Looking for some fun on the water? Personal Watercraft (or PW for short - often known as 'Jetskis' after the original Kawasaki 'Jet Ski') offer a great solution either as a standalone fun craft, or as a 'toy' for those with larger boats (see Top 10 coolest superyacht toys).
While once upon a time, the PW industry was obsessed with power, the battle for jet-propelled one-upmanship seems to have taken on a new and more sustainable complexion. It has been tempered by an understanding that efficiency, affordability and a more flexible and confidence-inspiring rider interface are assets of at least equal value. There has also been a recognition that it is possible to appeal to a much broader spectrum of watersports fans by mixing up the traditional musclecraft with a selection of softer, less aggressive, more versatile leisure packages - and today, the market reflects that, with power outputs from 50hp to 315hp and prices from £5,000 to more than £20,000…
1. Yamaha GP1800
The latest exponent of Yamaha’s ‘GP’ racing line combines the SVHO engine and lightweight ‘NanoXcel2’ construction to take you from zero to 62mph (54 knots) in under five seconds. With a weight of just 349kg, it also handles like a race craft, with tremendously taut turns and satisfying response to your input. As with most hard-edged performance craft, you need to be proactive with your weight distribution or you’re likely to get ejected from your seat, but it’s not all about unbridled fury. A handy five-point trim switch, a low-RPM mode for improved safety and the intuitive RiDE system, help optimise rider control.
Price: from £14,699.
2. Sea-Doo Spark
When the Sea-Doo Spark first appeared, it was lighter, smaller and cheaper than anything else in the world - and not by a margin, but by a country mile. With its fresh construction techniques, its skeletal aesthetics and its user-friendly customisation and upgrade routes, it got exactly the acclaim its 10-year development deserved. It didn’t quite manage to sidestep the industry and establish a new ‘Aquascooter’ genre (as the designers originally envisaged), but as a credible, desirable, fun and accessible PW that you could pick up for little more than pocket change, it heralded a radical and welcome shift in market focus.
Price: from £5,249.
3. Sea-Doo Spark Trixx
The entry-level Spark was always likely to spawn a sequel and it arrived in the form of the Spark Trixx. Though it’s priced about 40 per cent higher than the original model, it’s designed to bring to market “features that leverage the light and nimble handling of the Spark model to offer new ways to play.” It’s built from the same Polytec material and weighs just 192kg, but it includes some high-end features like Intelligent Throttle Control and Intelligent Brake & Reverse. It also offers a new low-profile handlebar with adjustable riser, alongside step wedges and an extended-range Variable Trim System, which means you can pull off the kinds of freestyle trick other personal watercrafts struggle to match.
Price: from £7,409.
4. Kawasaki Jet Ski STX15F
It might have fallen from the mainstream in Britain’s market, but no rundown of PWs would be complete without at least one craft from the originator of the ‘Jet Ski’ trade name. With its long-established 1,498cc, inline four-cylinder engine, its expansive aft deck, its ‘Smart Steering’ system and its ‘Smart Learning Operation’ (SLO) mode that enables novices to develop their skills with confidence, the 15F is a very easy boat to like. True, it’s been around forever, but if you want generous power, a compliant hull and proven reliability, this Kawasaki classic remains a contender.
(5) Yamaha Superjet
The latest incarnation of Yamaha’s famous SuperJet is only available to buy as a competition craft but with its two-cylinder 701cc powerplant, it’s a phenomenally responsive and (in the right hands) controllable machine. The ride plate is positioned a long way aft to lengthen the waterline and the lightweight hull comes with pronounced strakes and moulded sponsons to enable an aggressive carve. In fact, it’s so thoroughly proven, it’s become an institution in its own right. It’s like Branston pickle, Heinz beans and HP sauce. It’s like an article from Alex Smith. It’s the original. It’s the best. It’s the one you want.
Price: from £6,699
6. Sea-Doo GTR 230
Like its predecessor, the GTR 230 is slightly wider, lower and shorter than most comparable craft and in tandem with Sea-Doo’s Recreation Line hull, that makes it not just great to look at but also easy to drive, with some useful extra slip and some attractively stable tracking dialled into the handling. Remarkably, the pared back approach (with very modest storage and seating) makes this craft 20kg lighter than the company’s two-seater RXP - and while its power output looks relatively modest, it remains without question one of the most thrilling three-man musclecraft experiences in the world.
7. Gibbs Quadski
The Quadski is a very effective fusion of two much-loved recreational toys – the PW and the Quadbike. With a BMW Motorrad K1300 engine, a beamy, lightweight composite hull, a low centre of gravity and a broad wheelbase of 1.8 metres, it is capable of speeds of up to 45mph on both land and water. The wheels retract tightly beneath the flared topsides, enabling you to go from land to sea (and from rear-wheel drive to jet propulsion) in just four seconds – and an extra 12 inches in length and 50kg in weight are minor compromises for the two rather than the one-man model.
8. Yamaha EX
With its relative simplicity, its modest powerplant and its remarkable affordability, it is safe to say that the EX line in general (and the base EX model in particular) is Yamaha’s answer to Sea-Doo’s industry-altering Spark. It’s not as distinctive to look at, as bold in its design solutions or as clever in its provision of customisation and upgrade routes - but with remarkably engaging pick-up and handling to match, the dynamic new Waverider EX is a must for your shortlist.
9. Sea-Doo GTX Limited S 260
This three-man, ocean-munching cruiser from Sea-Doo’s ‘Luxury’ line is an updated version of the RXT-X 260as and that makes it a very good boat indeed. At 465kg, it’s no lightweight, but it comes with a suspension system that offers a lovely ride through the chop by isolating the entire seating and helm unit from the hull; and the hull itself offers a very rare degree of tracking stability. Of course, storage is limited and the price is substantial, but the comfort, real-world pace and unusual breadth of application make it one of the best all-rounders money can buy.
10. Belassi B3R Sport
Rebranded and presided over in the UK by Bates Wharf, the B3R Sport (from the Austrian company we used to know as HSR Benelli) houses a three-cylinder 1,602cc turbocharged 315hp powerplant, making it the most powerful production PW in the world. It also comes with some distinctly user-friendly features, like Cruise Control, Variable Trim System, Brake & Reverse, a GPS-based digital dashboard and adjustable sponsons. There’s a ‘Dynamic’ variant at 265hp and a ‘Pure’ variant at 150hp but in a world currently preoccupied with the more approachable end of the market, the pricey, race-flavoured B3R is a refreshing novelty.
Price: from £18,950.
Want to add some excitement to your personal watercraft? See The Flyboard: how to add fun to your PW.