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How to Best Field Record a JetSki/SeaDoo/PWC

How to Best Field Record a JetSki/SeaDoo/PWC

Updated: May 17


One of the things I absolutely love about my work is that it is never the same. One day I might be composing a jazz/lounge rendition of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination”, the next day I might be throttling a Sea-Doo to the max in order to capture the pure growl of the engine and the serenity of the water splashing. I’m going to share an in-depth view of the latter of those two, as well as the challenges and successes that I encountered along the way.


My goal with the library was to capture multiple steady loops of RPM from idle all the way to max RPM. That way I can use this source to recreate a realistic jetski sound in a game with a variable that is attached to RPM and so, the engine, exhaust and water all blend through the RPM stage loops as the player accelerates or decelerates; giving the user a real feel as they slid across the the waves at ripping speeds.


Preparation & Research

When I get started with any sound library production, I like to do as much pre-planning as I possibly can to help make the on-site recording go as smoothly as possible. Over the years, I’ve learned how valuable this step can be. Remembering all the gear you need, accessories, mic mounting clips, windscreens, proper cabling, etc. But equally as important, is to do thorough research in the nuances of the source your recording. With a jetski, understanding these nuances is gravely important. It‘ll make the difference of whether you come out with a quality recording or loss a microphone to the sea!


The biggest issue with this type of recording is keeping your microphones safe! As you increase the speed you run a higher risk of a microphone falling and also potential for larger waves and more exposure to water on those microphones. To handle this can be a challenging feet. What also must be considered is that the more protected your microphones are, generally, the lesser quality they yield, considering that protection could filter the frequency content.  


To figure out what would be the best approach for this, I tested a variety of materials, ziplock bags, cellophane wrap, and finally, the best item that provided the highest quality, even through its waterproof protection... a condom. (As seen below!) Then after setting out on the water with condom wrapped microphones all over the jetski, I quickly came to the conclusion that I would also need heavy duty windscreens in addition. Above about 3000 RPM, the power of the wind, really becomes an issue. So finally I had windscreens and then condoms wrapped over all that.

Now after setting sail again for further testing, I stumbled upon another challenge, and that was rattling/handling interference. The faster I began to drive, the more the mics began to rattle at those higher speeds. Even mounted directly to the vessel, I needed higher-end shock mounting in addition. I ordered up some rubberband suspended shock mounts that worked well with already mega gripping mounting clips, waited a few days, then got back out on the water. As soon as those arrived, I brought it all together, got back out on the water, and came to find nothing but crystal clear high quality, intense sonics!

Target Sound Sources

The next big challenge was to find the best microphone placements to get a full representation of the Jetski. By testing at low speeds, with a pair of headphones, and moving the microphones around, I found that the exhaust had the best gurgle and growl about 2-3’ above the back end of the ski (seen below). The engine mic took a bit more trail as you can’t really have the seat open, handle a microphone, steer, and critically listen all at once! After testing a handful of different placements attached inside the jetski's engine compartment, pointed at different parts of the engine, I found that the closer I got, the better growl and intensity I yielded (photo below on that as well). Finally, I wanted to also have a layer from the driver’s perspective. If you’ve driven a Jetski, you‘ll understand that there’s something special about not just the feeling of the power in your hands, but the serenity of the rhythmic water splashes as you blast across a glossy water plane. For this I had prepared two different microphone setups. First, ear mounted binaural mics to get some special and very realistic binaural feel. Secondly, a mid-side stereo shotgun pointed towards the front end of the craft. I knew having all these options captured, I could then have some very powerful and versatile mix control. This also would allow for some fine-tuned post processing, giving the ability to beef up the engine and exhaust and lightly carve the best frequencies out of the driver perspective loops.

Setting up the rig!


Exhaust mic mounted and ready!


Internal engine mic mounted and ready!


Setting Sail

Now that I had done all my due diligence and found what works best, I set out and captured everything from starts, stops, engine revs, and at least 20 seconds steady at every RPM the SeaDoo was capable of. Once I started getting up in higher speeds, it became increasingly difficult to hold the stereo shotgun in place, while steering and maintaining steady RPM levels. Never the less, after a few hours out on the water, I had captured and slated all the sounds I needed!

The Final Sound Library

After some time with post-processing and finding the right blend of all of those source point layers, I finally had a finished product, an incredibly versatile Jetski library ready for any game or film project. Through the blend and independent control of each source points, it can easily be true and natural or pushed to be larger than life, dependent on the project at hand.



Volume 1 & 2

You'll notice that there are two volumes I created. Volume 1 includes jetski recordings from driver's perspective, stereo recordings only (not all the internal recordings discussed above), listener perspective passbys, ripping around, starts, stops, revs etc. Then in Volume 2, the focus is more as I described above, and includes all the internal microphone layers, and already seamless loops at each RPM level for ease of use in recreating a Jetski for a sound designer in something like Wwise, Fmod, etc. These two volumes were created in different sessions and pair very well for a full featured and most versatile collection. I'm even providing a 25% discount when you buy them together!



Hear How It Turned Out!

PWC - Jetski - SeaDoo | Volume 1



PWC - Jetski - SeaDoo | Volume 2



Snatch Up the Libraries Here!


PWC - Jetski - SeaDoo | Volume 1














PWC - Jetski - SeaDoo | Volume 2














Gear Used

  • Sound Device Mix-Pre 6

  • Senheiser e614 - Inside the watercraft engine compartment, directed at the engine, about 6“ away

  • Audio-Technica BP4029 (Stereo Shotgun) - Handheld at the driver’s perspective

  • Sennheiser e614 - Outside the watercraft suspended from the back, directed at the exhaust, about 2’ away

  • Sound Professionals Binaural Headset from driver's perspective



TL;DR

  1. Preparation and research are key to a successful field recording.

  2. Know your sound source, research it and test it, then test it again.

  3. PWCs are amazingly fun and their sounds are epic and challenging, but super fun to capture!

  4. Condoms provide a thin but completely waterproof housing for your mics when recording something that has potential to destroy your microphone with water exposure!

  5. The libraries can be purchased here: Volume 1 & Volume 2 (If you get both, you'll save 25%!)



About the Author

Chris is a veteran audio professional who has won multiple awards for his work and brings an unwavering passion to his craft. He has created and programmed sound for toys, games, prototype products, records, apps, film, tv, commercials and more!


Need some fresh sounds for your next project, check out my sound libraries available! If you need custom-tailored, incredibly unique sounds, look no further, just contact me and I would be happy to connect and share how I can support any of your audio needs!


Are you a sound designer, music composer or producer just starting out? Trying to make a name for yourself? Or have you been in the industry for a while, but have the feeling you've plateaued or have been struggling to find, maintain and grow your client base? With 12+ years of both freelance and large studio audio design, music composition, and audio engineering, I can help you craft your skills and expertise and arm you with the tools and skills to grow and maintain a high-quality client base. Don't be off-put by the vast amount of people saying there is no future in audio, that is simply not true! Yes, the industry has changed and is vastly evolved, but there will always continue to be a need for incredible interactive audio experiences. The experience of any piece of entertainment should stimulate all senses and draw the viewer/player deeper and more immersed into the story, and without audio, there is no story. I can help you, your journey awaits!

© 2020 The Chris Alan

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