Bloopers: Flipping Our Jet Ski on Lake Michigan

Daniel and I are only human, and that means that our adventures aren’t always picturesque and perfect. We’ve had many quirky, messy and – frankly – terrifying moments in our travels, too. But all the better to laugh at afterward, of course! This is one of those moments from our 'Travel Bloopers.' The time we flipped our jet ski and took a dip in a freezing Lake Michigan.


We spent one week in Chicago at the end of August. The first half of the week was sunny and summery—sunscreen and sunglasses included. But by the time the end of the week rolled around, there was a crispness in the air, and an unmistakable ‘autumn cool’ seeping in. 

So of course, Daniel and I decided to go jet skiing on Lake Michigan at the end of the week, right? 

By the time we signed our lives away, handed over a credit card and pulled on those silly life vests, we were laughing. It was cold outside, and the water was even colder. 58 degrees, to be specific. 

The first part of our jet skiing adventure included walking 20-yards waist-deep in the chilly water, then standing—teeth chattering—as an instructor told us how to operate the giant machine. 

Here are the two most vital tips we learned for manning a jet ski:

  1. Mount and dismount the jetski from the back. If you try to mount it from the side, it’ll tip or flip. It’s not the most graceful thing scooting off a jet ski while straddling it—but just do it. You might regret trying to get on or off any other way.
  2. Take your turns wide and fast. It kind of goes against your instincts to press the gas harder when you go around a turn. But do it. Trust us.

The first minute of riding our jet ski was exhilarating – we had (what seemed to be) the whole lake to ourselves, except for my sister and her boyfriend on a jet ski opposite from us. It seemed no one else in Chicago wanted to go jet skiing on 58 degree water—we can’t imagine why. 

The harder you hold the gas, the higher you skip above the water. As you hit waves, you actually get air! We soon grew accustomed to the temperature, and we didn’t even notice the icy water splashing us as we zipped across the lake. The Chicago skyline looked magnificent on one side of us, and the endless, ridiculously blue, expanse of Lake Michigan stretched along on the other. 

We only ran into trouble when we tried to take our first turn. 

Instead of taking the turn “wide and fast,” we did literally the exact opposite—a tight turn, after letting up on the gas. Our jet ski capsized immediately. 

When I hit the 58 degree water, I was laughing. It wasn’t a fearful moment at all. I’m a strong swimmer, and I had that silly life vest—so I just relished the moment of being submerged in the clear, fresh lake water. I also managed to keep the go pro (attached to my wrist on its own ‘floaty selfie stick’) completely trained on my face—I got skillz. 

When I turned around, Daniel was already swimming back toward the jet ski—thankfully, it hadn’t completely flipped, so it was just bobbing in the water beside us. By the time he was able to swim back to the jet ski, pull himself back up and grab the go pro from me, I had been in the water for over a minute. I was still laughing—especially when I realized that I was in a bit of a predicament. Apparently mounting a jet ski from the back when you have nothing to push off of and have to rely only on your upper-body strength is a little bit harder than you would think! … Especially when you’re numb from treading 58 degree water for over a minute! 

Daniel reached out to try and help. By the time I started (attempting) to pull myself back up, our supervisor had ridden his own jet ski the ½ mile to our sad, capsized location. I told him “I can’t get back up!” and he didn’t help at all—instead he just said “yes you can. Use your legs.” (I had forgotten about those, but with the reminder I realized he was right and I actually didn't need assistance.) When I finally managed to get my knee up and onto the jet ski, I used the strength I have there to make up for the lack-thereof in my arms, and I was able to remount the jet ski—completely frozen, but not deterred! 

The next turn we took was wide and fast and seamless. We even split off onto two jet skis so that I could drive my own (and mockingly race him.) It was such a fun experience—and a little bit more difficult than I would have imagined! Speeding across the top of the lake on my own jet ski—riding the waves and getting more air than I probably would have liked—was outrageously fun. 

My last word of advice for those who have never jet skied before: your arms might be very sore the next day. Especially if you don’t often exercise them. (Guilty.) There’s more in the arm strength than you would think—you have to hold your whole self onto it, because your body would rather be flying off the back each time you hit a wave. 

All slip-ups included, it is an experience we recommend—especially on the less-tumultuous, very clear Lake Michigan with the photogenic Chicago skyline dazzling at you from the beach. If you're in Chicago during the warmer months, definitely take a stop at North Avenue beach and rent from the great team at Jet Ski Chicago!