Personal Watercrafts Have Evolved

Filed under: Water 

Readers of this blog know our staff is more adept with kayak paddles than throttle levers. But an event this winter in Florida gave me a chance to demo a new watercraft from Sea-Doo.

Beyond some fun ripping around in turquoise waters, the demo changed my perspective on the activity in a bigger sense. In short, personal watercrafts have evolved hugely since I was younger.

A new generation of models can be quiet, super fuel-efficient, easy to maintain, and simple for almost anyone to operate.

Test ride in Miami

Testing a new Sea-Doo model called the Spark, I felt like I was riding a mountain bike on the water. I gripped the handlebars, hit waves like they were dirt jumps, and almost forgot about the cylinders and combusting gas powering me through the swells.

There’s even a brake on the Spark, a rare feature for a watercraft that I tested after jetting to 40mph where the water was flat. (It works!)

A four-stroke engine is under the hood. But it’s quiet enough that the wind in my ears often overpowered the engine noise. I smelled almost no exhaust, even when idling.

Sea-Doo advertises the Spark’s 899cc engine as the most efficient you can buy. It can run on less than 2 gallons of fuel per hour of use.

The efficiency comes from a new kind of engine as well as a lighter overall weight. At 400 pounds, the Spark can be towed on a trailer by a small car.

Sea-Doo Spark

With a base price of $4,999, the model is half the expense of many personal watercrafts. The company cut costs by building a type of hull made of polypropylene that is easier to manufacture.

One to three people, depending on the model, can ride on a watercraft like the Spark. It has enough power to pull a skier on a tow rope behind.

In Florida, after a 5-minute tutorial I was riding alone into the waves. It’d been 15 years since my last experience captaining a small craft, but immediately I felt in control, aiming at a wave, pressing the throttle full speed ahead. —Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.