The Jet Skis operated by U.S. Navy SEALs

U.S. Navy SEALs on Jet Skis at undisclosed location night

U.S. special operations forces have adopted civilian vehicles, from trucks to ATVs, to get around swiftly and quietly on the modern battlefield. At sea this practical approach means that Navy SEALs operate their own jet skis, allowing naval special warfare operators the ability to move quickly from sea to coast in very small numbers. But Navy SEALs aren’t the only ones zipping around on personal watercraft—Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also use them.

The post-9/11 era promptly saw U.S. Army Special Forces troops riding ATVs into war, as the vehicles—good for hunting and exploring the great outdoors—were found useful in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. U.S. Army and Marine troops today ride Polaris MRZR vehicles that can carry up to six, allowing them to outmaneuver the enemy.

The SEALs, following this trend, have started using Jet Skis. According to the submarine and naval special warfare expert H.I. Sutton, SEALs use two- or three-seat Yamaha FX Cruiser SHO jet skis. The FX Cruiser is nearly 12 feet long, carries 1-3 people, and uses a supercharged 4-cylinder, 4-stroke, Yamaha marine engine. Sutton states that the Jet Skis are highly modified for special operations use, including such new features as anti-roll collars and rescue sleds.

Jet Skis could be used in a variety of roles by SEALs. They could be used to approach hijacked or enemy ships at high speed, then use a magnetic climbing system to scale the hull and reach the main deck. They could also be used to provide security for high-value targets, patrol waterways, and evacuate casualties or SEAL commando teams. Fitted with machine guns, the Jet Skis could lay down a curtain of lead, engaging other small boats or targets on land.

The SEALs, as Sutton notes, aren’t the only ones using Jet Skis. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, a paramilitary force established by the country’s religious government, also operate them. The Revolutionary Guards operate a fleet of hundreds of small watercraft, from speedboats to Jet Skis, that are involved in nuisance attacks, intimidation displays, and ship seizures orchestrated by Tehran against Western targets. Russian special forces (above) are also trained to use Jet Ski-type vehicles.

When it comes to military hardware there’s a lot to be said for the million-dollar solution that does everything perfectly, takes five years to develop, and costs a fortune. But simply adapting a civilian vehicle for military use, while a little risky, can also result in a unique capability fielded quickly. Special operations forces are supposed to do things differently than the rest of the armed forces, and roaring around on an armed Jet Ski is certainly that.