Written by Rob ( Raider 1100):

Basic introduction to purchase of a Personal Watercraft

First of all Iím going to start by a basic introduction of things needed and what to look for when purchasing a used watercraft. This is not meant for a specific maker but a more overall view of the watercraft. A couple of things to think about, if you plan on purchasing a ski for you or your family.
Figure out the size of ski you need. If you have a family with kids 3 person PWC may be more functional and convenient for you. Buy as much as you can afford. If the price difference between the smallest motor and the middle sized motor is 200$ SPEND it. Youíll want more power later and youíll have to sink more than 200$ to touch the power level of a ski with the bigger motor. For a first timer get the basic level ski, cause you may decide the sport isnít for you. At that point you can basically still get most of your money back because base level skis sell pretty fast. If youíre a single guy and like speed get at least a 900 CC motor size, preferably 1100 or 1200 CC motor. The 11-1200 are capable of 60+ mph speeds. ( 11-1200 CC motor refers to the basic overall size of the ski motor not a particular manufacturer)
Donít forget to add in operation costs. In costs I mean yearly insurance ( got to have it just like a car) While ski insurance isnít a law you should get it. Remember hitting someone on the water without being insured it comes out of your pocket. It wont get covered by car or homeowners insurance. Itís not too expensive either. I think mine is 200$ a year and that includes 2 skis and trailer. Iím covered throughout the US on any body of water and have comp and collision theft and vandalism. I also have the highest coverage I can get. This way if I get sued insurance pays 400 000 before I have to start paying. Anyway the fuel, oil, sparkplugs and basic maintenance all cost money. If you donít know how to do your basic maintenance either start learning or take it to a jet ski shop or dealer, but add in the dealer/shop cost as part of yearly maintenance. After the first few times youíll start learning like most of us. Trust me.
Jet skis are not something that requires no maintenance and they are not toys. They are high performance machines capable of 60+ MPH speeds. You wouldn't give your 13 year old the keys to your truck to drive on the freeway so please donít let him drive the jet ski. Nothing against 13 year olds, but they cant legally drive a jet ski. Follow the boating rules that apply to your riding area and be courteous to others on the water.
Ride responsibly. Just because you ride responsibly doesnít mean you canít have fun.
When Iím writing this I assume the ski youíre purchasing is a ski that starts and runs not something thatís in pieces.

TOOLS NEEDED:
1. Bright flashlight
2. Compression gauge ( donít get a super expensive one but donít get the press on style. You should find one that has a threaded end that fits in the spark plug hole)
3. Legal paper pad and pen. ( to write different things you find good or bad so you donít forget)
4. A mechanics creeper helps check the underside of the ski without getting all grubby

Ok lets start by when you first arrive. Is the ski in a garage or outdoors? Are there things or boxes piled on the ski thus possibly scratching the finish?. Is there a cover on the ski? In a garage it isnít that much of a big deal but outside the sun and various things in the air can and will damage the finish and discolor the paint.
Start by looking at the trailer. Does it have rust spots (most trailers will have some rust but as long as the trailer itself isnít rust rotted it will be ok. Are the tires worn down and/or flat? Are the trailer lights working? What about the watercraft front hold downs. Are they there or does the owner use tie downs to hold the front of the ski to the trailer. How is the locking mechanism of the trailer. Is it rusty or hard to lock and unlock? Are there fenders on the trailer. No fenders means all the road junk kicked up by the tires lands on the ski bottom or sides are the plates/registration up to date on the trailer and ski ( use all that you find wrong as a tool to bring the price down )
Ok time to look at the ski. Start at the front and work your way back. Is the trim scratched, falling off or missing? How is the gel coat/paint? Is it scratched up or faded. Are the stickers peeling or cracked or faded? That could mean the ski sat outside in the sun or rain. Look closely at the stress points of the hood seat and steering system. Do you see small spider web cracks? While most skis develop them after a while and arenít that big a deal you still need to be aware cause little cracks turn to big cracks.
Is the seat cracked, cut, or faded? Does it latch tight to the hull? Does the hood close without effort. Hoods should close by placing the hood all the way down and then giving a slight push to lock it in. they should never have to be slammed shut to close. Make sure the hood pin lines up to the hood lock. Is the hood wobbly when its in the open position? Is it the mount thatís wobbly or the bolts loose. Check and see if the prop rods, for the hood is missing or damaged and if it has hood shocks make sure they are holding up the hood. Bad shocks can be a possibility of a hood open for extended periods of time, like when someone is working on the motor a lot or a hood that was opened repeatedly. Check the fiberglass around the hood hinges. See if itís flexing a lot. A small amount of flex is normal but not enough to be actually lifting the fiberglass around the hinge. Check for cracks in that area and at the hood pin. Look in the storage bin. Is it clean or full of junk and dirty? Make sure the gauges arenít missing or loose. Are the mirrors loose? No big deal a screwdriver tightens them up but it shows lack of maintenance in my opinion.
Do the handlebars move easily from lock to lock position. Do you feel any grinding or slight dragging?
Ok, Now grab your flashlight and get on the ground with your mechanics creeper.
Look at the hull starting from under the rub rails. Do you see gouges or signs of impact? It could mean anything from the owner not paying attention and hitting things to possible damage to the hull. The bottom of the ski most likely has scratches. Mine does from beaching it and while I donít consider it to be a huge deal but some are perfectionists. As long as the scratches arenít deep donít worry about that. If you see big gouges write it down on your pad. You did remember to bring the paper and pad. RIGHT? Now get your flashlight and shine it in the pump. The impeller should be free of nicks and gouges. It may have some small nicks and stuff, most likely that cant be avoided but any big gouges or the blade leading edges being bent could mean a new impeller is needed or fix the stock one. The small nicks and scratches are just normal wear and tear. If its gouged up or bent remember the amount to fix the impeller is about 80$ average and the cost of a used is 100-150$ and the cost of a new one is 200+ ( depending on model)
On all skis you should look at the clearance between the impeller side and the housing. On Sea Dooís the wear ring is replaceable on most other skis the wear ring is part of a complete piece that must be replaced.
Also look at the pump through the rear exit nozzle. Look at the pump vanes. Thatís the fan looking blades that DONíT MOVE. See if they are cracked or pieces missing off the vanes themselves. That section is one of the most expensive parts of the pump. You wont be able to see a lot of the vanes but you should be able to get a good idea of the shape its in. On Sea Dooís ask the owner if he changed the pump oil. If his reaction is a basic scrunch of the face you can bet he didnít even know there was oil back there.
Look at the intake grate. Is it hammered and beat up? Some scratches are unavoidable but deep gouges are not a good thing. Hey while youíre under there look at the bunks of the trailer. Is the carpeting rotted and is the wood cracked and torn up? While the bunks donít cost too much to replace you are going to spend a good 20-40$ on materials and then there is your time to actually install them.
Howís the ride plate? Scratched or gouged? Some guys will tell you about the extra stuff they added on and while I personally like after market parts, I basically see it like this. Itís supposed to have a carb(s), a head and pipe. Personally I would look for a stock ski since some people just throw after market parts at a ski hoping to make it run better and sometimes itís a hit or miss unless the guy knows what heís doing. Basically, look at what a similar ski is selling for in the area. and then make a educated decision on what the dollar amount should be, for the after market parts. Also donít forget to discount for the damages or any parts that look like they are worn and will need replacing. Donít get. Sucked in the Iím buying a new ski syndrome. It really doesnít matter how much $$ he put in the ski. The ski is still only worth so much. Then add a little for the after market stuff. If the guy isnít willing to deal on stuff he knows is not right then let the ski go. Remember he is the one who has the limited buyers. You have unlimited sellers and purchasing options. Also remember a ski is a luxury not a necessity. Donít forget to figure out the cost of ownership on the ski.
Now pop the hood or the seat and look at the motor itself. What do you see? Is the engine compartment a disaster that looks like swamp thing had a party in or is it something you would cook your dinner on. Do you see paint blisters or discoloration on the motor or exhaust? Is there a white powdery substance on the motor? No itís not coke but it is salt or calcium deposits. Nothing wrong with salt riding. Donít let anyone tell you different. As long as a ski is properly maintained salt shouldn't be a factor ( more on that later).
Quick check. Put your hand on the pipe or cylinders. Are they cold or warm. Warm means the ski may have a starting problem when cold, the owner knows about it and started the ski before you got there to make sure it starts.
Blisters mean the aluminum of the motor is corroding under the paint. It also means the bolts are most likely frozen and when it comes time for rebuilding be careful so you donít snap bolts. ( believe me its not fun drilling and easy out a stainless steel bolt)
Discoloration could mean overheating, but in my case it was a unsuccessful attempt to strip the paint off the head.
How do the hoses look? Are they a mismatched spaghetti mess with hoses going all over the place or nicely routed and zip tied? Is the ski premix or oil injected? If the owner converted to pre mix does he still have the oil injection system? Some people like the oil injection. Convenience is a big seller. I personally donít mind premixing but to each his own. If he does not have the old injection parts then that could be bad because it can cost a lot to convert back to oil injection if youíre one of the people who like to gas up oil up and go. How do the battery connections look? Are they corroded? The corrosion could also be in the wire under the jacket. If the wire is brown or black then you have corrosion in the wire strands. The wire should be the clean copper color or close to it.
Ok now shine the flashlight on the interior of the hull. Look at the Styrofoam in the ski. It may be dirty but if it looks melted then the guy had a engine fire. Some Styrofoam is impossible to remove and replace without pulling the motor. Look at the fiberglass inside. It should be the same color all over. Whatever the color what youíre really looking for is signs of repair. Either youíll see a different patch color or a bump in the fiberglass. Most of the time shops canít duplicate the color inside the hull. And in most cases they wont remove the motor to repaint the inside of the hull If the repair was done wrong or badly then the hull strength is compromised.
Ok time to check the motor. Pull off the wires and do a dry crank. Ground the plug wires on the appropriate terminals on Sea Dooís and other skis that have them ( ultra 150 and some others). Does the motor crank slowly or strong? If its slow it could be anything from a loose electrical connection to a bad battery to a bad starter.
Ok we are going to assume the ski is good so far. Pull off one of the plugs and thread your compression gauge on there. Pull the throttle all the way open and then crank the ski. Watch to see how high the gauge gets. Stop cranking and check reading. As a rule of thumb youíre looking for about 150 PSI for a two cylinder motor and about 120-130 for a triple cylinder. Anything less than 10% ( I prefer 6% but 10 % is a accepted basic guideline) between the cylinders could mean a new top end is in your future. If the ski has a after market head then the compression will read higher but you DONíT want anything higher than 170 for a twin and 150 for a triple. Anything higher could mean running a high octane gas/ race gas or the ski is on the edge and you want something reliable not some basket case ski. Iíve seen plenty of High compression skis broken down and the guys are wrenching on them while Iím in the water playing. You want to be the guy in the water playing not the guy wrenching.
Ok lets say the compression looks good on both cylinders. Look at the plug tips. If the guy rode the ski the plugs may give you a idea of how itís running. Look for a chocolate brown color. Whitish color itís lean and black is rich or the plug is fouling. The fouling could be caused from using the wrong heat range plug , incorrect gap or a ignition problem. Were not done yet. Look at the gas tank straps. Are they cracked or rotting away? Most if not all skis have zerk fittings to add grease to various areas. On Sea Doo skis the fittings are under the plastic PTO cover at the back of the ski. Pop the cover off and look at the rubber boot. See if its split or there is a nice line of flung grease on the bottom of the gray cover. If the rubber boot is small and shrunk down that means the guy never added any grease to the zerks. On some models there are 2 zerks ( early Sea-Doo) the newer models have one zerk. On Yamahaís they tend to be near the head or air box and usually are covered by a black cap but most get lost so its not big deal.
See that exhaust pipe coming off the motor? Grab it and try moving it. Some movement is ok and when I say some I mean just slight movement as in barely able to move. but excessive movement is unacceptable cause it means a motor mount is loose or broken. Most likely you will see that when you do a compression check but not always.
So far, so good. Now itís the time to do a final check put everything back and then start the ski. You wonít get a good feel of how itís running because the pump isnít under load, but you should get a good idea. Does it idle fairly smoothly. It will idle higher than in water, but it starts running away then push the stop button or pull the chokes or flood it with the primer pump. Basically that means one of a few things. The pistons are loose in the bores, there is a intake leak, or a crank seal is cracked and sucking in air. Rev it lightly and see if the RPMs come back down or stay up. . Shut it down by using the stop switch. Start it back up and stop it by pulling the lanyard. It should stop. It wont do to find out the lanyard switch doesnít work when youíre riding and fall off and see your new ski going away without you on the back. This is meant to be a staring guide on what to look for in a used ski. Itís by no means a professional outlook on purchasing. These are my opinions only.
Basically youíre looking for anything that may be bad on the ski use al you find wrong and let the owner know. Remember the Jet skis are a luxury not a necessity. Jet skis donít hold value to a great extent. If you find something used and abused then its up to you to figure out how much its going to cost to bring it back to a good operating condition or if itís a basket case you may be better off looking somewhere lese. If the guy isnít willing to let you do a compression check or start it then walk away. A ski can look great but be a complete wreck. I may of forgotten a few things, but basically youíre looking for a overall condition of a ski. Using KBB.com watercraft section can give you a good idea of what a model year ski is worth. Basically start off at the trade in level and add some for the various after market parts that are on the ski. If the guy had a head and impeller upgrade donít shovel out a bunch of $$ but if the guy had a pipe impeller, high end carbs and a bunch of work done to the ski then you need to take that in consideration. Obviously youíll pay more for a ski that has a top speed of 65MPH no matter what year. Most skis today are actually pretty reliable. My personal ski does about 63 MPH can keep up to most newer muscle skis and I have very minimal upgrades. For example a my ski a Waveraider 1100 had a impeller, Ride Plate, Intake handlebars and Red Tops 44MM carbs and a TDR water box and beach house sponsons. I would expect to get about 4500$ for this ski. While I donít invest as much as some people invest on their skis, It does keep up performance wise to new skis and its clean overall. It does have some scratches and stuff but its never been hit or anything. Iíve seen some priced lower but they usually were smaller motors or stock skis with no mods. If I were to put the ski for sale I would ask 4900 and let the guy talk me to about 43-4400 no less. ( just a example)


Pre ride check list
Ok youíre ready to go riding. Most of the check list can and should be done the day or night before so you donít miss out on the waves.
Start by checking the pump area of the ski. Do you see any debris lodged in the intake. ( weeds bits of wood or plastic bags? Look in the pump itself both front and through the exit nozzle. Sometimes stuff gets lodged there. I currently have a plastic bag in the Sea-Doo but Iím too lazy to get it out now.
NOTE. On Sea-Doo jet skis they have oil in the pump cone. Most other skis have grease in the pump cone. I think tiger shark also has oil in their pumps but I havenít done a TS ski in a long. long time and never did a pump on those skis.
The pump oil should be changed at least 2 times a year. Itís a basic easy thing to do.
There are web sites that show the steps to do a oil pump change on a Sea-Doo

Remove any debris stuck there. Because it impedes water flow and may cause overheating.
Ok grab a 8 and 10 MM open/box end wrench and go around tightening all the hood, seat and tie down hook bolts. They do loosen up over time. Grab your torque wrench and retorque the head and cylinder base bolts. ( retorqueing needs to be done ever once in a while. I do it every 40 Hours.). Grab a flat head screwdriver and go around tightening all your hose clamps. While youíre doing that feel the hoses for possible frayed areas where it may come in contact with the vibrating motor. Replace the hose if you feel a area where its rubbed.
Basically go over and tighten all the bolts you can reach. Donít forget the carb mounting bolts and exhaust coupler clamps in fact all clamps. Make sure no zip ties have come off or loosened up. Also make sure the water intake hose is not slipping off or loose.
Ok so you tightened all the bolts you could grab your grease gun and squirt the Zerk fittings on your ski. A couple of squirts is enough donít go crazy. Ok now you need to lube the steering and throttle cable On some skis the steering pivot points can be greased on some it cant. Do what you can. Use a marine based grease and a small brush. The throttle cable will require a Cable luber tool available at most jet ski and motorcycle shops. Pull the battery and put it on a charger and make sure the cells are filled up. Donít overfill the battery. Leave it on a 2 amp trickle charge. And clean the battery tray while the battery is out. Use a baking soda and water mixture.
Ok now if you ride in salt water there are a couple of things you should do. Get that can of marine grease out and the brush. Put some grease on the carb springs and the adjusting needle jets themselves. If you havenít taken off the lame caps that go over the tips of the jets do it now You need a small amount so donít goop it all over the place also donít forget to smear a little on the throttle wheel. Check the motor mounts by wiggling the pipe.
On the back of the ski at the pump on some models ( Yamaha and some Kawasaki) the steering and trim have a quick disconnect style barrel. Push the barrel outer sleeve back and the barrel should come off the ball end. Put some grease there. Water will wash it of but some will stay on there. Goop a little in the hole in the barrel and stick it back on the ball socket. On the others still grease the pivot and steering points even though the water washes it off.
Now go to the hood and grease the hinge. Just get enough on there to make slightly greasy you donít need to goop it on. Ok so you greased all the hinges and moving parts of the ski. And the Zerks only need to be greased every 30 hours or so.
If youíre adding new plugs make sure you gap them right. No matter how much you want to believe the parts counter guy the plugs are not likely not gapped to your skis specs. So take the 5 minutes and gap them. Every so often check the plugs to see if they fire. Basically lay them against a bolt thatís not painted and crank the ski. You should have a decent strong spark. If its weak try trimming the wire a little bit and install new caps.
A new set of plugs is optional. Unless the plug is fouled or you want to get some plug readings older plugs will still work fine. Also keep a spare set of plugs on the ski. Somewhere. Preferably in a small plastic container so you donít bend the electrode tips.
I usually change the plugs every 20 hours. I donít need to I just change them.
Make sure the tool lit supplied by your ski manufacturer is effective. Usually they arenít. Make sure you have at least enough tools to do the basic stuff. Iím not talking about a tool set to make a NASCAR crew envious. Basically I go by this. 8-10-12-14 Mm sockets and open end wrenches. Also a small set of metric allen wrenches ( for those skis that have allen head bolts) a set of short and normal screwdrivers both flat head and Phillips. A spark plug wrench. Get the kind thatís a T handle and it swivels. Cheapest and easiest to use.. A spark plug gapping tool and a piece of cloth sandpaper ( the kind plumbers use. That stuff gets wet but it doesnít break apart like the paper kind will. I bring enough tools to basically do what I need. Also bring some electrical connectors and some electrical tape. 3M makes a great tape cause it sticks on good. These tools arenít meant to give you a complete rebuild motor fix on the shore. They are meant to get you in a position to temporarily fix it or limp it back home/camp/dock where you may have other stuff to fix it better.
Donít use expensive tools on your ski. They rust just like cheap tools so get a inexpensive set of tools from anywhere. The tool set I have is a cheap 15$ set that I basically have stuffed in a old plastic mayonnaise jar. The jar keeps the tools from getting too rusty. It works ok but they still get rust on them.
Check the fuel filter. If it has floaties in it then you may want to think about changing it. And donít get some cheap fits all filter. Get the one for your ski. A 10$ filter beats a 1800 $ motor any day. Ok you have a full tank of gas and youíre ready to jump some waves.
Before you do that basically you want to spray the motor down with either WD40 or some sort of penetrating oil. What that does is keeps the corrosion from starting. You donít need to use a whole can. A fine mist will settle on the motor and work its way down. Donít forget a spare set of plugs. Ok the battery is charged up and you put it back
where it belongs. Start the ski and make sure it runs. Donít forget to put in the drain plugs. ( if equipped)
Pop the gas cap and then put a LIGHT coat of grease on the rubber seal of the gas cap. Just enough to make it shiny. What that does it seals better keeps the rubber soft and pliable and lessens the chances of you getting water in your gas. Iím going to assume your carbs and pipe donít need adjustments so this is your pre ride check.
There are a couple of things you want to bring in the storage bin of your ski. One is water and a couple of nutrition bars. Get the ones that are sealed in the aluminized foil they are water proof. Also bring a pull style flare kit a mirror and a whistle should be attached to the lanyard. The flare and mirror are to attract attention if youíre broken down. Now you need to check the fire extinguisher. They all have some sort of a test button. Some have a small green button that you press and it should pop out. If it doesnít pop back out then replace it with a working one. The other style has a yellow plastic pin and you press on the yellow button the plastic pin stops the button from going all the way down and discharging the extinguisher. It should also pop back up. If it doesnít replace it. Squirt some oil/WD40 on the extinguisher. It keeps the corrosion from forming on it also.
Donít forget the life jacket and wet suit/ riding gear. Make sure the throttle has free play and releases easy with no binding.
If you have oil injection its s great time to check the oil lines for bubbles and also to see if they became loose or disconnected. If you see air bubbles make sure the oil injection is working right. You can take the oil injection pump off and spin it in reverse on a drill motor. It should squirt out oil at the air box./ wherever the oil lines go to on your ski. You can also pop off the oil lines at the air box/ manifold and see if they squirt out oil ( when spinning the pump)or basically just cranking the motor without starting it you should see a couple of drops. Also visually look for oil drips in the hull ( another reason to keep the hull clean.).
Make sure you fill up the oil tank. I canít tell you how many times I go out and people ask me if I have oil. I usually carry a small, fourteen ounce bottle but thatís for me. I usually give up about 1/.2 the bottle but thatís just enough to get them to the dock . Maybe.
Put the handlebars to a straight position and then look at the pump exit nozzle. Is it straight back or slightly off to a side. Its pretty exhausting not to mention annoying to have to try and keep the ski pointing straight with the handlebars misalign. So straighten the bars out by adjusting the steering cable at the pump. Make sure you have the vent line hooked on the battery ( on the regular batteries) and that the ski starts. Most of this stuff gets done here and there.
Post ride check

Ok you just finished riding.
You pull the ski up on the trailer and drive away? Nope you stop in the parking lot and do the following.
First pull the drain plugs on the ski to let any water thatís trapped in the hull out. Put the plugs in your storage bin. As you drive away the remaining water will come out as you stop and go or go up a hill.
Have a old towel out so you can wipe down the ski. You donít need to detail it but you should dry the ski so it doesnít form water spots. Start the ski and rev it a couple of times to expel the left over water in the exhaust system. A couple of blips of the throttle should do it. OK now make sure your ski is all tied down and youíre ready to go home.
Now if you ride in salt water you need to use a product that flushes the salt out of your motors cooling passages. Basically they all work the same. Salt terminator, salt away
Follow the directions for flushing.
Flush the ski, In fact you should flush the ski even if you donít ride in salt water but if you donít ride in salt water a regular flush with the garden hose should do it. Fresh water still contains calcium and minerals that can form rock hard deposits over time in the cooling passages of your ski
Ok so you flushed the motor. Now hose off the motor, and you can cover the air cleaners ( after market ones) with some baggies. You donít need to stream clean the motor just rinse off the salt Basically I finish flushing then I take the applicator which has a tiny bit of salt flushing agent in it and spray the motor. Then I follow that up with a fresh water rinse. For the guys that have a air compressor you can use that to blow dry your motor. I have a compressor but I use a 10$ electric leaf blower. It works great plus the air is warm and dries the motor. Basically youíre done cleaning the motor and ski.
Also when washing the outside of the ski Donít forget the bottom and the underside of the rails. Another thing thatís forgotten is the pump intake and the pump itself. Blast some water in there to rinse off the salt. Or just to basically rinse off any sand that may still be trapped there. I use a good car washing liquid to get the ski nice and clean then I just dry it off well.
At this point you can basically get your ski ready for your next ride by doing a pre ride check and topping off all your fuel and oil, or at least do a basic visual check to see if anything is loose or possibly fell off.
Once the ski is dry one thing I suggest is get yourself a can of Pledge furniture polish. Then use it on the ski. It really makes the ski shine and look showroom fresh.
I do it to my ski and it still looks good.
This is a basic pre ride post ride checks. Iím assuming the ski is in good running condition so Iím not going to get into fixing the thing. If you donít think your ski is reliable enough to be out on your own then go with a buddy. In fact even if your ski is in great running condition go with a buddy. Personally I got to the point where Iíve seen so many people breaking down, and to tell you the truth Iíve broken down myself. Itís a great feeling to know youíre at least going to get back to the dock, rather than hoping someone will tow you in. I cant think of anything more to add. If I missed anything or wish I go more in depth about something on either the purchase pre or post ride list let me know and Iíll be glad to do so.