7 Must Know Tips Before Buying Used Jet Skis

Used jet ski for sale by owner. Don’t get ripped off buying a used PWC. Make sure nothing is going to shock you when you get your new purchase home.

jet ski on trailer on the beach

Buying used jet skis is a common alternative to paying full retail for a brand new model. Typically used jet skis cost significantly less, while still providing just as much value.

There are a lot of negatives associated with buying used jet skis, but they’re not always true. Against popular beliefs, a used jet ski can be very reliable, easy to maintain and still have most of the bells and whistles as new models.

Every day more and more used jet skis for sale pop up on the market, but not all of them are worth the time and effort. Buying used jet skis can be a great entry point into the world of personal watercraft, but it’s important to make a solid buying decision. Used jet ski for sale by owner

Tips for Buying Used Jet Skis | Used jet ski for sale by owner

A lot goes into finding a good deal when buying a used PWC. Experienced owners know exactly what to look for, so it’s fairly easy for them to separate the good from the bad.

However, new buyers may have trouble sorting great deals from terrible deals, and there’s plenty of possible mistakes they can make when buying.

These are a few things everyone should know before buying used jet skis.

1. Do a water test

used jet skis

Arguably one of the biggest mistakes a person can make when buying used jet skis (or even new ones) is not water testing it. Sure a jet ski may run when it’s sitting on a trailer, but what is it like in the water?

Aside from proving that the jet ski actually runs as it should, water testing gives buyers a chance to feel things out. The overall performance and comfort of a PWC varies greatly, so test runs are essential.

Would you buy a car without giving it a test drive first? A dealer may say it runs fine but don’t make a deal without a full and successful water test.

Don’t look at a water test as a fun excuse to ride someone else’s jet ski for a while. There are a couple of key things to look out for when riding.

Always be sure that there aren’t any warning lights on, and that all gauges function properly. As for the performance, make sure that the jet ski can maintain healthy RPMs at full throttle. Usually, this is somewhere north of 7000, but it depends on the model.

Make mental notes of how well it performed, as well as any hiccups that were experienced. After testing it, these are things the current owner should be asked about. Depending on the model of jet ski, you might also want to test run it out of water to make sure the engine runs well. Used jet ski for sale by owner

2. Know what’s considered high hours on a jet ski

used jet skis engines

One of the biggest measurements of how much a personal watercraft has been used are the amount of hours on it.

Typically a jet ski should have an average of 30 hours per year. Anything above 30 hours a year is considered “high hours”, and anything below is considered “low hours”.

Although the amount of hours is definitely a number that should be looked at, the key thing to know is that not all hours are the same. A poorly maintained jet ski can run into problems at as little as 100 hours, while a properly maintained jet ski can last well over 300.

Just like the mileage on a car, the ‘hours’ indicated the amount of use. But, if it has been serviced yearly and properly winterized for the off-season then there’s no reason a PWC with high hours won’t still run really well. It just depends on how much love its past owners have shown it.

There are a few things to look out for when it comes to analyzing how many hours is a lot on a used jet ski:

Maintenance Receipts 

One of the absolute best ways to tell if used jet skis have been properly maintained is if the owner still has maintenance receipts. If they still have the receipts for oil filters, spark plugs, and any parts they’ve replaced, chances are they’ve been a great owner.

Of course, there can still be great owners who don’t do this, but it’s a great sign if they do.

Who did the maintenance?

Something that many people never pay attention to is who did the work on the watercraft? Was all maintenance performed at a dealer? Did the owner do it? These are questions that need to be asked.

There’s nothing wrong with owners performing basic repairs or tune-ups themselves. On the other hand, if they’ve done any major fixes, then that may be a red flag.

It’s alright for someone to change a few spark plugs, but if they’ve done major repairs then it may be necessary to check their credentials. Used jet ski for sale by owner

Which parts have been replaced?

It’s okay if some parts have been replaced, but certain parts going bad should be cause for concern. For example, if the jet ski needed a new hull because someone ran it aground, that’s a good indicator that they really didn’t take care of it.

What type of jet ski is it?

The overall type of jet ski has a lot to do with what’s considered high hours. Generally speaking, 2 stroke engines and supercharged engines have a shorter lifespan than other options.

Make and model

Many of the used jet skis for sale on the market are from manufacturers that are no longer in production. Companies like Honda, Tigershark, Polaris, and Wetbike have models still floating around, despite being out of production for over 10 years.

These models come with their own sets of pros and cons. They can definitely be great entry points into the jet ski world but proceed with caution. Some of these models are more prone to break downs than others, and their parts may be more scarce.

Overall there is no golden rule to decide how many hours is too many hours, those are just some things to consider. That being said, new buyers may want to stick to watercraft with lower hours if possible.

People who are handy with a wrench have no problem doing work on their watercraft, but new buyers most likely don’t want that hassle starting out.

How to check the jet ski hours

On the dash, if there’s a speedometer then there’s a gauge for hours too. Modern models should all have this. Sometimes it may not be obvious and you might have to pass through a couple of menus but the information should be there.

If you can’t find the hours on board then you can have a local dealer check or have a look at the service records. If you still can’t find the information then move quickly on!

3. Know how much used jet skis cost

used jet ski prices

Knowing the fair market value of any given model puts the buyer and seller on a level playing field. Otherwise, it’s easy for one or the other to get taken advantage of. Finding out exactly how much used jet skis cost is fairly simple, so there’s no reason not to do a little research.

For the most part, all current jet ski prices are pretty easy to find. Even with used jet skis, the fair values are readily available thanks to sites like Kelly Blue Book. As of now, they even have a dedicated section to jet skis.

Even though there are reliable sources that can give current estimates, always be sure to check local markets. Look through any local catalogs and try to find similar makes and models. As accurate as some of these online estimates are, they aren’t always spot on.

A great tip for serious buyers is to consider taking the jet ski to the dealership. Often times they will give a decent estimate of what any used jet skis are worth. Some dealers even offer to run some tests on the watercraft to ensure it’s functioning properly. Keep in mind that they’re a dealer though, so their opinion could be somewhat biased.

Top Tip – Do your research online using resources like KBB and NADA. They’ll give you a good indication of the kind of figure to expect. Online forums like PWC Today and PWC Forum are also great places to ask questions about this kind of thing.

4. Consider a more budget-friendly jet ski. Used jet ski for sale by owner

New Jet Ski Vs Used Jet Skis

Often times new buyers don’t even consider purchasing a new jet ski, because they assume they’re all out of budget. While this was true in the past, recently some amazing budget-friendly options have come out.

The Sea Doo Spark has a base price of just $5,399, and the Yamaha EX starts at $6,699. These are just two of the more popular budget models, but there are plenty of others.

There are several cheap jet ski models out there that still offer a ton of value. They come with all the newest features, have excellent performance, and can still fit into most people’s budgets.

Although buying used PWC can be a great option, it’s not the only option. Buying a new model is way more affordable than most would assume. Just keep in mind that buying a new jet ski comes with its own set of pros and cons as well.

5. Check for any damages

common used jet skis damages

Every scratch, dent, and ding on a jet ski has a story. Unfortunately, if there’s a lot of them, it might be a pretty bad story.

Make sure that before buying a used jet ski, it’s been thoroughly inspected for any damages. This doesn’t mean just giving it a once over. Something as simple as a dent in the hull can cause a leak that costs hundreds of dollars.

There are quite a few potential damages to look out for, but some more important than others.

Hull Damage

One of the easiest damages to spot on used jet skis is any damage done to the hull. A good rule of thumb is to avoid buying a used PWC with any marks larger than a quarter.

Considering it’s used, a few dings or scratches isn’t too much cause for concern. What’s important is that they’re predominantly on the sides, and not on the bottom. The reason behind this is most damage on the sides comes from docking. No one is perfect, so a couple of minor marks on the side is okay. They likely just bumped into the dock a little, and it wasn’t caused by any serious negligence. Marks on the bottom are another story. Any fiberglass damage here should be a warning sign and I’d be asking for an explanation. Used jet ski for sale by owner

Seat Damage

It may not seem like it, but something as simple as a jet ski’s seat can be a great indicator of how it was treated. Seats that are extremely dry rotted or cracking severely show that the watercraft wasn’t stored with a cover.

Considering how affordable most covers are, damaged seats imply the owner was negligent when storing the watercraft. Of course, a little wear and tear is natural if it’s old, but it should be limited.

Another thing to note is how heavy the seat is. If it’s rather hard to lift, then there’s a good chance there’s water in it. A jet ski seat with water in it is a sign that it’s been sunk at some point in its life. This might not seem like a big deal, but it can cause all sorts of engine problems down the road.

Rust & Corrosion

If there are any signs of rust or corrosion around the engine or pump on used jet skis, it may be better to pass on it. Although it may not do any harm in the short term, it can lead to problems later on.

A good predictor to rust and corrosion is any serious paint chipping around the engine. It is usually pretty easy to spot, even for new riders.

6. Never be too eager to buy. Used jet ski for sale by owner

yamaha vx deluxe

A huge mistake that is commonly made is people get too eager to buy a jet ski. During the summer months when it’s hot out and everyone else is out zipping around on the lake, it’s easy to just go buy the first deal that pops up. Although it’s tempting to buy as soon as possible, staying patient is essential.

The reason why it’s crucial not to be adamant about buying right away, is because it can lead to bad decisions. Purchasing used jet skis requires buyers to do their homework, and failing to do so can lead to a poor experience. There are hundreds of new watercraft entering the market every day. Don’t get caught up in the first option that becomes available.

Taking the time to thoroughly inspect each deal is the best way to ensure a great buying experience.

7. Factor in hidden costs

used jet skis hidden costs

Before anyone buys used jet skis, they should have a set price in mind that they’re willing to pay that fits into their budget. Not having a set price is perhaps the easiest way to end up spending too much.

The important thing to remember is that all watercraft, and especially used jet skis, come with hidden costs. Always be sure to leave some room in the budget for these hidden costs.

Some of the more predominant hidden jet ski costs are:

Jet Ski Insurance

Factoring in how much jet ski insurance costs can be tricky. Usually, it varies according to the make, model, engine type, and the history of the rider. Most people can expect to pay $100-$500 a year for jet ski insurance. If they’re purchasing used jet skis, they’ll likely fall on the low end of that spectrum.

Jet Ski Trailer

Often times new buyers fail to incorporate the cost of a jet ski trailer into their budget. Considering they can run anywhere from a few hundred up to a few thousand dollars, this can come as a huge surprise to some people. Typically a decent jet ski trailer only costs a couple of hundred dollars, but there are plenty of higher-end options as well.


When it comes to used jet skis, maintenance is a major cost that should be factored into every budget. The number fluctuates greatly, so there isn’t exactly a ballpark estimate to give here. At the bare minimum owners should consider things like oil changes and winterization costs.

Jet Ski Accessories

The smallest of the hidden costs associated with used jet skis are accessories. There are tons of great jet ski accessories out there, but most people can get by with the bare minimum. That being said, it’s worth it to consider picking a few of the essentials up. Items like anchors, jet ski covers, and life jackets are all very useful to have.

Anything we’ve missed? We’d love to hear about any of your “go-to” tips for getting a great used jet ski deal. Let us know down in the comments section!

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