Jetski Cowboy

Jetski Cowboy

How to safely use a jet ski for surfing.

Just about like anything, a jet ski for surfing requires a few steps to get it setup right.
In this article we are focusing on a ski to take you to a surf spot efficiently. Not a ski for towing in to waves.
As a surfer, you already have a head start in that you know surf and weather conditions and can swim or paddle in open ocean.

Getting your licence

In Queensland you need a boat licence and a jet ski licence. Make a few important abbreviations or reminders of the rules.

Purchasing a ski

Buyer beware.

If buying a second hand ski get a pre-purchase inspection using the mechanic who will eventually service your ski.
There's hours and there's hours. A ski that has limited hours may have issues from lack or use.
"Only been driven in a dam for 6 hours" may sound too good to be true.

2 seater or 3

Whilst the specs may say a ski is technically a 3 seater - its really only a 3 seater if the 3 people on it are comfortable and the ski still handles safely in the worst conditions.
Surfboards add another dimension. They can be awkward around your feet.

A sand anchor

If you surf the amazing spots that are sand based you will need a sand anchor.
These useful inventions dig in more as the pressure is placed on them.
They are not too difficult to pull up and do not weigh too much.
Use 8 or 6 mm chain with a chain sock. I prefer a lighter chain (stainless steel) but a longer chain section.
Some boat stores will recommend galvanised chain for its strength.

Sand Anchor

Another suggestion is to have 3 times more rope than you need and a very light buoy attached to the end of your rope.
You may need to ditch your anchor in an emergency so having an anchor permanently attached to the ski could cause issues.
Some surf spots are semi protected but require your ski to tolerate large swells that can lift your ski (hence the long chain and long rope).
In relatively calm situations you can use less rope.


Legal, good well fitting jackets like the JetPilot variety can cost as much as $200 each. A good lifejacket will add a layer of warmth on those winter mornings.

Racks for your boards

Racks designed to carry surfboards on ski's make the ride more comfortable. Jett Tech make great surfboard racks, these are NOT designed for towing in.

Jett Tech Jetski Racks

Regular servicing of your ski

3 in one silicon spray Any object that sits in salt water will deteriorate rapidly. There are some excellent lubricants. Some lubricants work a treat on your trailer but are a bit greasy for the engine. For metal near plastic, my favourite protection lubricant is 3 in one Silicon spray. This spray converts and stops rust.

Another recommended lubricant is SCA Multi-purpose Lubricant Spray 400g

  • Lubricant and penetrant
  • Prevents rust
  • Removes moisture and sticky surfaces

Some issues with skis can only be diagnosed or discovered with a water test. Hence a mechanic with quick access to water test your ski is a bonus.

Flush it out after every trip

The time you gain by getting a ski in the water early is some what diminished with the need to wash and flush the ski afterwards.


You are going to find yourself in an emergency, and never at a time that suits you.

When it comes to ski's and emergencies - you may need to dump the ski to save yourself.

So avoid putting yourself in a situation where the ski is the only last resort - it's a machine and can and will breakdown.
Something as simple as a piece of rope getting into the intake can seize up your ski instantly.

When you are in an emergency a well fitting lifejacket will be a bonus. If you are accidentally knocked out unconscious the lifejacket may save your life.
You may not even have a lifejacket on.

You may need to help someone else in an emergency. This may put you at more risk in the process. Knowing your capabilities helps here.

Know your ski. How does it handle with a chunk of white-water coming at you? How big is the turning circle? Can you safely out run a massive set of waves?

How close can you safely be to a breaking wave?

Doing the dawny

One of the benefits of a ski is you can be preparing in the dark and hit the surf at dawn or before first light.
If you are going with friends, the more organised you are the better.
If there are others at a boat ramp, you need to be efficient at getting your ski into the water and out of the way.

Many a friendship has faltered at a boat ramp, especially when rushing damages someone's car.
Make sure your bungs are screwed in. Some prefer to have started the ski before they get to the ramp.
If there are 5 steps to getting your ski on to your towbar ready for a trip - check you have done those 5.
If you accidentally leave the jockey wheel of the trailer down, a dip in a road could be an issue.

Follow the laws re navigation lights - not all vessels have the same visibility - they may not be able to see you.

On winter mornings it can get very cold on a ski. Gloves, boots, a water proof jacket, wetsuit hood and face windbreaker on top of a decent wetsuit should sort that out.

Reversing your trailer

Practise reversing your trailer. It is counter intuitive at first. Tradies who have worked with trailers for years can be amazingly nimble reversing a trailer.

Basic Knots

Practise all of the knots you will need.
Refer to diagrams of Yachting Knots

  • Bowline - for forming a loop and easily undone later
  • Clove Hitch - quick knot for tying to a pole or object
  • Half Hitch Knot - quick knot for tying to a pole or object
  • Cleat Hitch - for tying your ski to a cleat (when mooring)
  • Sheet Bend - for tying two pieces of rope together (emergency towing)

Example Mishaps

At a bar entrance in a 5 metre swell I have rolled the ski and had it partially operational whilst 2 passengers are in the drink. (they were rescued and the ski eventually started again)

In some swells the sand becomes very loose and what normally would hold does not. In one situation the anchor would not hold and eventually white-water was hitting the ski sideways with the anchor providing a pivot that probably stopped it tipping over.

A ski that had functioned well for 10 years had engine failure, fortunately it could limp home back to the boat ramp.

The lanyard broke on one occasion. Fortunately the ski was not at high speed.

A surfer did a serious shoulder injury and needed to be taken back to the boat ramp. This was quite tricky and needed a number of people. Eventually a surfer with an inflatable boat was the best option.

Stuff just happens, so be prepared.

Tow-in Surfing Safety

The Queensland Government has a Tow-in Surfing code of conduct. It defines tow-in surfing also to include step-off's. The same rules apply to someone holding a rope behind a ski or sitting on the ski and being dropped onto a wave.

  • No requirement for an observer
  • Must not operate the watercraft at a speed of more than six knots within 200 metres of other surfers

So essentially surfers in the water have total right of way. But tow-in surfing and step-offs are legal with some requirements as to the equipment you must carry.

Tow In Surfing With JetSki

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