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What to do when you Flip your Jet Ski

by | Oct 2, 2018 | Interviews

Riding a jet ski is the first boating experience for a lot of people. It’s a great way to begin enjoying the water, but inexperience lends itself to some big issues when you’re operating a pretty powerful craft. Todd Bello, a long time friend of RaftUp, volunteered his advice for what to do when you flip a Jet Ski.

Check out this interview with Todd, or watch the video down below! 

Your name, location, and hailing port?

My name is Todd Bello, and I am in Needham, Massachsetts, a suburb of Boston. My hailing port is Lake Sebago in Maine, that’s where I do all my boating.

Have you been boating your whole life or did you get into it?

I was on my first boat when I was about 4 or 5 years old. And then once I got off to college I took a bit of a hiatus. With the acquisition of a few boats about 6 or 7 years ago, we purchased a lake house and the rest is history. We’ve been boating ever since.

What kind of boats did you acquisition?

We have quite a few lake toys. I am very partial to Sea-Doo. I have a Sea-Doo jet boat and I have probably 4 Sea-Doo jet skis. We also bought a Chaparral boat. So we have lots of toys.

Yeah, we have a video of Ryan, Corey’s cousin, with his hat flying off the Sea-Doo Boat.

We had a great time with Ryan, we really did.

GIF of ryan boelkens on a boat with the wind making him lose his hat

So you said you’re partial to Sea-Doos. What is that about? Is it the manufacturer, the make, some part of your history?

Part of it is that it’s what I know and what I understand. The older Sea-Doos are two stroke engines – so they’re very straightforward, simple machines. They’re easy to repair, and they’re very reasonable to repair.

In general, boating is extremely expensive and repairs and mechanics are expensive. Because I know how to repair them and they’re very straightforward machines, I’m able to stay on the water almost the entire summer.

If you have something that you don’t understand for a boat, if it breaks on July 4th, you’re done until the following year basically.

Are you worried about that with the Chaparral?

I’ve gotten more familiar with that boat as well. We’ve been lucky, it’s been very reliable. But that’s why we have multiple toys, because redundancy is the best!

You wanted to talk about Jet Ski capsizing –

Some people like to just, as a joke, capsize and horse around. But generally, when you run into a problem with capsizing, it’s when you have multiple passengers.

You’re much more prone to having injuries if there are two or three people on the jet ski versus one. As the driver, you can anticipate the capsizing, you can plan for it and be careful. When there are more people on board, they might not know to brace themselves and you’re more prone to injury. 

Knowledge is power. If you are carrying passengers, let them know what to expect. Mention to them that there is a possibility of capsizing. Explain what will happen and what to do. That way, in the event it does happen, it goes a lot smoother.

Believe it or not, most of the time when there are multiple people on a jet ski and it capsizes, the speed is probably ZERO. When a jet ski is in motion, they’re pretty stable. They don’t really tip over, especially the larger machines. It’s when you’re stopped and all of the sudden a wave comes – up and over you go, especially if there is a lot of weight on the ski.

The other way that you’re sure to capsize on a jet ski is giving it gas from a dead stop with the wheel turned. That’s the recipe for capsizing. 

It’s deceptively simple. A lot of people think they can drive a jet ski perfectly the first time.

And it’s not the case. People say that all the time.

It’s not really a toy. They go 50 MPH, and they have to be driven with a certain amount of care.

As far as capsizing goes, there are a couple things to keep in mind:

From a mechanical standpoint, engines aren’t meant to get flooded and soaked. The wires aren’t meant for that. To constantly be putting a machine through that means that it’s not going to hold up as well as a unit that you take care of. But accidentally capsizing it 2 or 3 times during the course of a jet skis lifetime is not really a big deal.

When you capsize, it’s designed so the jet ski will shut off. Hopefully, everyone is complying with the law and wearing a life vest. The most important thing is that the driver or captain of the jet ski ensures that all the passengers are okay and that they’ve surfaced. Then you need to give them instructions.

Chances are if you gave them a briefing before, they’ll be more prepared and calm. Other than that, they’re probably going to be scared and shocked and they’re going to be looking to you for direction.

You need to let them know that if they’re okay they need to go with you and swim toward the jet ski. It’s important for them to be near the jet ski. It’s very hard for them to see you when you’re in the water. The safest place is for everyone to be at the jet ski. When you get to the jet ski, everyone can hold on to the side and get a breather. The adrenaline is pumping. Even if you anticipate a capsize, once you’re in the water and it’s cold, your adrenaline is pumping. If it’s their first time on a jet ski or they’re not used to capsizing, it’s a little scary. You want them to be able to gain their composure.

Once everyone’s ready, you need to swim around to the back of the jet ski first thing. In particular with SEA DOOs it actually says on the back its directional. There’s only one way you’re supposed to upright the ski. Depending on which model jet ski, it may differ. But you need to follow that. If you upright it by rotating it counter clockwise and the decal says that you need to turn it clockwise, there’s a pretty good likelihood you’re not going to be able to get that jet ski restarted. The reason they tell you to upright it in a certain manner is if you upright it the wrong way, then it really fills the engine with water. At that point, you’re not going to get it started, at least not out in the open water. 

Once you see the decal in the back and you know which direction you need to go, you’d ask your passengers to give you a little space, they should be about 5 feet away from the jet ski. As the captain, you would get up on the hull of the ski, grabbing the intake grate, and almost leaning completely over the ski. Then you can rock it back and forth by holding onto the sponson on the opposite side.  You should be able to upright the ski that way.

Jet skis are designed to be buoyant. They have these tubes which don’t allow them to fill with water, but they do get some water in them. Once the ski is upright, the way you board the ski is through the back. You never want to board on the side, you will more than likely just re-capsize. 

Believe it or not, as the captain, you would go on first. Because it’s going to be too difficult to switch around. So you would go on first, and then guide the other folks to come around to the back of the ski. You may want to be able to give them a hand and help them onto the ski. If there is a ladder on the ski like many of them have, it’s much easier. But in general, it is a little bit of work. It’s much easier to board a jet ski when you can stand or you’re at the dock. When you’re in open water, it’s a little bit trickier.

Once you’re on the ski you put your lanyard back on the post. Start the ski, and hopefully it will start right away. The key is to upright the jet ski as quick as possible. You are on a time crunch. If it stays capsized for 20 or 25 minutes, than the likelihood of you being able to start it goes down. The engine will ultimately get water in it.

Jet skis are self bailing, so once you start it, if you get going it empties all of the water that’s in the hull. That’s the best case scenario. You get on your merry way.

What I would recommend is that once you’re on your way, when you get the water out of the hull, you may want to stop and get a read from your passengers to make sure they’re really okay. Now the adrenaline’s wearing off they may realize that when they fell off they banged their leg or their head. You want to make sure that any injuries are addressed and not just go out and jet ski for the rest of the day.

That’s all one scenario. The other scenario is that if you have an older ski, and those flotation tubes aren’t in place or they were leaking, even after you upright the ski there may be so much water that you can’t put all three people back on the ski. As the captain, once you get on the ski you would need to make an assessment to see if you’re really low in the water, and decide if it will be able to handle 2 more people. You may need to start up the ski and quickly do a large, wide-open circle around the passengers, maybe 20 feet away. Doing a circle around protects them from other boats and you’re able to let the jet ski bail itself out without the extra weight. If there is too much water in the ski, you’ll find that when you put two passengers back on it will be under water again.

That’s my take on capsizing. After that happens, the best thing to do is ride the ski and let it dry out. Give the engine gas and let it run. When you get back to the dock, if you can take the seat off, let the air get at the engine and the wiring and the computer it’s better for it if you give it the chance to dry out.

So if you capsize, your day is not ruined.

Most of the time if you capsize, things go really well and you’re good to go. A lot of the times when your day is over it is when you haven’t maintained the ski properly. If the flotation tubes aren’t in place, when the jet ski capsizes it will very quickly fill up with water. Once the water reaches halfway up the engine of the ski, especially with a two stroke engine, it almost certainly will not work. Basically, you’re over the intakes of the carburetor.

We had a situation where a cousin and I capsized last year. When we got to the ski, the entire engine compartment was under water. All you could see was the spark plugs. At that point it was unable to start and we had to tow it with another jet ski into the dock. And that brings me to what to do if your jet ski engine is totally submerged.

If you do need a tow, you know where to go.

Let your friends and nearby boaters know when you are in a jam. Stay connected and stay safe on the water.
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