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Phuket & Pattaya Jet Ski, the ultimate fun or scam-tool?

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

When the motorcycle powerhouse Kawasaki branded their watercraft with jet propulsion "Jet Ski", they did not expect to brand an entire range of highly mobile miniature vessels. 1973 saw the first prototypes of Jet Ski as stand-up versions with bike-like handlebars. Motorcycle engines gave them enormous power and speeds, yet kept manufacturing cost down to a low level. Other motorcycle manufacturers followed suit quick and designed their own personal watercraft. Yamaha's line was called WaveRunner and featured easier to handle hulls with up to 3 in-line seats. Kawasaki's line was geared more for the extreme sport society and demanded a much higher level of skill to operate. Today's range of so called "Jet Ski" for rent are almost all Yamaha products, which are relatively easy to operate and service.

So expect a WaveRunner, when renting a Jet Ski at any place in Thailand or Malaysia. Prices for rentals of personal watercraft have escalated dramatically over the last decade. While half an hour on a fairly new, fully equipped model in Batu Ferringhi or on Langkawi in Malaysia costs you from 25 to 50 Ringgit (250 to 500 Baht), the charges for older models in Phuket, are about three times that high! That was one of the reasons, the author did his own jet skiing some years ago, in Malaysian waters, for a fraction of the price on better and newer WaveRunners..

Gangs of young men usually surround each Jet Ski on Thai beaches, looking for customers or victims of their scams. Some of them may be regular business folks, but headlines in international media in the past, were reporting frequently on such scams in Phuket or Pattaya. In a concerted action with corrupt police officers, renters were often charged wildly inflated prices for any damages, these watercraft already had upon their pick-up. This was seen as a great source of additional income and some police dudes might have been in this vicious circle. BBC and other reliable news sources, reported knife or gun wielding staff, threatening the renters out of their cash in bulk! YouTube is full of similar reports, just use their search-tool, if interested. Neither Pattaya nor Patong have a month without incidents, but those are  usually suppressed in the local media. Foreign Police Volunteers on Pattaya Beach, have been ordered not to get involved.

The guys there grow in numbers almost by the year, with Pattaya Beach, Jomtien and Patong on Phuket, having witnessed the most dramatic increase in numbers. Other resort islands have decided to keep their beaches clean and swimmers safe, by prohibiting jet ski rental operations. In some cases that must have been a wise decision, because those resorts enjoy a much higher guest satisfaction rating and get a lot less bad press from the Jet Ski scams.

Renters are rarely aware of the potential damage to their wallets. Being in a holiday mood, they just want to max out their fun. Most rental Jet Skis have scratches and damages to their hulls and exterior anyhow, any service is restricted to the engine and exterior decals. Below pictured old-timer (pre-Millennium), should for instance have a mirror inside the yellow casing, who knows how many seasons it is lacking this and how many renters have already paid for it. Jet Ski rentals on crowded beaches are an annoyance to parents with kids and swimmers. I have witnessed Jet Ski races, where diver's buoys (anchored markers of a dive-site, signaling people below!) were used to race around (Koh Larn, Pattaya). Heavy injuries through contact with a speeding Jet Ski have killed  or injured many swimmers and riders in the past. Licenses of any kind, are not required for renters, just your cash. Intoxicated renters race between swimmers, snorkelers and surfers daily in Thai waters. They have a hard time controlling the horsepower of the watercraft and rarely wear suitable eye protection, so they are half blinded by sea water spray on top of that.

The rental guys are polite and friendly during the initial approach, some  of these have been documented to wield knifes or even guns, if the renter returns the watercraft and doesn't fork over huge amounts of extra cash for damages. The damage may be years old, but if a renter took it out for a ride – he will have to prove his innocence. Corrupt cops in uniform are quick on the scene and add pressure to the situation, they always side with the local rental gangs and may even be a part of this scam.

Although Jet Ski driving is a lot of fun to some, the potential risks in Thailand to get taken is latent. Malaysian Jet Ski rentals do not seem to have this burden to cope with. I always paid just for time used and often negotiated a discount or extra time for longer rentals on Langkawi or when on Penang's Batu Ferringhi coast. Parasailing (to hang in a parachute and get dragged by a boat) is also available there at much fairer prices.

The more modern watercraft in Thailand's southern neighbor country, are extremely fast and they do have a selection of Seadoos and real Jet Ski made by Kawasaki. It is quite a difference to what is being offered on Phuket's and Pattaya's beaches.

Thais consider every personal, small watercraft a Jet Ski ;). Even those horrific things with a regular outboard engine, as still available for rent in Thailand. These things are extremely dangerous, as the screws can maim swimmers or dismember limbs in a split second. Cha-Am, Bang Saen and other beaches still allow these right in large crowds of bathing kids and holiday guests!

Harmless objects, like the occasional coconut on tropical shores, can do seriously cause damage to a WaveRunner. They can actually break a hull, if they get between the sand and the bottom of the WaveRunner or Jet Ski. Rocks do similar damage, so make sure to avoid these, when returning the toy.

The Boys in Brown are of no help in any dispute with the local Jet Ski gangs, please keep that in mind and insist on Tourist Police for each and any quarrel you may have, their phone number is nationwide 1155. Better yet, chose safer places to enjoy your holiday fun – if you are undecided.

Those poor patrons, that have fallen victims to these scams, come in high numbers. Barely anyone raises his voice, they pay silently and duck away. If the authorities on law enforcement can't put a stop on this, tourism as such, will hurt significantly. There are a few media outlets, that do not duck away from the Jet Ski Mafia and those would like to have your story. Meanwhile, avoid the most dangerous shores in Patong on Phuket and Pattaya, until they clean up their act. TAT, the Tourism Authority, turns again a blind eye and plays happy-dandy, instead of offering legal help or at least a hotline for victims!

Thailand's beaches do well without this negative and annoying aspect, make it safe again for swimmers and visitors. Eliminate corruption and eradicate scams, where police seems to take an active part in the extortion of tourists!




UPDATE 17.03.2011:

Our Junior Chief Reporter Teddy discovered a Jet Ski ride, guaranteed free of any scam at the Robinson Department Store in Future Park Rangsit! :)

He claims that the ride cost doesn't exceed 10 Baht per 3 minutes of hard use and that they did not have shortened his riding duration, despite the fact that he is a genuine 0% Thai!

He will appreciate any donation in the form of 10 Baht coins to go on an endurance test by readers!