Why more Victorians are buying jet skis

Man on jetski

Blanche Clarke

Posted January 07, 2022

Sales of affordable and adrenaline-pumping jet ski are booming in Victoria. Here is everything you need to know before you buy your own watercraft.

Personal watercraft (PWC) sales have been steadily increasing over the years as the public continues to invest in local entertainment over international travel.

Data shows there has been consistent annual growth in the number of PWC registrations in Victoria since 2015, with a spike in the past year. In 2021, there were 26,078 personal watercraft registrations in Victoria compared with 19,123 in 2015 and 24,504 last year.

VicRoads’ classification of personal watercrafts covers jet skis, wave runners and similar vessels that have an engine used for propulsion, a fully enclosed hull, don’t retain water and are operated by standing, kneeling or sitting astride.

Joshua Dowling, who runs the Watercraft Zone website, says the biggest attraction of jet skis is affordability. 

“Jet skis are more affordable than boats, and they are easier to manoeuvre both in and out of the water,” Dowling says. “You can also tow them behind a more affordable car; you don’t need a big 4WD or ute.”

Dowling says novices need to treat jet skis with respect and be aware of the rules.

Everything you need to know before you buy a jet ski

In Victoria you must have a marine licence with PWC endorsement, and you need to wear a lifejacket and carry a buoyant waterproof torch when operating a jet ski.

“Jet skis are amazing fun when operated safely, but you do need to have respect for them because if you’re not careful you could hurt yourself or someone else,” Dowling says.

If you’re in the market to buy a jet ski, there are 50 models across three brands (Sea-Doo, Yamaha and Kawasaki). With the most popular jet skis measuring under 4m in length and costing between $17,000 and $25,000, the models are divided into ‘performance’ and ‘leisure’ categories (supercharged and non-supercharged), and size (small, medium and large).

Each brand has its strengths and weaknesses, and it can be difficult to work out which model is the best, especially when passionate owners extol the virtues of a particular brand on social media.

“Go with the one you like the look of the most and with the dealership that offers you the best service, because you’ll be going back there for any maintenance done. Trust your gut,” he says.

“The non-supercharged jet skis are fast enough, and they are just as much fun. The non-supercharged jet skis have slightly less rapid acceleration and slightly less top speed, but they have much better fuel economy than a supercharged ski.

“The next thing is the size. Small skis can legally carry more than one person, but they are not very comfortable for the rider and passenger. If budget permits, consider a medium or large three-seater, sit-down style ski.”

“All brands of jet skis are at risk of developing niggly issues, but if you take proper care of the watercraft in and out of the water, you should have no trouble at all. No matter which ski you buy, you need to maintain it and service it at least once a year, so get an estimate of those costs from the dealer before you buy.”


maritine safety

Always take note of the speed limit in the water and look out for other jet ski operators.

How to learn to ride a jet ski

Many people learn to ride a jet ski through friends, family or by watching YouTube videos. Although you need to have a marine licence with PWC endorsement, there is not yet a practical component to the test.

Dowling says lakes, rivers or flat water are the best place to learn how to control the jet ski and manoeuvre it at low speeds. 

“You need to be aware that a jet ski has no steering control without throttle,” he says.

“Often novice crashes happen because people panic. They see an object or person, or another vessel coming towards them, and they come off the throttle. But the jet pump is directly linked to the steering, and you need power to steer the craft, otherwise it will continue in a straight line. It takes a bit of practise to figure it out.”

The ocean is not for amateurs

Dowling says ocean riding is best left to more experienced riders. A registered Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is required on all vessels, including PWCs, if operating more than 2 nautical miles from the coast.

“You are well advised to carry a marine radio and mobile phone, as well as an EPIRB, and inform friends before you go,” Dowling says.

“There are smart phone apps that can track your position in real time, so it’s worth considering sending your live location to a friend on land. If they see the icon hasn’t moved for a while it may be a sign that you’re in distress.”

He also recommends ocean riding in pairs, and carrying a tow rope in case you need to be rescued or rescue someone else. “Ideally the rope is about 27m, so that the ski behind isn’t bouncing around in the wash.”


person riding jetski in deep waters

The ocean is not for amateurs. Always make sure you and other riders are confident in deep waters.

Safety first

Gareth Johnson, Manager Recreational Boating Safety at Maritime Safety Victoria (MSV) says jet-ski owners and riders should wear protective clothing under their lifejackets and check the waterway rules and signs before heading out. 

“Make sure you are clear of speed-restricted zones and any other vessels, people or objects in the water, before increasing your speed. These zones are for everyone’s safety,” he says.

“People often don’t think of jet skis getting into trouble - but we’ve had incident reports of jet skis getting stuck in mud, sinking while fishing and collisions resulting in broken bones. So don’t think of it as just a toy. Be prepared before you head out.”

In addition, an ‘irregular riding’ rule applies on Port Phillip Bay. This means you will face a fine if you don’t ride slowly and directly through 5-knot zones to open water.

Calling out bad behaviour

Much like on our roads, irresponsible operation of jet skis can cause serious injury or loss of life. In the past, the worst locations for jet ski hooning have been around Port Melbourne, Safety Beach, Carrum and St Kilda.

The most common offences are jet ski riders exceeding 5 knots in a 5-knot zone, and not slowing to 5 knots within 50 m of their friends on jet skis.

If you see bad behaviour, you can email Maritime Safety Victoria at information@transportsafety.vic.gov.au Residents and beachgoers concerned about noise issues should contact the Environmental Protection Authority.

Always call triple zero (000) if you are involved in or witness an emergency. If an incident has occurred but you are not in immediate danger, report it to Victoria Police on 1800 135 729.

Useful websites

To learn about registering your personal watercraft, visit vicroads.vic.gov.au and search for ‘PWC’. 

 For water safety information, visit transportsafety.vic.gov.au/maritime-safety.

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