A Complete Guide to Buying a Personal Watercraft

A Buyers Guide to Personal Watercrafts (PWC) from Southeast Financial

A personal watercraft, or PWC, is a fun and efficient way to get thrills on the water. They’re small, jet pump-powered boats that can come in different shapes and sizes, including stand-up sit-down.

Also known by some of the names of the most popular commercial models like Jet Ski, PWCs are some of the most popular types of boats for recreation and water sports.

If you’re new to personal watercraft, it’s important to understand the different types of PWCs available and their uses to help you make an informed buying decision and to consider the pros and cons of buying a new or used PWC.

We’ll touch on the different types and their features, how to pick the right brand and models, and even discuss some financing options and other costs to consider.

At Southeast Financial, we understand the joys of owning a PWC and want to help you make the best choice for your needs. So, let’s dive in and explore what you need to know about buying a PWC.

What is a Personal Watercraft (PWC)?

If you’re new to the boating world, you may be wondering what a personal watercraft or PWC is. Personal watercraft (PWC) are types of boats designed for individual use and can be ridden sitting, standing, or even kneeling in some models. PWCs are commonly referred to as Jet Skis, WaveRunners, or Sea-Doo, which are all well-known brands of PWCs from major global companies.

PWCs have gasoline-powered engines, usually two-stroke engines, and are propelled by a jet of water. They’re known for being fast, agile, and able to perform sharp turns on the water, making them great for a variety of water-based activities, including exploring small coves and inlets, towing water toys, fishing, and performing stunts.

One of the biggest advantages of a PWC is that it can be used in shallow water areas where larger boats wouldn’t fit. They’re also generally small enough to be stored on a personal dock, making them a convenient option for those who want to easily access the water.

Notwithstanding a few unique models, it’s important to note that PWCs are not designed for a long trek on offshore waters and should not be used in rough or choppy conditions. Most personal watercraft only allow for a single rider, making them more suited for individual use than for larger groups or families, although there are types of PWCs made for two or more people.

Now that you understand what a PWC is and what it can be used for let’s explore the different types and features of PWCs available on the market.

Types of Personal Watercraft

When buying a personal watercraft (PWC), you first need to know that there are two main types: sit-down models and stand-up models.

Sit-Down PWCs

Sit-down PWCs come with a range of benefits, including increased stability, versatility, and exceptional comfort. With a seat and handlebars, riders can easily control the craft and enjoy a more leisurely ride on open waters. These models can be perfect for those wanting to spend a day with family and friends or simply take a solo ride on a lake or river.

One of the key advantages of choosing a sit-down Jet Skis, WaveRunners, or Sea-Doos is is the variety of seating options available. Some models feature single-rider setups, while others come with multiple seats, making them ideal for families or groups of friends. Many sit-down models offer extra features like storage compartments, making packing for a day on the water a breeze.

Stand-up PWC

Stand-up PWCs are designed for those who want a high-performance riding experience and are best suited for experienced riders who want a challenge. Unlike sit-down PWCs, these models have no seat and require the rider to stand on a platform. This allows the rider to use their entire body to control the craft, making for an exhilarating experience.

There are a few key benefits to opting for a stand-up PWC. Because they don’t have a seat, there are fewer key components to maintain, keeping repair costs down over time.

That being said, stand-up Jet Skis, WaveRunners, or Sea-Doos come with their own drawbacks. For starters, they require high skill and balance to operate effectively. This makes them more challenging for beginners to ride, potentially increasing the risk of injuries or accidents. And although they have fewer parts that need maintenance, they are designed for high-performance riding, raising the cost to maintain and operate relative to other types of jet skis.

Key Features of Jet Skis, WaveRunners, and Sea-Doos

When it comes to purchasing a personal watercraft (PWC), it’s important to know what features to look for. PWCs come with a range of features and specifications, all of which can impact your experience on the water.

Seating Capacity

First, consider the number of passengers you’d like to accommodate. PWCs come in single-rider, two-seater, and even four-seater models. Single-rider models are common and are an excellent choice for solo riders or those who want to feel the thrill of being alone on the water. Two-seaters are ideal for couples or friends who want to enjoy the ride together, while four-seaters are excellent for family outings.

Remember that each passenger adds weight, so it’s essential to choose the seating and fuel capacity that fits the weight limit of your PWC. Exceeding the weight limit can negatively impact your Jet Ski’s or WaveRunner’s performance and safety.

While a larger PWC may seem appealing for its seating capacity, keep in mind that it also means a wider and heavier craft, which may be difficult to maneuver in choppy rough water conditions. A smaller PWC may be easier to handle but may not offer enough space to accommodate your needs.

Another type of PWC is the jet boat, which is a larger, more powerful watercraft that can accommodate multiple passengers. Jet boats are great for cruising, water-skiing, and wakeboarding but require more fuel and maintenance than sit-down or stand-up PWCs.

Hull Design

When it comes to personal watercraft, the hull design is one of the critical components to pay attention to. The hull of a personal watercraft is the bottom half of the craft that determines its stability, handling, speed, and maneuverability in the water.

There are two main types of hull designs: flat and V-shaped. Flat hulls are common among stand-up PWCs and are ideal for tricks and jumps due to their shorter length and ability to pivot quickly.

However, they are not as stable as V-shaped hull models and do not handle choppy water conditions as well.

On the other hand, V-shaped hulls are ideal for sit-down PWCs and offer better stability and handling in choppy water conditions. They have a longer length, which allows them to glide over the waves and make turns smoothly. But they are not as nimble as flat hull models and may struggle to perform certain tricks.

It’s essential to consider hull design when choosing a modern personal watercraft because it can impact the performance and safety of the craft. A craft with a poorly designed hull may not glide smoothly over the water and may be more prone to capsizing.

Engines and Speed

The size and type of the motor can impact the speed and performance of the PWC. Most PWCs have inboard engines and are gasoline-powered vessels using either four-stroke or two-stroke engines. A two-stroke engine is generally lighter and more powerful, making it ideal for racing and high-speed riding. However, they are more common in older PWCs, require more frequent maintenance than other marine engines, are less fuel-efficient, and have a shorter lifespan than four-stroke engines. On the other hand, four-stroke engines are more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly but may not have the same level of power as two-stroke engines.

The acceleration and horsepower of a PWC are crucial factors in its performance, with higher horsepower engines typically offering faster acceleration and greater top speeds, enhancing the thrill of the ride.

When it comes to speed, the type of PWC and engine size can impact the maximum speed achievable. For example, stand-up PWCs tend to be faster than sit-down models due to their lighter weight and smaller size. Additionally, models with larger engines will generally have a higher top speed than those with smaller engines.

When deciding on your PWC’s motor and speed capabilities, it’s important to consider your intended use for the craft, either for sport, fun, or transportation. If you plan on using it for racing or high-speed riding, a PWC with a powerful two-stroke engine may be the best option. However, a four-stroke engine may be more suitable if you plan on using it for leisurely rides or watersports.

Loans And Financing That Fit Your Budget


Material plays a significant role in the construction of personal watercraft. They impact not only the overall durability and longevity of the craft but also its performance on the water.

Generally, two main types of materials are used for PWC construction: fiberglass and plastic. PWCs made from fiberglass are typically more expensive but offer better durability and performance capabilities. Fiberglass PWCs are well-suited for use in larger and more open bodies of water, where they can easily handle rough conditions. Their strength and stability make them reliable for long-term use.

On the other hand, plastic PWCs are less expensive and are typically used for recreational activities, such as watersports or riding along calm lakes or rivers. They are more lightweight and have better agility in the water, making them easy to maneuver. Plastic PWCs are also best suited for shallow waters, where they can smoothly glide over any obstructions.

Ultimately, the choice of material will depend on your intended use for the PWC. A fiberglass PWC may be a better option if you are using it for more intense activities, such as racing or exploring offshore waters. However, a plastic PWC may suit you better for more leisurely activities or if you are looking for a more affordable option.

Storage Space

Consider the size of the items you need to store and the space available. Look for compartments with seals to keep life jackets, a safety kit, and your items dry and secure. It’s essential to make sure that the storage space is easily accessible and can be locked securely. Look for additional features such as tie-downs, extra straps, and handles to make moving items in and out of the storage space easier.

Determine Your Uses for a PWCs

When it comes to buying a personal watercraft (PWC), it’s important to determine your uses for it. Are you looking for a vessel for leisurely activities such as cruising around a calm lake or towing a tube? Or are you more interested in the thrill of racing or exploring offshore waters? Keep all of these things in mind when picking the right one.

Salt water or Fresh water?

When it comes to choosing where to ride your personal watercraft, you may be wondering whether fresh water or salt water is the better option. Each has its benefits and considerations, and determining the right location for you will depend on your preferences and intended uses.

Fresh water is typically the preferred choice for beginners, as it offers a calmer and more predictable environment for riding, although expert riders can have fun anywhere. Smaller bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds, are great for leisurely cruises and towing activities like tow sports. They also tend to have lower operating costs, as they don’t require as much regular maintenance due to the lower corrosion risk compared to saltwater.

On the other hand, salt water offers a more challenging and exciting riding experience for those who are up for it. With larger bodies of water such as the ocean, waves, and currents can make for a more thrilling ride. However, saltwater can also be more corrosive to personal watercraft and other types of boats and require more maintenance to prevent damage. To avoid costly repairs, it’s essential to thoroughly rinse and clean your personal watercraft after each saltwater use.

Recreational or Competitive?

When it comes to personal watercraft, there are two main categories that buyers can consider: recreational and competitive. Recreational or leisure personal watercraft is designed for leisurely activities such as cruising, towing, and exploring various bodies of water. On the other hand, competitive personal watercraft are built for high-performance use in sports such as races or competitions.

Recreational personal watercraft tends to be more affordable and suitable for casual riders looking for a fun time on the water. These PWCs often have comfortable seating options, spacious storage compartments, larger gas tanks for longer rides, and are easy to maneuver. They are great for families or groups looking to spend time together on the water.

If your objective is cruising around the lake and soaking up the sun, then a single-rider or two-seater PWC would suffice. But, if you plan to tow wakeboarders or water skiers, a four-seater model with a powerful engine would be the right pick.

On the other hand, competitive or sports personal watercraft are specifically designed for racing and high-performance use. They are typically faster and more agile than recreational PWCs and can handle more challenging water conditions. These high-performance Jet Skis, Sea-Doos, or WaveRunners often have more advanced features, such as specialized hulls, powerful, supercharged engines, and advanced instrument panels.

Maintenance and Service

An often overlooked crucial question buyers should ask themselves is if they’re willing to keep up with the required maintenance and services of a PWC, like regularly cleaning the engine bay, inspecting it, storage, and battery care.

The key factors in maintenance and service to consider are:

Regular Inspections

Conduct routine inspections of your PWC to identify any issues or potential problems. Check for any signs of wear and tear, loose or damaged parts, and ensure all systems are functioning properly.

Cleaning and Storage

Clean your PWC after each use to remove saltwater, dirt, and debris that can damage the exterior and interior components. Properly store your PWC in a secure and covered area to protect it from the elements, along with its accessories, from life vests to even your wetsuit and helmet.


If you live in a region with cold winters, it’s important to winterize your PWC to prevent freezing and damage. This typically involves draining the water from the engine, treating the fuel system, and storing the PWC in a climate-controlled area.

Engine Maintenance

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for engine maintenance, including regular oil changes, filter replacements, and spark plug inspections. Keep track of maintenance records and adhere to the suggested maintenance intervals.

Battery Care

Maintain the PWC’s battery by keeping it charged during periods of inactivity. Clean the battery terminals and ensure a secure connection. Consider using a battery tender or trickle charger to maintain optimal battery health.

Common Jet Ski Brands

When it comes to personal watercraft, there are several popular brands for buyers to choose from. Here are some of the top major brands in the market today:

Kawasaki Jet Ski

Kawasaki is probably the most well-known brand in personal watercraft, with their Jet Skis being synonymous with PWCs in many parts of the world. Known for being the first to bring stand-up personal watercraft to the market in 1973, Kawasaki’s jet skis have been at the forefront of the industry ever since. Jet Skis includes a wide variety of models, ranging from the entry-level STX-15F to the high-end Kawasaki Ultra 310. Models can feature powerful 4-stroke engines and the latest in hull design technology for superior performance and handling. Kawasaki’s Jet Ski lineup also offers a variety of options to suit every budget and riding style, including color options, accessories, built-in GPS systems, and additional features such as cruise control, music systems, and even some luxury Jet Skis.

Yamaha WaveRunner

Yamaha is one of the most respected brands in the personal watercraft industry. Their WaveRunners are known for their reliability, performance, innovative features, and signature spout of water that shoots from the back of the craft. Yamaha offers an extensive range of models to suit every type of rider, from entry-level machines to powerful race-ready craft. WaveRunners feature innovative technology such as Yamaha’s signature RiDE system, which allows riders to control the craft’s speed and direction with a single lever. The WaveRunner also offers a range of accessories and additional features, such as storage compartments and custom colors.

Bombardier's Sea-Doo

Sea-Doo is another popular brand that has been producing personal watercraft for over 50 years. It is renowned for its excellent performance and reliability, making it a popular choice for both recreational and professional water sports. Sea-Doo models can feature an ergonomic design, a powerful engine, and a wide range of innovative and exclusive features, including a digital gauge, a retractable ski pylon, and the iBR (Intelligent Brake & Reverse) system. It also offers a variety of models to suit different needs, including the Wake Pro, the GTI, and the RXT X.

How to Compare PWC Models

When choosing a model or brand, it’s important to consider factors such as your personal preferences, budget, fuel efficiency, and others. Here are some tips to keep in mind when comparing PWC to either a new or pre-owned model:

  • First, compare prices for different models to ensure you are getting the best value for your money.
  • Compare their features to determine which one best fits your needs. Consider the different models’ size, power, fuel efficiency, and storage capacity.
  • Read reviews from other customers to better understand the pros and cons of the different models.
  • Talk to local dealers and ask for their advice on the best model for your needs.
  • If buying a pre-owned model, always ask for maintenance records; on any type of boat or vehicle.
  • Ask family and friends who own personal watercraft for their opinions and advice.
  • If you can, test drive the different models to get a feel for how they handle and to determine which one you like best.
  • Ask and research any additional costs involved in each model.
  • Look for discounts or special offers when purchasing a personal watercraft, although don’t automatically go for the cheapest jet ski models.

New vs. Used: What to Look for When Buying a Jet Ski or Other PWC

The decision of whether to buy a new or pre-owned PWC is another important factor to consider. Buying new from a boat dealership may offer better peace of mind and the chance to customize your PWC with all the latest features and accessories. However, buying used can save you money in the long run and still offer reliable use with proper basic maintenance.

Buying a New PWC

Buying a new personal watercraft can be a great choice if you want the latest features, technology, and performance and the ability to customize it to your exact specifications. It can also help you save money on insurance, registration, and dealer fees, and it will be more reliable and durable than a used one. However, it is often more expensive than a used one, with the average price of any new Jet Ski or others around $10,000 to $18,000, while luxury models can come in higher than that.

Plus, they may require more maintenance, fuel, and oil. It may also require additional training or certification in order to operate safely, as well as additional safety equipment in order to be operated legally.

Buying a Used PWC

Buying used personal watercraft can be a great way to save money on recreational vehicles. Used personal watercraft are typically much less expensive than new ones, and many are well-maintained and in good condition.

However, one should be aware of the potential risks of purchasing a pre-owned PWC. Without a full inspection, you may not know the true condition of the watercraft, and you could end up with a boat that needs costly repairs. Check if it has all of its drain plugs, the status of the oil filter, the right security key and lanyard, the condition of the seats, engine, everything. Used personal watercraft may not have the same safety features, and they will not be as efficient in fuel consumption as newer models and may be more prone to malfunctioning or breaking down.

Boat buyers looking for a PWC would be smart to buy in the off-season, meaning fall to early spring. The previous owners will likely want to sell after using them in the summer months, while boat dealers will want to offload last year’s inventory.

Additional PWC Purchasing Considerations

Like any other vehicle, the cost of boat ownership isn’t just the price tag at the boat dealership. There are many additional costs and considerations you should take into account, including insurance, dealer fees, repairs, and even regulations.

Budget for Boat Maintenance

The cost of maintenance on a personal watercraft can vary greatly depending on the type and age of the craft, the type of maintenance needed, and the location you are getting the work done. Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $1,000 for basic maintenance, such as oil changes and spark plug replacements. More extensive repairs, such as engine rebuilds, can cost upwards of several thousand dollars.

Boat insurance costs and warranty

Generally, boat insurance can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars for both new and used personal watercraft. The annual cost of boat insurance for a personal watercraft will depend on a variety of factors, as insurance companies take into consideration the type of craft, the make and model, the amount of coverage desired, the location of the boat, and the driver’s age and skill level.

Also, don’t forget to check the warranty offered by the manufacturer. A comprehensive manufacturer warranty can provide peace of mind and protect you against potential issues that may arise after purchase.

Local regulations and restrictions

Local regulations and ordinances vary from state to state and can include restrictions on operating a personal watercraft, such as the required age of the operator, speed limits, noise levels, and the safety equipment that must be carried onboard. Personal watercraft are regarded as inbound boats and therefore must adhere to the same Coast Guard standards and regulations that other power boats do. Failure to comply with local regulations and ordinances can result in fines and other penalties. It is also important to be aware of the environmental impact of personal watercraft and to ensure that they are operated safely and responsibly, which is why many bodies of water have strict regulations about the types of boats and PWCs that can navigate in them.

Local regulations and ordinances may also require personal watercraft registration or boating license, so it is important to check with the local authorities to ensure that the boat is registered in the proper jurisdiction.

Loans And Financing That Fit Your Budget

Capacity requirements

PWCs come in a variety of seating configurations, including single-rider, two-seater, and even capacity for up to four passengers. Consider the size of your usual party when choosing the seating capacity of your PWC.

Safety Features

When operating a PWC, safety should always be the top priority. Be sure to look for PWCs with safety features such as emergency shut-off, visual distress signals, and fire extinguishers.

Equally important is the use of a personal flotation device (PFD) for every rider. A PFD is an essential safety gear that can save lives by keeping the rider afloat in case of an unexpected fall into the water. Ensure that the personal flotation device is approved by the relevant maritime safety authorities and fits the wearer properly for maximum safety and comfort.

After deciding on the type of boat

Once you’ve narrowed your search and settled on a boat, thoroughly inspecting it is essential. Examine the engine, propeller, bilge (inside the hull), steering system, electrical systems, and fuel tank. All of these components should be properly checked to ensure the boat is up to par.

Financing a PWC

Don’t deny yourself or your family the joys of being out on the open water on a personal watercraft, enjoying the speed and breeze. Whether you’re only taking the family out on a ride or using it to improve your skills in water sports, don’t let an unreasonable rate or ridiculous terms on a boat loan sink your dream of owning that ski boat, you’ve always dreamed about.

Get a Personal Watercraft Loan with SEF

Knowing what features to look for can make all the difference when shopping for a PWC. Southeast Financial offers financing options to help you purchase the personal watercraft of your dreams without worrying about rates or your cash flow each month. Contact us today to see how we can help make your PWC dreams a reality.