new parts. That way if you have any problems, you won’t be out the money for the new parts.

I once sold a jet ski to a close friend, they rode it for the season and the next year had problems starting the watercraft. Come to find out, the starter got water in it and rusted. They purchased a new starter and off they went. The thing they did not think to do was to check the old starter warranty. I had just purchased a new starter prior to selling it and the starter had a warranty that would have replaced the part for FREE. It never hurts to check or ask.

Make and Model

There are dozens of jet ski brands and models and they change frequently. You should carefully consider the make and model of the jet ski you are interested in purchasing before you commit.

The most important consideration is whether or not that make and model are still in production. If not, you could run into issues when you need to order parts. It’s best to purchase a jet ski that is still in production.

Furthermore, some jet skis have a reputation for holding up better than others.  Yamaha WaveRunners, for example, have a reputation for reliability, and their engines are known for being some of the easiest to work on if repairs are necessary.  They might be worth considering if you are buying an older jet ski and think that you might need to do any repairs down the road.

Seller Reliability

In addition to the reliability of the jet ski you are looking at, it’s important not to discount the reliability of the seller.  When buying a used jet ski, you will likely be buying from either a local dealer or an individual seller. Both options have pros and cons as well as some things to watch out for.

If you buy a used jet ski from a dealer, you will probably pay a bit more than if you buy from an individual. However, for that added price, you are getting some added security. Dealers usually won’t take jet skis that are in poor condition or that have missing maintenance records. You can be pretty confident that you’re not getting a lemon if you buy used from a shop. 

You also have the benefit of going back to the shop if you have any problems with the jet ski. Because they are a business bound by ethical business laws and because they are likely to be concerned about the reputation the business has, they are going to be very likely to help you fix whatever might be wrong and to work with you if there’s an issue.  When buying from a person, you have to rely on the integrity of the individual, which can be hit or miss.

It’s also very common for individuals to sell their jet skis in open marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, or even specialized sites like pwctrader.com.  You have to be more careful about buying a used jet ski from these sites, but you are also likely to be able to get a better deal and even to negotiate the price.

When buying from an individual, listen to your gut and don’t rush the buying experience.  Meet up with the seller (in a safe, preferably public place), look at the jet ski in person, and go through the checks we discussed above. Always check for compression and try and get a test ride before buying. A ride of the jet ski will tell you a lot about the craft.

If the owner is hesitant to let you ride it, RUN AWAY!

Engage them in a normal conversation and ask them some basic questions like why they’re selling the jet ski and if it’s ever been in any accidents. If at any point during this exchange, you feel like the seller isn’t being upfront with you or if you get a shady vibe from them, walk away. 

Some classified websites or forums allow users to rate their experience with a particular seller. If possible, look for ratings on the person you’re buying from to see if they have a good reputation for selling reliable products.

Price Check

Many people buying a used jet ski wonder what’s a fair price to pay.  That can be a difficult question to answer because the price even for new jet skis varies so widely.  Any replacement parts or customizations the previous owner may have purchased can also affect the price. You should be extra careful about price checking when purchasing from an individual. 

A good place to start is to look at the price of the make and model on Kelly Blue Book.  This will give you a good starting range to see what the vehicle should be worth.  Then consider the cost of any recent upgrades like new parts or accessories.

If the price seems higher than you think it should be, propose a counter-offer before you go to look at the vehicle.  There’s no reason to feel pressured to buy something out of your price range or that you think has been overvalued, but you should always be upfront and honest with the seller about what you intend to pay.

You should also be wary of prices that seem too low.  A good rule of thumb is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  If the price is way higher or way lower than what you would expect, it’s best to walk away.

Extra Accessories

One of the benefits of buying a used jet ski from an individual seller is that sometimes, you can get a good deal on some extra accessories.  Depending on the reason why the person is selling the jet ski, they may not need some of the additional accessories they have purchased for it.

Consider asking if they’d be willing to sweeten the deal by throwing in something extra like a tow rope and tube or if they’d knock a few bucks off if you bundled with some of their extra accessories. Check out our list of 50+ Accessories You Must Have to see what else you might need and if the person you’re buying from would be willing to part with any of them.

What to Look for When Buying a New Jet Ski

There are many reasons you might prefer to buy a new jet ski as opposed to an old one. Perhaps you are past your beginner days and are ready to level up to a more professional rig, or you want to splurge on a big gift for a family member on a special occasion, or you might even just feel more comfortable buying new rather than used.   Whatever the reason, there are several things to consider when buying a new jet ski.

Budget

The first and most important thing to consider if you decide to buy a new jet ski is your budget.  You may have been told that new jet skis are all very expensive and you may have thought that a new jet ski was out of reach for your price range, but that’s not necessarily the case.  The 2020 Sea-Doo Spark, for example, is only around $5,500.

That being said, prices for jet skis can easily range from as low as the $5,000s to upwards of $20,000. That’s why it’s so important to have a number in mind before you actually go shopping.

When thinking about your overall budget, don’t forget to factor in hidden costs, such as the cost of insurance, storage, fuel, maintenance, a trailer, and other accessories.  It’s a good idea to set a budget with how much you are willing to pay for all up-front costs and how much you are willing to pay annually and work backward from there.

Desired Features

When buying a new jet ski, it is also important to think about what kinds of features you want. If you don’t know what you’re looking for before you walk into a dealer, you risk feeling overwhelmed by the choices and leaving empty-handed or pressured into buying something you don’t need.

As a baseline, check out, Jet Skis vs. WaveRunner vs. Sea-Doo: What’s the Difference, which compares the top three jet ski brands, along with the features of their different classes. In addition to how the jet ski will handle in different types of water, how many people it can sit, and how much power the engine has, you’ll want to consider how important added features like mirrors, tow ropes, step ladders, and speakers are to you. 

For more information on what you’ll need if you are interested in tow sports, see here.

Best Time of Year to Buy

One last consideration before buying a new jet ski is thinking about the best time to buy.  If you’re looking for the best price on a new jet ski, August or September is usually the best time to purchase, because that is when most major companies release their new models.  As these new models are released, dealers often need to clear old inventory and will have year-old models on sale for great prices.

Besides these two months of the year, keep an eye out for sales from your local retailer.  You can even drop in and ask if and when they have their major sales. Most dealers will have at least one major sale each year, possibly around Memorial Day or Black Friday.

Other Alternative: Renting a Jet Ski

A third option besides buying a used or new jet ski is renting one. If you don’t live by the water and won’t be using the jet ski very often, or if you are only considering getting one for when the grandkids come to visit, you may want to look at renting instead.  Alternatively, if you know you want to eventually buy a jet ski but aren’t sure what kinds of features you’re looking for or what brand you might want, try renting first so you can try out a few different models.

Renting a jet ski costs between $60-180 an hour, which sounds like a lot, but in comparison to the investment of buying and maintaining a jet ski, it’s not so bad. For more information on everything you need to know about renting a jet ski, see here.

Conclusion

Buying a jet ski is an exciting investment, but it can also be a little overwhelming. There are several factors to consider, first when deciding whether to buy new or used and then when you start trying to decide which make and model will be the best fit for you. 

By doing some research and setting ground rules for yourself ahead of time, such as setting a budget, knowing what kinds of features you want, and knowing what to look for in both new and used jet skis, you will be better prepared to make the best decision to meet your needs.

Eric

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

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