If you have been thinking about getting a Personal Water Craft (PWC), then you really need to understand steering control on a PWC. Driving a PWC takes a little practice, but understanding a PWC’s steering system is crucial. It is important to know that 42 of the 50 U.S. states require passing a mandatory boating safety course to earn a certificate to operate a PWC.
How Does Steering Control Work on a PWC?
Jet drives propel a PWC through water, which are significantly different mechanisms than boat engines and boat steering mechanisms work. PWCs use an internal impeller instead of a spinning external propeller to create the force that causes the boat to turn left or right. This is true for all PWCs. Operating your PWC presents a different issue. Not understanding your PWC steering system can reduce the ability to steer.
Note: “Jet ski” is a Kawasaki model and brand name, and “Sea-Doo” is a Canadian model and brand name of a PWC.
In order to steer a PWC, you need to be moving. A jet drive propels a PWC. The pump pulls water into the jet drive and forces the water out under pressure via a steering nozzle. You manipulate the jet of water via the steering mechanism. When you turn the handlebars to the right, the nozzle turns right and the “jet” propels water to the left, which turns the PWC right and vice versa.
The steering nozzle (thrust nozzle) is part of a jet drive and located at the back of the PWC underneath it. Steering a PWC in reverse is not as easy. You must reverse at idle speed. Steering in reverse other than at idle can throw the rider/s forward or off. The jet drive system is how you steer a PWC without a rudder.
Note: Jet drives are powerful vacuums and can suck up anything in their way, like bark, rocks, ropes, sandals, sand, shells, snakes, sticks, etc.
How Does a Steering Control Work in Reverse on a PWC?
Reversing at a higher speed than idle can lift the stern (back of the PWC) and push the bow (front of the PWC) down and under water. Reverse on a PWC works opposite of steering forward. When you move the handlebars in reverse, the impeller directs the jet in the same direction as the handlebars. If you steer, to move right in reverse, the nozzle redirects the water jet to the right.
Modern PWCs come with a reverse feature. The steering nozzle cover moves over the water outflow tube underneath the back of the PWC and redirects the water jet toward the right underneath the PWC, which pushes it backwards by reverse thrust. The impellers on PWCs cannot reverse their spin direction, only the flow water jet.
Reverse steering on a PWC is accomplished by the steering nozzle cover moving over the nozzle and water outflow. PWC operators can rapidly switch between forward and reverse, which gives the operator better speed control and easier maneuverability when docking. When you put a PWC in neutral, the steering nozzle cover closes off the water jet outflow, and the PWC cannot move forward or backward.
Common PWC Steering Questions
Do You Need Throttle to Steer a PWC?
You can only steer a PWC if you apply the throttle.
Does Steering Control Require More than Idle Speed on a PWC?
Yes, you must engage the throttle and switch out of neutral to steer a PWC. The PWC throttle controls its speed. You must keep the throttle engaged as you accelerate and move through the water.
What Happens to a PWC When You Let Go of the Throttle?
You lose steering control when you release the throttle to idle. If the engine shuts off during operation, you also lose steering control. At that point, the PWC will continue traveling in the direction it was headed before releasing the throttle or the when the engine shuts down.
Is a PWC Very Responsive to Slight Turns of the Steering Control?
PWCs are extremely responsive to slight turns of the steering controls. Quick turns at high speeds cause the PWC to become unstable and can throw off the operator and passenger. This is one of the reasons why most U.S. states require PWC operators and passengers to wear personal flotation devices (PFD).
Does it Matter How You Turn the Steering Wheel on a PWC?
A PWC does not have a steering wheel. Steering a PWC is like steering a motorcycle; you steer a PWC with the handlebars instead of wheels. How you turn the handlebars, which is the steering system, controls the jet drive. The jet drive nozzle shoots the jet in the opposite direction of your hand motions in forward and in the same direction of your hand motions in reverse.
What Can a Jet Drive Impeller Suck Up When in Operation?
One of the advantages of a jet drive is that there is no exposed spinning propeller to injure people or marine life seriously and damage outdrives. While a jet drive is a great system, it is also a powerful vacuum. A jet drive will suck up anything that floats in its path. Objects that get sucked into the intake do not have anywhere else to go. Large objects typically get stuck in the impeller and its housing.
Most commonly, jet drives suck up ropes and dock lines, and next are rocks. Rocks? Huh? In only a few feet of water, the jet drive’s powerful vacuum can suck a rock up off the bottom of the lake bed. Jet drives will suck up bark, rocks, ropes, sand, sandals, shells, snakes, sticks, vegetation, and anything else that enters their impeller’s path.
If your PWC sucks up an object, immediately shut off the engine. Do not try to rev the engine to remove the object, and do not put the PWC in reverse. Do not try to remove the intake grate that is designed to prevent your jet drive from sucking up large objects. Typically, the intake grate is fastened with through-bolts. Through-bolts become easily damaged if you try to remove them, which will require much more work and money to fix a jammed jet drive.
Do not flip your PWC over. First, try shaking it from side to side. If the object does not shake loose, you need to get it to land. The best way to do that is to paddle it to the shore or hire a boat towing service. The most pragmatic thing to do is to take your PWC to your dealership or a reputable PWC mechanic. YouTube is full of videos that can show you how to safely remove debris from your jet drive.
Ropes are the easiest objects to remove because you can usually cut them out in pieces, but do not try that in the water. Rocks can do the most damage, resulting in damage to the impeller and the jet pump liner. Avoid riding in shallow water lined with aquatic vegetation so you do not get clogged up with wet weeds, and be careful after storms when debris has washed into the water body from the shore.