How Does A Jet Ski Work?

To eliminate confusion, let us start by confirming that this article will cover the basics of how a Personal Watercraft or “PWC” works. You see, Jet Ski is a brand name for a PWC that the Japanese manufacturing giant Kawasaki produced. The name was highly influential and is currently a common term to address any sort of personal watercraft.

An Overview Of Personal Watercraft

Personal Watercrafts, also known as Water Scooters, are recreational vehicles designed for the rider to be on the watercraft, instead of inside it. PWCs come in two iconic styles, the traditional "stand up" design, which requires riders to be standing while using the watercraft, and the "sit down" style, which is pretty much self-explanatory. Another advantage of the latter style? A water-based motorcycle, if you will. It can carry up to two riders and, in some instances, even three. If you are looking to invest in a PWC or would simply just like to learn more about them, we will touch on the following topics in this guide:

  • The history
  • How they work
  • Their uses
  • In sports


The PWC has its origins in the United Kingdom and dates back to the 1950s. Initially, models like Vincent Amanda from the U.K and the German Wave Roller dominated the market, with thousands exported around the world. Over the following decade, there were attempts to redesign the watercraft, with models by Bombardier reaching the market in the late 1960s, but ultimately, to no avail. As a result, production was abandoned a couple of years later.

The first stand-up PWCs were given life in 1972 by Kawasaki and categorized under the iconic brand name “Jet Ski.” These compact watercraft were intended to carry just one rider and are still produced to this day. However, the most popular model was the sit-down trim, currently made by Kawasaki as “Jet Ski,” Yamaha as “WaveRunner,” Honda as “AquaTrax,” Bombardier as “Sea-Doo,” Polaris as “SeaLion,” and Arctic Cat as “TigerShark.

How They Work

One of the most impressive things about a PWC is the engineering behind or underneath it that allows you to move forward. Unlike a conventional boat, there isn’t a loud engine in the back powering a three-blade propeller. PWC engines pull water in, and it is then that the engine uses its power to push out the water with great force, thus propelling you forward.

Water is siphoned into the PWC engine using an impeller — a motorized fan that pulls in water from the surrounding area into the craft. An impeller ensures that a steady flow of water is entering the vessel in order for its rider to have access to acceleration at will. When accelerating, the PWC will eject the water from a nozzle in the rear end, connected to the handlebars, allowing you to move left or right.

Uses For Jet Skis

PWCs are known for their speed and agility, making them easy to handle and reasonably practical for non-recreational use compared to a traditional compact motorboat. Additionally, since PWCs do not have propellers, they are generally considered safer. The following are the most common uses for a Jet Ski:

  • It’s very common for a lifeguard station to have a Jet Ski in their arsenal as these machines allow them to reach swimmers or other boats in need of aid quickly. Lifeguards and other rescue teams also use Jet Skis to get to flood victims.
  • Jet Ski fishing is reportedly the fastest-growing segment in the industry, with many anglers choosing them over traditional fishing boats.
  • PWCs play a significant role in law enforcement globally, with many authorities such as the Navy and Coast Guard implementing them to carry out many activities.

Connection To Water Sports

PWC racing events occur annually worldwide, with the most common being closed circuit races, speed races, endurance events, and freestyle events. These events are typically organized into two categories, according to their trims. For speed races, the events are categorized as “stock" races, consisting of PWCs that usually have little to no aftermarket modifications, and "limited" races, for highly modified PWCs.

The Aquabike World Championship commenced in 1996 under the regulations of the World Powerboating Federation. The Aquabike World Championship is the biggest stage for PWC riders globally, with up to 140 participants from 32 countries taking part each year.

Are Jet Skis Safe?

Jet Skis are extremely buoyant crafts that are generally very difficult to flip over. However, as with any fast-paced motorsport, the risk is never non-existent. The most common injuries are associated with broken bones or other similar occurrences resulting from falling or being thrown off a PWC at high speeds.

It’s one of the many reasons why it is essential to be well-versed in riding a PWC before attempting to do it on your own. Many local waterfronts or beaches offer Jet ski lessons to help you master the basics of riding these machines.

When riding, always make sure to wear protective gear as enforced by the law in your area. It’s also best practice to take lessons on riding a PWC before you attempt it yourself. Always be aware of your surroundings to avoid collisions with people and other watercraft. Never ride or even be onboard a PWC when under the influence of alcohol.


A jet ski is a great way to enjoy some on-water recreation. Not only are they safe when operated responsibly, but they are also a far more versatile option than a large boat. And as proven by law enforcement agencies and lifeguards, the non-recreational market for PWCs is booming. Their ingenious impeller-based engines are great for power, speed, and fun, while the way they operate means that you can quite literally have a scoot for the seas.