Wave Runner vs Jet Ski: What’s the Difference?


Have you ever found yourself wondering why there are so many words for the same thing? In a conversation have you ever referred to a Jet Ski as a Wave Runner or a Wave Runner as a Jet Ski? While they are similar, they are actually two different things. I’ll go through some of the main differences in this article.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, they are actually the names of two different models of personal watercraft. The Jet Ski is made by Kawasaki, and the Wave Runner is made by Yamaha.

Both Kawasaki and Yamaha are trusted brands that produce high-quality machines so if you just want to get on the water and go fast you really can’t go wrong with either. But there are some differences that could help you ultimately decide which to purchase.

Brief History of the Jet Ski

The Jet Ski is manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Kawasaki is a Japanese company headquartered in Tokyo that produces everything from motorcycles and heavy equipment to aerospace and defense equipment. One of their most popular recreational machines is the Jet Ski.

Before deciding on a final name, Kawasaki called the vehicles “Water Jet” and “Power Skis.” The first Jet Ski, the model WSAA, came out in 1972. It was the first commercially successful personal watercraft in the United States. Since then, it has enjoyed consistent success.

The issue with having such great success is that it can lead to confusion. “Jet Ski” has become a term that many people use to refer to any personal watercraft. “Jet skiing” has even become a verb synonymous with operating a personal watercraft in general. Despite the confusion, the Jet Ski brand is still strong.

For a while, the first Jet Ski models were all stand-up. Then in the late 80s, Kawasaki started introducing sit-down options. Today, sit down options are more popular. Stand-up models are used mostly for doing tricks and competing in races.

Brief History of the Wave Runner

The Wave Runner is manufactured by Yamaha Motor Company, another Japanese company that produces motorcycles and marine products like boats. While Yamaha Motor Company began as a division of Yamaha Corporation(most well-known as the largest producer of pianos in the world) it has been its own company since 1955 when it split off.

The first Wave Runner was released in 1986. It was known as the Marine Jet 500T. This was the first sit-down style of personal watercraft to be produced. This may be the reason that Kawasaki started producing sit-down models as well.

Since the 80s, Yamaha and the Wave Runner have remained big names in the personal watercraft industry.

What is a Personal Watercraft?

Now that you know a bit about the history of each model, it is helpful to understand exactly what a personal watercraft is. A personal watercraft, or pwc, is a recreational watercraft that the rider sits or stands on. Other general terms used include water scooter and boatercycle.

Now if you are ever unsure about what brand you are seeing, you can simply call it a pwc or water scooter and know that you are in the right.

But what exactly are the specifications of a pwc? As mentioned above, a pwc is stood or sat on. This is what differentiates them most from small jet boats, which the operator is inside.

When it comes to size, a PWC must be less than 13 feet long according to the definition by United States Coast Guard.

Personal watercraft were actually first developed in the mid-1950s in the United Kingdom and Europe. However, they did not become widely available and popular until the 70s.

There are many other producers of personal watercraft. Honda and Sea-Doo are both big producers of pwc. But it can be argued that the Kawasaki Jet Ski and the Yamaha Wave Runner are the most popular and best models to buy.

Which is Right for You?

Now that you know they are two different things, why should it matter? Even though both products are very similar, many purchasers have preferences.

When buying a pwc there are some things you need to know before you begin your search for a model. What are your intentions with the pwc? Do you want to get into tricks or racing? In that case, you would want a stand-up model. If you just want to ride and even take passengers with you, a sit-down model is what you need.

Once you decide this you can pick two models to compare and contrast. Two comparable models are the Jet Ski STX-15F and the Wave Runner VX. We can compare them by their specs:

Jet Ski STX-15F

MSRP$9,699
Engine4-stroke, 4-cylinder inline
Displacement1,498 cc
Fuel Capacity16.4 gal
Storage Capacity23.5 gal
Length122.8 in
Width46.5 in
Height41.3 in
Weight844.5 lb
Seating Capacity3

Wave Runner VX

MSRP$9,699
Engine3-cylinder, 4-stroke
Displacement1049 cc
Fuel Capacity18.5 gal
Storage Capacity24.6 gal
Length131.9 in
Width48 in
Height46.9 in
Weight708 lb
Seating Capacity3

By the specs above, we can see that the Wave Runner VX is generally bigger than the Jet Ski STX-15F. The larger fuel capacity also means that you will be able to ride for longer periods of time. Yamaha also generally has better gas mileage.

Another plus to Yamaha is that the brand is known for there commitment to safety. Most PWC do not have rudders to assist with steering, but Yamaha models do. This means that you can steer even if you are not moving forward. The added safety feature makes them a good choice for families with children.

Kawasakis are known for speed, so if your goal is to go as fast as possible for the biggest rush, the Jet Ski may be a better choice.

With prices and specs being so similar, you may want to consider test driving a few models from both brands to see which fits your preferences best.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong when choosing between a Kawasaki Jet Ski and a Yamaha Wave Runner. Both brands have been delivering quality products for decades that guarantee thrilling fun at the beach or on the lake.

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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