You can’t wait to get back into the water now that summer is almost here. What better way to spend the day than to take your jet ski out on the water and feel the spray on your face and the wind in your hair?
The only thing that could ruin an otherwise perfect day would be if your jet ski wouldn’t start.
So why doesn’t my boat startup? Your Sea-Doo, Waverunner, or Kawasaki personal watercraft might not start for a number of reasons. There could be a problem with the car’s mechanics, like if the starter relay doesn’t turn or if the battery is dead.
Even though these are more common, it could also be a problem with the starter motor or something your PWC sucked up from the water on its last ride.
There are a few ways to figure out what the problem is, so keep reading and you’ll be back on the water in no time.
It’s one of the most disappointing things that can happen. You got up early and bright. You got dressed. You put on sunscreen, and now you’re ready to go swimming.
You get on your Waverunner, put the key in the ignition, and turn… And nothing takes place.
There may be more than one reason why your ski won’t start, but let’s start with the most obvious.
There is a good chance that the battery in your ski is dead or doesn’t have enough power to start with.
How to Figure
When you turn the key or push the start button on your Waverunner or Sea-Doo and nothing happens (like the display doesn’t come on or it doesn’t beep), it’s likely that the battery is dead and may need to be replaced.
This state should stay the same no matter how many times you turn the key.
But if the display works but only clicks or beeps, the battery is too low to start the PWC.
Some users have said that turning the key over and off over and over and turning the ski on and off has worked (source).
If so, there might be a loose wire or the battery cable might not be tightened all the way. There may also be a dead cell in the battery, especially if it’s old. A professional should look into this problem (source). Most places that sell auto parts will test your battery for free.
Even if you think you know how to start your jet ski by tapping it here and there and shaking it there, that is always a sign that something mechanical is wrong under the hood.
Check out the article “Sea-Doo Won’t Start, Just Beeps” to learn more about beeping sounds.
How to Fix It on the dock or site
Since each PWC is different, the best thing to do before opening it up is to read the manual. But there are a few general things you can do to check and tighten your battery cables in a safe way. First, you have to figure out where your battery is. Some are easier than others to get to.
The battery and system in these ships are able to put out a lot of electricity. If you haven’t worked with electronics before, it’s best to let a professional check out your PWC.
Most of the time, the connections between the battery cables need to be very tight. Slide each terminal’s cover off. Use a screwdriver that is big enough to get them as tight as possible.
Keep a thin layer of battery grease on the ends of the cables to keep the bottom from rusting. Try to start the ski again after you’ve done this. If you can’t get it to start, you can use a battery booster with a low-power output.
This NOCO Boost Plus from Amazon is always on one of our skis. It’s small, comes with a water-resistant case that fits in the storage area, and will be very useful if the battery dies when you are miles away from your launch ramp, dock, or home.
After you jump-started the car and drove it for a while, turn off the engine, wait a few seconds, and then try to start it again. If the battery doesn’t hold a charge, it’s probably time to get a new one.
Putting in a new battery
When it’s time to change the battery, the first step is to take off the black negative battery cable.
Whether you are working with the battery or not, this should be the first cable you disconnect and the last one you reconnect. Taking off the red cable is the next step.
The next step is to disconnect the vent line. Take out all of the screws from the battery holder. At the top of the battery, there should be an easy-to-use holder that you can use to pull it out.
At this point, be very careful to pull the battery out completely vertically, as it often contains corrosive electrolyte liquid that can be very harmful if it touches bare skin.
Even better, wear gloves that protect your hands during the process. Once the battery is on a flat, stable surface, you can free it by pulling the tabs on the top and bottom of the battery holder.
Now it’s safe to change the battery. When you put it back in the Sea-Doo, hold it in the same position and connect the black negative cable last (source). In the video below, I show how to take the back battery out of my Sea-Doo RTX 260.
A starter relay also called a starter solenoid, sends power from the battery to the starter. If your Sea-Doo won’t start, it could be because the power isn’t getting to the starter (source).
How to Figure
Some Sea-Doo owners have said that they have to press the start button more than once before their Sea-Doo will turn on. This is a sign that your starter relay is starting to go bad.
The point where you can’t go back, though, is when you turn on your ski and hear either a click or a thud.
The main difference between a problem with the starter relay and a problem with the battery is that a weak battery will keep clicking, while a problem with the starter relay will only make one click and then nothing.
How to Change It
If you don’t have a lot of experience with your PWC, let the experts do this job.
Even though replacing the starter relay isn’t hard in and of itself, some models have the relay in an awkward place that may make it hard for a novice mechanic to do.
If you do decide to replace it yourself, you should get the starter solenoid from a trusted local dealer. You can also order it online, but it’s important to get real parts.
Even if cheaper parts work just as well, you can’t be sure they will last as long.
Depending on the type of personal watercraft you have, it may be easier to get a new one. Just make sure you take out the battery before you do anything else.
Due to the fact that PWCs are often out on the water and in the sun, they get a lot of wear and tear. The gas and oil mix in different jet skis can damage the spark plugs in different ways.
Spark plug changes should be covered in detail in the owner’s manual, so it’s best to follow that (source).
How to Figure
Spark plugs on a PWC get worn down over time. It is recommended that you change them once or twice a year or every 25–30 hours of use, whichever comes first. You should also keep extra spark plugs on hand in case of an emergency.
How to Change It
Follow these steps to change the spark plugs: Loosen the plug and lift it off with the help of the ignition coil. Use something like Loctite 767 to keep the new spark plug from sticking.
Change the plugs with new ones, and don’t tighten them too much. A good rule of thumb is that the plug should be turned about a quarter turn after it makes contact (source).
This is less likely to be the problem, but if the battery and starter relay are fine, it could be a problem with the starter motor itself.
How to Figure
If the display is working, the battery is fully charged, and you hear a sound like a wheel turning, it could mean that the starter motor is broken.
It’s best to have a shop look at it and figure out what’s wrong. The same thing can sometimes be shown by a click or thud.
How to Change It
Depending on the type of PWC you have, this should also be done by a professional if possible. But if you think you have the skills to do it yourself, here are the steps to follow.
Again, if you want to do something like this at home, you should read the manual first.
Most of the time, you would start by taking out the seat and the intake silencer. Depending on the model, you may have to take out the engine, which is not something that beginners should try to do.
First, disconnect the negative end of the battery cable, and then disconnect the positive cable from the starter motor.
Remove the screws that hold the starter motor in place and slowly move it around until it comes off. Before you put in the new starter motor, you should clean the points where they will touch.
Use Isoflex to grease the O-rings on the new motor (a lubricating substance).
Attach the new starter motor using the same steps you used to take the old one off. Tighten the retaining screws to the level your manual says to.
Carefully reconnect the cables to the starter motor and then the cables to the batteries, and you should be good to go.
Jam on the Radio
Since no one uses a PWC in a pool, there’s a good chance that debris from the ocean or lake will get sucked into the system at some point. We’ve all been there.
Any of these things, like seaweed, floating trash, driftwood, or rocks, could cause your machine to cavitate.
How to Tell
Cavitation happens when the water pressure in an area drops quickly (source). This is likely to happen when something stops the flow of water through the impeller of a PWC, slowing it down.
If your Sea-Doo stops quickly, vibrates a lot, makes a clunking sound from the back of the engine, or gives off any kind of smoke, it’s likely that something has gotten stuck in the motor. Turn off the ski right away.
How to Change It
As much as possible, you should try to stay away from shallow and rocky areas. If you do find yourself in one, move as quickly as you can through it.
But if you see cavitation or any of the other signs above, stop the engine right away and get ready to swim.
Get in the water and pull the key out. Get behind the Sea-Doo and carefully pull out anything that is stuck in the intake. Be careful to pull it out in one piece and not leave any pieces inside. Don’t cut your hand on anything sharp. Slow down.
Even when there is nothing in the way of the intake, there may still be vibration and cavitation. If you have swum to your PWC and can’t see anything solid in the intake, there may be a blockage somewhere else.
In this case, you shouldn’t start the motor again. Instead, you should have your ski towed back to shore. Turn it over or winch it onto your trailer. Check the space between the prop and the wear ring. There could be something stuck in there.
Once your machine is back on land, you can free the blockage with a metal rod or ruler (source). Carefully do this so that you don’t bend the impeller blades or damage the worn ring. If you do either of those things, you will cause other problems and/or lower performance.
In the same way, if something like an old piece of netting gets caught in your shaft, you should bring your Sea-Doo back to shore and take the item out. If the cords are too tightly twisted, you may need to take the grate off.
If you hit rocks while riding, they may have done more damage than you thought, and depending on how bad it is, you may need to replace parts. In that case, please talk to a dealer near you about prices.
More ways to fix problems
Even though the above should help you with the most basic and common problems, there are always ways to fix other, less common problems and situations with your Sea-Doo.
Getting a Sea-Doo that hasn’t been used in years to start up
When starting up a Sea-Doo or any other personal watercraft (PWC) after years of not being used, there are a few things to watch out for. Get a mechanic to look over the craft before you start, if possible. If you know how to, you can look at it yourself.
There are some things to keep an eye out for before you start. The first one would be getting rid of old fuel and oil, which no longer work after being stored for too long.
Check the battery to see if it still has power, and make sure that nothing is leaking liquid.
If the boat wasn’t put away properly winterized, you may need to look for cracks and rust. If the PWC has been in storage for more than two years, you should definitely change the spark plugs.
There is also a chance that the carburetor on older models may need to be rebuilt if the jet ski was stored with gas in it. Gas will turn into lacquer if it sits for too long, and adding new gas won’t help.
On some newer skis, the fuel injector line may get clogged. Also, these lines might need to be changed or at least cleaned.
Once you have done all of these basic checks and made the changes, you should be good to go.
How to Start a Sea-Doo After the Winter
In general, the Storage and Pre-Season Preparation section of the owner’s manual tell you how to winterize your Sea-Doo. If you follow these instructions, your Sea-Doo should be safe and sound for the season.
You could also ask a local dealer to winterize your PWC for you.
But if you properly winterized your Sea-Doo well, it shouldn’t be hard to get it going again after the season is over.
You may have to start the machine a few times before it gets going and runs smoothly, but this problem should only happen on the first start.
After you start your PWC, make sure to look at it and listen to it carefully. If there are strange sounds, vibrations, or lights on, it could mean that the winterization wasn’t done right (source).
Possible Answers to Other Sounds a Jet Ski Can Make
If you hear a whirring sound after turning off your ski, it could mean that the fuel pump or bilge pump (if you have one) is still running.
Even after you turn off the PWC, the bilge pump may keep running for a few minutes, which is normal. However, the fuel pump should not be running.
In this case, check to see if the relay is staying on or if the battery charge isn’t working right (source).
Some users have said that when they turn the handlebars, they make a noise. This usually happens after 5 hours of use.
Most people say that the sound goes away on its own. If this problem keeps happening, spraying WD40 on the column through a straw can help stop the noise (source).
If you hear a clicking sound when you turn your handle left or right, the steering column may be broken. Loosening the link between the steering column and the steering cable will fix this (source).
One Last Thing
Even though people who like personal watercraft (PWCs) might run into problems once in a while, their PWCs will give you hours of fun.
Most problems are easy to solve if you have a little time, money, and patience.