Travel by personal watercraft (PWC) can be very fun, but being on such a small craft in a large body of water can pose challenges. Riding 50+ miles in a day can really add a level of stress to what is usually something very fun.
Most people ride their skis a few hours a year. Maybe they'll take them to the lake and putz around for an hour or two, then put it in the driveway to dry out for a few weeks in between runs. Then, there's us. We ride our skis (well, ski now) several times a week, and year round, often racking up over 50 hours a year. Since we aren't wanting to take on the additional expense of boat ownership at this time, we ride our skis all over the Chesapeake Bay. And I mean, ALL OVER!
I'm an old Coastie, so safety on the water is my number one priority. In this blog post, I'm going to detail exactly what we do to prepare for the safest long distance rides possible, even in rough weather. Preparing for a long distance ski ride is similar to a trip on the boat, but with a few extra nuances that shouldn't be overlooked.
File a float plan
The number one rule for boating is to file a float plan every time you get underway. This doesn't have to be a formal report to the nearest Coast Guard Station, or even a written plan. Just tell someone, preferably someone that cares about you, and consider two people if you aren't very well liked, where you are going, what time you are leaving, and when you will return.
The number one rule for riding skis long distances is to file a float plan.
The basics of an effective float plan start with telling a trusted person:
When I ride long distances, it's usually to meet up with someone. So I'll shoot them a text when I'm on the ski and departing the ramp where I splashed. In the text, I'll say, "I'm leaving now and expect to be there at 'x' o'clock." If I'm alone on the trip I'll shoot a message to Kari, also. When I get there, the people I'm meeting will know, but I'll shoot Kari a message letting her know I made it safely.
We also have an app on our phones called Life360 that allows us to see each other in real time. We can keep an eye on each other, even when it's not possible to make a phone call due to rough conditions, or whatever the case may be. We share our positions with the people that we boat with the most, so we can all keep an eye on each other.
As morbid as it may sound, having a last known position when you go missing greatly increases your chances of being found.
Proper equipment and gear is one of the challenges of a safe PWC trip that you normally don't have to consider on a boat. If you are going to haul yourself across a body of water like the Chesapeake Bay, you have to have the right gear. What started off as a calm morning, can quickly turn into a rough, and potentially dangerous, afternoon. Skis aren't only susceptible to weather, but being as small as PWC's are, they can be greatly affected by boat wakes and small chop. The Chesapeake Bay fills up with boats on the weekends, especially in the afternoon. All those boats rip up the Bay, even when calm weather conditions are predicted. The number two rule for riding long distances on a ski is to prepare for rough water, no matter what, because even a 1' chop can be challenging to a PWC.
The number two rule for riding long distances on a ski is to prepare for rough water, no matter what.
It's imperative that your ski is up to the task. Perform your pre-ride checks per the owners manual. Don't attempt to cross the Bay if the ski needs maintenance or repairs. We generally keep our skis until they have over 100 hours, then we sell them. Sea Doo's like we ride are expected to last several hundred hours, and we change the oil every season, even if they are below the hours for an oil change. When we sell them, the new owners are getting a great ski that has been well taken care of, but they are reaching that point where I'm not comfortable taking it across the Bay. In my mind, it won't serve my purposes.
Have a full tank of gas.
Although you are a responsible skier and you checked the weather and distances and have concluded you can make it to your destination on half a tank of gas, keep in mind you might have to return on that same tank of gas. There aren't many places to fuel up on the Bay, especially since PWC's don't have the range boats do. I always leave with a full tank of fuel, and it has saved my butt on at least three occasions when the fuel dock was closed at my destination, or there just wasn't a fuel dock at all.
I prefer to fuel my skis up at a gas station because the gas is much cheaper on land than on the water. This also insures that I'm getting in the water with a full tank of fuel and I don't have to worry about whether the local fuel dock is open or not. Also, it saves time on my trip since I can get in the water and go without having to stop for gas. I normally haul the skis to the gas station up the road the night before a big trip.
Riding a big trip isn't the same as taking the wave runner out for a spin on the weekend. You are going to need to conserve fuel, which means you aren't going to be in Sport Mode jumping wakes and doing doughnuts. Remember, you are going to be all alone and miles from the nearest fuel source. There are plenty of times on our rides we are 20 or more miles from the nearest fuel dock. Most of the time we are 5 to 10 miles from a fuel source. Still not a distance I want to paddle the ski just to find out the fuel dock is closed.
We own our particular Sea Doo skis for several big reasons. But one of the biggest reasons is fuel economy. The skis burn about 3 gallons per hour in touring mode, or 1 or 2 gallons per hour in Eco mode. Eco mode is your friend on long trips and can help prevent a stranding due to running out of fuel short of your destination. This brings us to our next section:
Pick the right ski!
Although many jet skis on the market today are capable of making long distance trips on the Chesapeake Bay, you need to do your research and choose the ski that is right for you. For example, as much fun as it is to go 70+ mph on a Sea Doo, I would not recommend a Sea Doo RXT 300 for touring. Here is why.
We have owned two types of Sea Doo hulls: a GTI and GTX. The GTI hull was our first ski; it was inexpensive so we could see if this was something we really want to do or not. Well, I guess it is something we really want to do! The GTI was great on gas, even better than the GTX we have now, but it was not comfortable.
After doing some research, we decided the Sea Doo GTX 155 is the best ski for us, for the following reasons:
There are certain laws in place for PWC's, so make sure you know them before heading out.
Wear, and fasten your freaking life jacket.
Other gear. This is the basics of gear. Leave a comment if you travel with something I haven't mentioned here:
Know the rules of the road!
My biggest pet peeve on the water is some idiot not knowing, or worse, ignoring, the rules of the road. It isn't hard. Here's the parts you need to know on a PWC:
Pay special attention to rule 4. It is very important. It means if some yahoo is breaking rule 1 or 2, it is YOUR responsibility to prevent a collision. This goes for all boats in all situations. PWC's are difficult to see, so stay vigilant to keep from getting run over.
In my experience, it's difficult to see to the left and right beyond my shoulders from the seat of my Sea Doo. This is because of the splash from the bow wake that comes up about 4' in the air right next to where I'm sitting. Also, I wear goggles over my glasses, so they are normally wet, which makes it even more difficult to see. Most boaters on the Chesapeake Bay do not realize that PWC's fall under the same rules and regs as all other boats, and seem to be under the impression that their boat always has right of way. Very rarely has anyone given way to me when I'm on the ski. In almost every case, I have had to avoid the collision, whether it's ignorance on their part, or they can't see me is up for debate. I assume I'm invisible unless they give some sign that they see me and are giving way.
The hardest boats for me to see are center consoles. I can see other jet skis from pretty far away. Long before I see the actual ski and rider, I can clearly see the splash. Larger boats are easy because you can see the superstructure, and most smaller boats create enough of a splash and wake that I can see that before I can see the hull, much like another PWC. But center consoles are small enough you can't see the hull from much more than a mile out, and they cut through the water so efficiently that there is no splash to give them away. Every close call I've had in the middle of open water has been with a center console that snuck up on me. They cruise at about the same speed, and faster in some cases, as jet skis do, so if you don't see them until they are a mile from you, you can easily miss them until they are right up on you honking a horn.
I wish more boaters understood how difficult it is to maneuver a PWC in rough conditions, which even a 1' chop can be rough on a ski. But, they don't and never will. So it's up to us to keep an eye out and start avoiding the collision miles away from the intersection.
Have fun out there! Share your trips by PWC on the Chesapeake Bay on social media with the #ChesapeakeWanderlust and #ChesapeakeBay so we can see your posts and give them a like! We love hearing from anyone that loves exploring the Chesapeake Bay, so all boaters are welcome to flag us down and say hi if you see us out there!
We are an adventurous couple exploring the Chesapeake Bay by boat, paddle board, jet ski, and whatever other means necessary!
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