Jet Skiing Myths Debunked


Key West Harbor Walk — Don’t let the calm waters fool you!

On our recent getaway to Key West for Hemingway Days, we arrived at the popular jet ski tour located on Front Street, part of the Historic Seaport Harbor Walk in Old Town. We were excited about our upcoming adventure. I wore a swimsuit, cover-up, and a huge smile. Little did I know how ill-prepared I was, having bought into the myths of this particular water sport.

Myth #1:  Jet skiing is for anyone!

The reality…

If you’re nervous about controlling your own jet ski, don’t even think about being a passenger, where you’re at the mercy of another person’s driving skills (or lack thereof) and have very little to hold onto to keep yourself from flying off the back of the machine. My husband is a big man, and with a life jacket, even bigger. I couldn’t wrap my arms completely around him so I grasped the jacket’s front straps and held on for dear life. Oh, and you’d think it would be wise to slather up with sunscreen in preparation for the sunny day, but once the ocean spray hits your legs you’ll have less traction than a greased pig. You’ll be so slippery that when you race to catch up with the rest of your tour group, the only part of your body not flying a like a flag in a stiff breeze will be two fingers–precariously close to losing their grip.

Myth #2: It’s a great way to enjoy wildlife!

The reality…

Let me ask you, “How many dolphins, sting rays, sea turtles, and manatees do you think you’re likely to see on a jet ski tour?” If you answered zero, you’re correct. The waves, vibration, and noise created by one jet ski is enough to send all nearby waterlife and fowl headed as far away from you as possible. Combine that with the five other machines in your tour group, and you’ve effectively driven away the hardiest of water creatures. Don’t feel too badly though. You’re being pummeled by salt water at 30-60 miles per hour, so you can’t see a damned thing anyway. All you can concentrate on is staying on the jet ski, ignoring the sting in your eyes, and praying for the safety of land.

These jet skiers make it look easy!

Myth #3: It’s not only fun, but educational!

The reality…

Sure, the tour guides are knowledgeable about the area, and they stop at four or five different sites to impart historical trivia. The only problem is, between the airplanes and helicopters flying overhead and your heart beating a staccato terror drum roll, you’ll hear about one of every ten words–learning absolutely nothing other than how thankful you are to be alive and that you should NEVER believe those glossy brochures.

Myth #4: It’s thrilling, yet safe!

The reality…

If you enjoy being frightened to within an inch of your life, imagining that at any second you’re going to sail through the air and hit water at about fifty miles per hour and worrying about the inexperienced jet skiers behind you running you over, then yes, it’s thrilling. If you enjoy riding on the back of a motorized machine, much like an out-of-control motorcycle, contending with five foot waves of the Atlantic which causes your pelvis to bang repeatedly against the jet ski’s seat, then yeah, that’s thrilling too. If you’re a closet exhibitionist, and enjoy the idea of accidentally exposing your bottom half to your entire tour group at a brief stop to wade at a sandbar, then most definitely, it’s thrilling.

Safe, not so much. But it’s not as if you aren’t forewarned, signing those requisite waivers about loss of life or limb before you’re allowed to mount your water steed. Life is risky, and jet skiing, if you so choose, is part of life. If you jet ski in calm lake, bay, or gulf waters, it may be quite fun and safe. If you are an inexperienced jet skier riding with another inexperienced jet skier anxious to prove his manliness, and your group’s intent is to tour twenty-six miles around an island between the Gulf of Mexico into choppy Atlantic waters with a time limit of two hours, then it can be a tad more risky.

Paddleboarding, a low-tech option.

Luckily, the only victim of our jet ski ride were my sunglasses. A rogue wave drenched us about thirty seconds from the conclusion of our tour and I made the mistake of lifting my face to the sun. The wind caught my glasses and they disappeared into Key West harbor. Hesitant to litter, we turned back to look for them, but the deafening horn of a ferry on our tail changed our minds. We bonded from our common experience, filled with a few moments of sheer terror interspersed with moments of joy, riding the waves around our beloved tropical island.

Will I do it again? Maybe. But next time, I drive!

That’s my take on jet skiing. What’s yours? We’d love to hear your story about that or any other water sport.

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19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marcia
    Aug 07, 2012 @ 17:44:45

    Sounds frightening, Jolyse! Water sports are not my style, but if I were to try jet-skiing, I definitely would rather be in control than being a rider. Glad you made it through safely! Quite an adventure!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 07, 2012 @ 19:23:06

      Hi Marcia! I tried to make light of it in this post, but I was absolutely terrified about half the time we spent on those waverunners. My husband agreed it was difficult navigating the waves without so much jostling and he said he was constantly looking back to see if I’d fallen.

      We were lucky and neither of us fell off. However, the little girl who was a passenger on her dad’s jet ski wasn’t so fortunate. Thankfully, we all saw her and she was able to climb back on (after many unsuccessful attempts).

      Veteran jet skiers told us later that we’d have fared better in calmer waters, such as on a small lake or further up the gulf. Also, the fact we were expected to circumnavigate the island within two hours meant that our tour guide was flying at about 60 mph at times, and we weren’t skilled enough to follow safely.

      Looking back at the experience, I’m happy I did it because it gives me more to write about. But that’s about the only reason. :)

      • Marcia
        Aug 07, 2012 @ 20:50:13

        Oh, Jolyse! It seems to me, the tour supervisor should have had the sense to find out if anyone had experience at jet skiing at those speeds. That was irresponsible of them, regardless of the form you sign beforehand. Yes, it’s a great experience from a writer’s standpoint, but scary otherwise. Thank goodness the outcome was positive. :)

        • Jolyse Barnett
          Aug 08, 2012 @ 07:54:43

          Oh, I’m not upset with the jet ski company. They did ask about level of experience and spent extra time explaining everything to my husband before we went out. I also heard the tour guide say, after the trip, that the waves were kicking up on the ocean and that they wouldn’t be taking any other groups into the Atlantic that day. I think we just had a spat of bad luck, as far as waves are concerned. :)

  2. jeff armstrong
    Aug 07, 2012 @ 21:44:19

    we took a kayak eco tour in key west a couple of years ago, it started with a two hour snorkel and then a guided tour through the mangroves. We got to see many small sharks and other very cool fishies.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 08, 2012 @ 08:00:30

      Hi Jeff! Hope you’re having a wonderful summer.

      Funny you should mention the kayak eco tour. My last line of this post originally was, “If you want to see the Key West wildlife, I’d suggest taking a kayaking tour.”

      We did the jet skiing because it was a new experience and my husband wanted more adventure. Well, we certainly got it, and I love to tease him about it now…

  3. Catie Rhodes
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 10:33:19

    I have never been jet-skiing. Growing up in East Texas, we were always riding ATVs. I was in several moderately bad wrecks, two of which resulted in fairly severe burns on my legs. I am very aware of how easily “fun” activities can turn into painful accidents. Add the fact that I don’t really enjoy being in water–especially open water–and, well, you see why I don’t jet ski.

    I am glad your experience ended with only the loss of your sunglasses. At least you can now write a scene about a high speed, high stakes jet ski chase. LOL

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 08, 2012 @ 11:09:14

      I’m sorry to learn about your injuries sustained from ATV rides. We were wearing life vests and following the instructions given by our tour guide, so I believe the risk of injury was minimized. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard about people being killed while jet skiing. It’s usually because they were hot-dogging despite inexperience, not wearing life jackets, or hit by other boaters. (Our scariest moment was when we saw that humongous ferry behind us!)

      I definitely can include jet skiing in my KW wip. :) Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Catie. I hope you’re having a terrific summer.

  4. Joelene Coleman
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 12:26:35

    We owned jet skis when our kids were teenagers. I actually liked them, but hated the feeling of being stranded when they suddenly quit or sucked something in the impeller. You just float there and wait until someone comes to find you. Also, climbing on one in deep water after falling off one, nearly impossible. I was glad when everyone voted to go back to a boat. Then I got wet when I wanted. Like you, I’d definitely ride my own machine. They’re not hard once you get used to how they manuever. Jealous it was in the Keyes!! Yes. You did humor well.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 08, 2012 @ 14:49:00

      Hi Joelene! Great to see you here. :) I’d imagine it would be very difficult to climb back onto the jet ski, especially when slick with water and sunscreen. I enjoy kayaks, sailboats, and motor boats much more than jet skis. To be fair, though, I should try jet skiing again–in calmer waters with a single rider waverunner–before I make a final decision.

      I hope you’ve been enjoying your boat this summer!

  5. alicamckennajohnson
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 13:43:48

    Thank you- I now know jet skiing is not for me!

  6. Donna Coe-Velleman
    Aug 10, 2012 @ 18:05:59

    I’ve never been on a jet ski which is kind of strange considering I’ve lived near the water all my life. Always wanted to try it. Some day . . .hopefully soon.

    I thought ” If you’re a closet exhibitionist, and enjoy the idea of accidentally exposing your bottom half to your entire tour group at a brief stop to wade at a sandbar, then most definitely, it’s thrilling” funny. Things like that happen at water parks too.

    Enjoyed your exploits – always do. Thanks for sharing

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 10, 2012 @ 19:05:09

      I can laugh about our jet skiing adventure now, but at the time parts of it were quite horrifying! I joke with my husband that the tour guide got an extra tip when I accidentally flashed him. LOL

      I’m thrilled you enjoy my travel stories, Donna! Have a wonderful weekend. :)

  7. TheSkiorganizers
    Aug 12, 2012 @ 22:23:54

    I love jetskiing but I never tried driving it. I’m always the passenger. lol because I’m afraid that I might cause accident. But it is great. I’m just finding courage to drive it on my own next time.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:30:19

      Hi Kathy! Thanks for stopping by. I think I may enjoy jet skiing in the future, but only if I’m on a single rider in calm waters. Our first experience in choppy Atlantic waters at high speeds was a bit much. LOL I’d love to hear how you find the experience as the driver, and maybe that will give me courage to do it as well. :)

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