Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on July 19, 2022.
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When we started our quest to do everything in Pittsburgh, if someone would've said that one of the most enjoyable river activities is taking out a jet ski, I would've had some contrarian thoughts.
But after taking a jet ski for a spin on the Allegheny River and around Point State Park as guests of Steel City Jet Ski Rentals, I have to admit, I'm a convert.
Not only is riding a jet ski immensely fun, but it is also a great way to see a number of river highlights in a craft that you are able to control outright. The adrenaline junkie in me was thrilled with the speed element, and the photographer in me even more so as it made for wonderful city photography too!
Enjoying the Three Rivers with Steel City Jet Ski Rentals
My day out with Steel City Jet Ski Rentals started at their dock on the outskirts of Sharpsburg, about eight miles to the east of downtown Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River.
After getting outfitted with all the normal safety gear, our group made our way down to the docks to get a crash course in jet ski operations, safety, laws, and conventional river rules to abide by. As it was my first time on a jet ski, I was given a bit of extra information on how to operate the machine, but all things being told was a quick and simple lesson, and I was out on the river in just a few minutes.
As Steel City Jet Ski Rentals' dock is located right next to the Sharpsburg lock and dam, there is only one direction you can go- west towards the city. Naturally, we made our way down to the point in about 15 minutes- in the process, we crossed beneath many of the gorgeous bridges that call the Allegheny River home.
When we arrived, an employee who escorted us laid out the ground rules for the river- namely, the area between the Fort Pitt, Fort Duquesne, and West End Bridges was fair game and to go have fun (keeping all the safety rules in mind, of course). This involved whipping around the water at top speeds, checking out various highlights, and for me, as a photographer, frequently getting out my phone to take shots of everything.
It may not seem like there is that much space when you are between these three bridges, but on a jet ski, there is a ton, and I had no shortage of places to check out.
On the adrenaline side of things, the feeling of hitting 40 mph+ on the river is one you really need to feel to understand. But on the photography side of things, words cannot overstate how awesome it is to be able to go between the Science Center, the Point, the Duquesne Incline, and back again in just about a minute or two. So in the roughly 25-30 minutes we had at the Point, I ended up making several loops around to get all the photos I've been dreaming of for years.
It was, of course, intermixed with speeding around the confluence at top speeds because that is also what you do when on a jet ski!
- Note: On weekends the area around the Point is a no-wake zone with max speeds of 5 mph. As such, only those who rent during the week will be able to enjoy zipping around at faster speeds like those mentioned above. Contending with other boats and water crafts on weekend is of special concern which we will talk about in the following section.
First Time on a Jet Ski? There Are Some Things to Note
Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't make some notes about operating a jet ski on the rivers, if only because this one comes with a large number of safety rules, state laws, and other caveats that you need to be aware of.
First off, jet skis require an active boater license to operate. Pennsylvania law dictates that you must be 12+ for a boater license, and Steel City Jet Ski Rentals will rent jet skis to those 16 and older as a primary operator. Most jet skis are able to have a passenger on the back, and the company does not have an age limit for these- only for the operator. (As always, terms could change so reconfirm prior to booking.)
On the plus side, you do not have to pay for a permanent license to rent a jet ski. The state offers a temporary license for rental scenarios such as these. Prior to your rental, you will need to watch a roughly 10-minute safety video (sent by the company) and take a quiz to receive a temporary permit. This is typically completed a day or so ahead of time before your rental, so plan to set aside some time for this. (Likewise, be prepared to sign several waivers, which is expected with any adventure activity.)
The jet ski operator also has to have their ID on them at all times, and Steel City Jet Ski Rentals provided me a dry bag for it and my phone during the rental. This was great for protecting my phone, but you have to be very careful when removing it for photos to ensure your ID does not accidentally fall into the river. (I'm not saying that this happened, but I will say I had a close call.)
While most of the safety rules for operating a jet ski are pretty straightforward, you'll do well to keep in mind things like wake zones as rules change on the rivers depending on the day of the week. Additional wake zones are implemented on weekends, particularly around Point State Park, so weekend renters may not have the same exact experience I was able to have going out on a weekday. That being said, we recommend all renters take a minimum 60-minute rental to have enough time to enjoy the Point but keep in mind that rental prices vary by day of the week and time of day.
From there, while operating a jet ski is somewhat easy, it takes a few minutes to get used to balancing on them. When you go slow, you tend to bobble more; when you are faster, the craft rises out of the water and is slightly more stable. This is an awkward feeling and a bit counterintuitive, especially if you are encountering wakes from boats or other jet skis, but I have to admit I got used to it in a few minutes all the same.
This is likely a bigger issue on weekends, primarily due to more wake restrictions but also more boaters out in general, and when it has rained recently, so these are things to also keep in mind prior to renting if you are uncertain with your abilities. Likewise, please be mindful of others when out for a ride as jet skis can create rather large wakes which can be problematic for smaller crafts like kayaks, pontoons, and even boats. Keep your distance and manage your speed whenever you are near others.
Overall, I have to admit that I was incredibly pleased with my experience taking a jet ski out on the rivers for a weekday ride. I was very fortunate to have calm conditions which made for an easy ride and being able to see the city from on top of a jet ski was something I will never forget.
Steel City Jet Ski Rentals is located at 151 19th St. in Sharpsburg, PA. I was a guest of Steel City Jet Ski Rentals for this review. As always, all opinions are my own.
Looking for more ways to get out on Pittsburgh's rivers? Click the previous link to check out some of our favorites!