By Mike Milne

A PWC rental is often a new rider’s first experience with the sport, but the rental experience is a dim, distant memory for most personal watercraft owners. You can’t always take your own watercraft with you, though, so rental is sometimes an option for experienced riders as well.

I found myself in that situation recently during a holiday in Florida with my riding partner, Jocelyn. In light of our experience, here are some lessons for all would-be renters.

PWCs with relatively low power and basic equipment make up the world’s rental fleets.

First, don’t expect the machines to be pretty or fast. PWCs with relatively low power and basic equipment make up the world’s rental fleets. They are subjected to open-air storage and daily use, in fresh and salt water. Still, closely inspect your machine and point out any existing damage to the rental operator before leaving.

Do expect the machines to be clean, ready to run and free of obvious structural damage. Also, make sure the operators are focused on ensuring your safety and your enjoyment as well as the security of their machines.

The first operator we visited – amid a mélange of rental boats, rickety docks and watercraft awaiting repair – offered us one with a badly cracked seat and a missing mirror. The young attendant tossed me a rental agreement, while hustling a couple with two young children onto the water. Their safety and navigation briefing was perfunctory. (“Know the waters around here? Don’t run into anything!”) We made excuses and left to check out a couple of other nearby operators.

The second stop had cleaner surroundings and docks that were easier to access, along with a more helpful staff. Its three operational machines were already out for the day, but the young attendant showed us one that was left just in case renters ran into trouble.

A close look revealed structural contusions in the PWC’s topsides that could only have been done by high-speed collisions or a very annoyed renter with a baseball bat. The young man in charge assured us his boss “only charges about $150 for a fist-sized hole.” He directed us to another rental operation.

There, we found a fleet of more than a dozen machines ready to go. There were safety checklists and careful paperwork.

Despite our assurances that we had plenty of experience, we got a standard, detailed lecture on “dos and don’ts.” We had to stay 300 yards offshore on the open ocean or within the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) markers. Don’ts included following other boats of watercraft closer than 50 yards, landing anywhere or jumping a boat wake. A young employee on a Sea-Doo patrolled the approved riding area regularly.

We arrived back at the dock two hours later wind-blown and coated with salt spray. The open ocean was too rough to be much fun, but we had explored an unfamiliar part of the ICW and enjoyed up-close encounters with several of the local dolphins and bat rays at a nearby pass.

The dolphins really made the deal worthwhile, but the professional and pro-safety approach of the rental operators made that possible. You won’t always have such a wide choice of rental operators, but still choose carefully. It’s better to stay on the dock than risk a bad experience out on the water.

This article is featured in the Summer 2014 issue of Boats&Places.