Things to Consider Before You Buy a Personal Watercraft

A few weird details could really make or break one's personal watercraft experience

I occasionally get asked for advice when a friend is considering purchasing their first personal watercraft, or upgrading their current model. And often my advice doesn’t come down to the simple “which is the fastest/cheapest/best/largest” watercraft on the market. Often it comes down to a few weird details that the person in question may never have considered, but that could really make or break their personal watercraft experience over the course of several seasons.

Want a few more things to think about before laying down that cash, or committing yourself to a lengthy loan? Check out my completely random list below.

Your “ideal” riding conditions rarely happen. We all probably have an ideal in our heads when we picture a ride, but the reality is often far from it. So, buy for the conditions you’re going to get “most” of the time, not for what you hope you’ll encounter. If your body of water is big and often rough and choppy, think twice about something small. You’ll get beat up quickly, and soon find yourself staying on shore when you’d rather be out riding. In general, the choppier the average riding conditions, the bigger the craft you should select. In contrast, if your riding area is confined, a smaller craft can make it feel bigger, as it’s typically a little more playful and lower in horsepower.

2017 Yamaha GP1800 Seat

Saddle shape makes a difference. Sure, it’s just a place to sit, but the right saddle can make a world of difference. If you like to move about atop your craft or shift your weight a lot, a smoother saddle with less curves and bolsters makes the most sense. A smoother, bolster-free saddle may also be easier for those that like to tow, as they typically make it more comfortable for a rear-facing spotter. In contrast, if you’re the type who likes to tour long distance, bolsters are worth their weight in gold for the back support they provide. Bolsters also prevent passengers from cramming together, and the tiers that typically come with them position each passenger a little higher than the last for a better view forward. A heavily bolstered saddle may also make it easier to hang onto your craft during high-speed turns.

Superchargers aren’t always the hot ticket. Superchargers are almost a given in the high-performance arena, but unless you really love blazing speed and outrageous acceleration, they might not be the best choice. Superchargers increase your fuel consumption considerably. Models without superchargers stretch your gas budget, while still offering pretty impressive acceleration and top speeds. Superchargers also aren’t always the best choice for those serious about watersports like wakeboarding or wakeskating. Their throttle response is ultra quick, which can translate into a jerky ride at the end of the towrope.

2017 Kawasaki Ultra 310X Engine

Cruise control has other uses. Maybe you won’t use cruise for touring or low-speed zones, but cruise control also works wonders when towing. PWC are harder to keep at steady speeds than boats, in part due to their horsepower-to-weight ratio and in part due to the style of the trigger throttle. Cruise can lock in a rider’s desired speed, and then do a pretty good job at maintaining it, allowing the driver to have one less distraction during a watersports run…and the person being towed one less thing to complain about.

Massive storage is just overkill. It’s easy to think you might just be racing around an imaginary buoy course or drag racing friends, but with time you might find you want to go on a long-distance ride, carry along a bag of dry clothes or towel, maybe even throw in a tent for a camping adventure. It’s easier to have too much space than too little. The layout of a craft’s storage is also important. Like to keep a drink or water bottle handy? It’s a lot easier to access if it fits in the glovebox rather than having to open your front storage hood while out in open water.

2016 Sea-Doo GTX S 155 Storage

Don’t put the cart PWC before the horse car. Don’t forget you most likely need to tow that craft to and from the water. Your car may — or may not — be up for the task. A small craft like the Sea-Doo Spark can be towed with almost any car out there, but a large three-seater is going to require a more substantial vehicle. Many owners also own a pair of craft, increasing the load on their tow vehicle even more.

The right dealer matters. Some dealers are just better than others or maybe more willing to bargain, but unless your savings are substantial the local dealer may be a better choice. Why? Think about those times when you need service fast, or want consideration on a warranty claim that could go either way. The dealer you purchased your craft from is most likely going to give you that extra consideration; the one you didn’t buy from probably isn’t. What’s that saying about being pennywise and pound-foolish?