A decade ago, having a personal watercraft at the cabin
probably delighted your friends and family... but annoyed the s'mores out of the neighbors. Thankfully, today's generation of personal watercraft have matured far beyond the noisey, often dirty two-strokes of old. Powered by clean and quiet four-stroke engines and featuring hulls that can handle wide-ranging interests, they've actually become shining examples of eco-friendly marine transportation.
And the best news? These highly personal machines haven't lost the fun factor that has created many a summer memory over the years. In fact, recent advancements in technology and design
have only added to the rider's enjoyment - and may even inspire those noise-wary neighbors to consider buying a PWC of their own.
Here are the machines that are giving us cabin fever for 2011:
Musclecraft riders are interested in power, whether they’re towing their friends behind them on a wakeboard or just enjoying a rip roarin’ solo ride across the lake.
• Kawasaki Ultra 300 X – Kawasaki once again takes industry bragging rights with a 300hp model that builds on the success of its Ultra line. A new supercharger is responsible for much of the performance boost, and an electronic throttle makes possible cruise-control, no-wake and fuel-economy modes. ($14,499)
• Sea-Doo RXT-X 260 – Sea-Doo packs cool technologies, like an electronic throttle and computer-enhanced braking, into a hull that turns on a dime and tames the roughest of conditions. A choice of acceleration modes let the user choose a mild – or wild – ride en route to the craft’s top speed. ($14,399)
• Yamaha FZS – The FZS evokes the high-performance, agile personal watercraft of old. Under the seat resides the largest displacement engine (1.8L) in the industry; on the water, the ultra-lightweight hull slices and dices through the water with ease. An innovative telescopic steering column dials in the fit for seated or standing riders. ($13,399)
Kawasaki, Sea-Doo, and Yamaha all offer reasonably priced introductory models that blend fun and moderate performance with stability and predictable handling. They’re great not only for beginners but also for those who simply want to keep costs
and speeds to a minimum. • Sea-Doo GTI 130 –
Sea-Doo performed an extreme makeover on its recreational model for 2011, giving it a stylish new look, while adding elements of the company’s flagship models. A braking system stops the boat faster than a conventional craft, but also allows it to start up in neutral at the dock, and shift into forward or reverse. ($8,999)• Yamaha VX Deluxe –
A perennial best-seller, the VX Deluxe offers a mix of solid handling, moderate power and exceptional fuel economy in a proven, reliable package. A remote transmitter locks the craft against theft, as well as activates a low RPM mode. ($8,999)• Kawasaki STX-15F –
It’s getting dated in appearance, but the 160hp STX-15F still offers the best power in its class, along with a nimble hull originally honed for the race course, plenty of storage and full-featured instrumentation. ($9,199)
The Touring segment is for those who want it all. Manufacturers of these machines place a premium on long-distance touring ability, but also recognize that some people just want the best of ... well, of everything.
• Sea-Doo GTX Limited iS 260 - The GTX Limited iS offers a suspension system to take the jolt out of rough water, and brakes to avoid mishaps and add an unparalleled level of control around the dock. It also sports lots of extras like cruise control, high-performance trim, depth finder and even retractable dock lines. ($16,499)
• Yamaha FX Cruiser SHO - A finely bolstered seat, solid and predictable hull design, adjustable handlebar tilt and Yamaha’s most highly-tuned engine combine into a powerful luxury touring machine. Cruise control, no-wake mode, a fuel-flow meter and a remote-controlled security system round out the amenities. ($13,999)
• Kawasaki Ultra 300 LX - Massive fuel and storage capacities, a long-
distance-friendly bolstered saddle, and a GPS-ready handlebar cradle combine with Kawasaki’s potent new 300hp engine and lighter weight hull design to produce a luxury machine that’s fast and powerful. Cruise control and no-wake modes enhance the overall package. ($14,999)
Find today’s average PWC a little too much like the living room couch? A collection of niche models awaits to make your day.
• Kawasaki 800 SX-R & Yamaha SuperJet - Time is running out on these stand-up models thanks to their louder two-stroke engines, but they both offer arguably the most thrilling PWC experience. Stand-up models demand a sense of balance and athletic skill, but in return offer a ride that mixes the best of water-skiing, surfing, and motocross. ($7,899 each)
• Sea-Doo WAKE 155 - As perhaps the ultimate PWC tow vehicle, the WAKE places equal emphasis on the action behind the driver. Whether you wakeboard, wakeskate, ski or just tube, you’ll appreciate the board rack, tow pylon and the electronic speed control modes. Best part? Solo, you’ve still got one fun watercraft. ($10,999)
• Yamaha VXR – Interested in musclecraft power without the premium price tag or buzz-killing fuel bill? Yamaha has taken the lightweight VX hull and dropped in their 1.8-liter engine to produce a moderately priced boat with an amazing power-to-weight ratio and the ability to run with the industry’s most elite players. ($11,199).
See also How to Get Out on the Water and Love it
Whatever machine you choose, you’re in for one sweet – and relatively quiet – ride.
After 20 years of riding and testing PWCs, Jeff Hemmel has almost convinced friends he has a real job. Almost.