Checklist for Buying a Used Jet Ski or Personal Watercraft (Check These 21 Things!)

buying a used jet ski
buying a used Sea-Doo
how to buy a used jet ski

Brand new personal water craft can be very expensive, so buying a used one is a very common thing. If a personal water craft is taken care of, it can last a long time. Here is a list of things you should check for when looking to buy a used PWC.

1. Avoid All 2-Stroke PWCs

There are manufacturers out there that still make 2-Stroke PWCs but that does not mean that you should even consider getting one. 2-Stroke engines pollute much more than a 4-Stroke. This means that they are being bought less and less. Parts of a 2-Stroke PWC are also harder to find which means the parts will be more expensive if you need them. Plus, shops will be more likely to not have them available.

Another thing to consider with a 2-Stroke is that they do not have a dip stick like the 4-Stroke does because it burns the oil. A 4-Stroke is a much better option and is more eco-friendly. The very first jet ski was a 2-Stroke, and the 4-Stroke is definitely an upgrade.

So, when out looking for a used PWC, keep away from 2-Strokes because they are not worth buying.

2. Seat Condition is Good

You will need to make sure the seat does not have any large tears. Sun and water can damage the PWC including the seat. You will also need to check how heavy the seat is to know if it has been sunk. If the seat is really heavy or it is dripping a lot of water then the PWC has been sunk before.

If you cannot lift the seat off of the PWC, then you can push on it and if you hear water come out then it has previously been sunken. People who are selling their PWC may lie about it never being sunk, so you will have to check yourself.

It is not a good idea to purchase a PWC that has been sunken because there will almost definitely be problems in the future, especially if it was sunk in saltwater.

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3. No Major Fiberglass Damage

When looking at a used PWC, you will need to make sure there are no physical holes in the PWC. It is normal for there to be some scrapes and dock rash but not actual holes.

I would stay away from buying a used PWC if it has any holes in it, especially the bottom. Unwanted gashes or holes can cause serious because water can get inside your PWC and ruin the engine. PWCs are meant for the water, but there are electrical parts that are certainly not meant to be wet/submerged. Holes also make it easier for your PWC to sink.

People may have covered up some holes with Fiber Glass Resin Hardener, so ask them if they have and how long ago they did it. You can patch holes in the fiberglass body of a PWC, but it does not guarantee that it will never open up again.

4. No Damage Under the Hull

Similar to the third step, check for any damage under the hull. This is the spot where you need to specifically watch out for holes. It is not as serious of a problem if there is a hole on the side of the PWC, but under the hull is a different story.

One more thing to look for is any exposed fiberglass. You do not want anything sticking out off the bottom of the PWC.

buying a used jet ski
buying a used Sea-Doo
how to buy a used jet ski

5. Jet Ski Pump is Clear

Check that the pump has no sticks, rocks, dirt, etc. in it. If it is not cleaned out, it is obvious that the owner did not clear it out after driving it. You also need to check the wear ring to make sure there is no damage.

If the pump is clear and the impeller is in good shape when you check it out, that is a good sign that the owner did an excellent job clearing out all of the debris every time.

6. Foot Mats are in Good Shape

Although it is not the most important, it is good to check the foot mats to make sure they are not torn. They can come apart easily, but it is not the end of the world because you can always order some new ones.

If the water is not fully cleared out of the footwells after a day on the water, then the water can do damage. The cover should cover the foot mats so there should not be any sun damage to it either.

You should also check the drain plugs to make sure they are functioning correctly. Another tip I strongly recommend is checking the reboarding ladder, because it can tell you a lot about how well the craft was really taken care of.

7. Jet Ski Does Not Have too Many Hours

The engine hours are important, but you should not limit yourself to not getting a jet ski with over 300 hours. Jet skis can last a long time if they are kept in good shape. Once a PWC has around 400 hours or is over 13 years old, it is probably close to dying.

A 2-Stroke PWC is lucky to last 300 hours, but a 4-Stroke that has been taken care of can last around 900 hours. This is just another reason why you should go with a 4-Stroke; it lasts much longer.

On average, PWCs that have under 50 hours are in great shape, those with 50-100 hours are in good shape, and those with 100 – 200 hours are in okay shape.

Again, hours do not mean everything. You need to go through this whole list and decide for yourself whether it is in good enough condition.

So, take into consideration the amount of time it has been out on the water, but do not base your decision on engine hours. Just because a PWC has more than 200 hours on it does not mean it will die soon. You need to take into consideration all of the other factors of the jet ski and how well it has been maintained.

8. Compression is Good

Once you have a good and trustworthy compression gauge, you will want to test the pistons. You want compression for all of the pistons to be close to each other and above 100 PSI. Before you even go check out the PWC, you should look up the exact specs for that particular watercraft so you can know the numbers expected.

In most cases though, if the PSI is below 100 or if the cylinder comparison is more than 10 PSi of a difference run away. For example, if one cylinder is 145 PSI and the other is 105 PSI then the engine is definitely going out. But it is normal for one cylinder to be at 145 PSI and the other at 150 PSi because a small difference is not something to be concerned with.

9. Jet Ski’s Oil Changed Often

As soon as you are checking out the used Yamaha WaveRunner for example, you should ask for the oil change records to make sure the person had the oil changed at least once a year. If they did not change it often enough, that is a big red flag. Having oil in the engine is very important and the engine could be easily damaged if it is not getting the supply of oil it needs.

If there is a dip stick, take it out and check the oil to see if it is fresh. Take a clean white rag and wipe the oil that is on the dipstick onto the rag. If the oil is amber in color, it means the oil has been changed recently. This is great news for you and the seller.

If the color of the oil on the rag is a dark brown color, it’s a bad sign. Also, If the oil is runny, that’s a bad sign as well. This means that there is water in the engine and you should walk away.

It is okay if they changed the oil themselves, as long as they used a kit and knew what they were doing. It is not uncommon for a PWC owner to change their own oil.

10. Info Gauge Works

It is easy to overlook, but it is important to make sure all of the lights on the gauge turn on. Not only is it good to check that the lights turn on, but also that they are displayed correctly. If they are working correctly then the connections are in working condition.

11. Jet Ski has a Clear Title

Before you even begin to look at the PWC, you need to make sure the PWC is not stolen. You will need to make sure it has a clear title and that it has been paid off by the owner before you purchase it.

Ask to see the title and where the current owner got it from. Do this to make sure it is legitimately from them and not stolen. You should also ask the owner if there have been any accidents with the watercraft. This should include while they had it or even before then. Also, ask if anything has needed to be replaced.

12. Good Battery

buying a used jet ski
buying a used Sea-Doo
how to buy a used jet ski

You will need to start up the watercraft and if it does not start up right away then ask how old the battery is and what kind of battery it is too. Since batteries are around $150, you can negotiate that into the final price if the battery is old.

To test a battery, use a load tester and not a voltmeter. You need to be testing the amps, not the voltage, and the load tester will measure the amps correctly.

The jet ski should have a new battery in it anyway, so factor the condition of the battery into the price when making an offer. You should also ask if they use a trickle or a solar-powered charger on the battery when they are not using the jet ski. If they do not, I would consider getting a new battery and doing so with it.

13. New Battery

Since batteries only last around 3 years, you should ask how old the battery is in the watercraft. They may lie, so make sure to check the sticker to know for sure how old it is.

They also might have a cheaper battery that does not last more than a year or two. One way to check if it is a good battery or not is to look for colored caps on the top. Cheap ones have green, yellow, or red caps that can be screwed off while the nicer batteries do not have any caps.

Before buying a PWC such as a Kawasaki Jet Ski, new or used, it is smart to know what batteries are best for jet skis and which ones are not.

Related Reading: How much does a Jet Ski replacement battery cost?

14. Clean Hull

You need to look inside the watercraft to see if the hull is clean and cleared out. It is a big red flag if the hull has oil, water, or something gross at the bottom of it. If there is a liquid that looks like chocolate milk inside, you should walk away; this means that oil is leaking and mixing with water.

Oil should not be leaking, and there should not be any water inside the jet ski at all. The inside on the hull should not be dirty but should be dry and clean.

15. Buttons in Working Condition

Check that the buttons on the handlebars work. If they do not, you should walk away because getting those fixed can be really expensive and without the buttons working you cannot operate a jet ski.

16. Nozzle Moves

Go to the back of the watercraft and have someone else move the handlebars to see if the nozzle moves. If they do not, then walk away because that means the PWC will not be able to turn or function the way it should.

17. Reverse Works

Operate the watercraft and see if the reverse moves and works. You may have to have the engine on to use the reverse. If the reverse function does not work, then that is not the PWC for you. All functions should work and be in good shape if you are going to even consider buying it.

18. Paint on Engine is not Flaking Off

buying a used jet ski
buying a used Sea-Doo
how to buy a used jet ski

If you do see that paint is peeling off of the engine, that means it was used in the ocean. Corrosion is taking over and soon it will make contact with the engine.

Electrical problems will happen once the corrosion starts eating away at the engine. This is not good news because these electrical problems will cause problems and will be hard to stop once they start.

Corrosion can happen with lake water as well as saltwater. I know that any kind of corrosion is a bad sign. Corrosion can happen when the owner does not flush out the water after a day on the water. The water should be sprayed off of the outside and the inside of the watercraft to be completely safe.

19. No Rust on the Jet Ski

If you see any kind of rust at all, walk away. If the engine has any rust it means it was not taken care of. Rust on screws is a bad sign too. Rust most likely means that saltwater was not washed off of the watercraft and is eating away at the metal.

20. Test Run the Jet Ski

After you take a look at everything mentioned above and the PWC is in great shape, it is time to do a lake test. You should never buy a watercraft unless they let you test it out on the water.

You should start out slow and then once you get out far enough from the shore speed up. If it rides well under top speeds that is a good sign. Overall, if the PWC takes off right away and runs smoothly it is a keeper 🙂

21. Jet Ski Includes a Warranty

You will need to find out if the watercraft has a manufacture warranty left because this is something you should always have. It is always worth it to have a warranty and the value of the PWC raises when you have a warranty.

How Much Should You Pay?

Before you make an offer, there are a few websites you should look at to get a good idea of what you should really be paying.

Remember to consider the condition of the PWC as well as the year it was made when knowing what you should be paying. Some models will be more expensive, so pick a used jet ski within your budget.

KBB Watercraft is a great place to start when trying to find out what to pay. Another place to find a reliable retail price book guide is at NADA Watercraft.

Keep in mind that if there are repairs needed on the watercraft to subtract those costs off of the retail price. You will need to do some negotiating with the seller but be confident with your price.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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