We’ve made reference to this boat a couple of times since its press launch in September 2013 – once in a blog (Sea-Doo Spark: Revolutionary New PWC) and once in a review of the most affordable ways to get started in boating. And yet in a world crammed with homogeny, design theft and cowardly standardisation, the Sea-Doo Spark is arguably more deserving of a dedicated review than just about any other boat out there.
So with the new season about to get into full swing, it’s high time we brought you the low-down on what is probably the most exciting PW development in 20 years...
The Spark underpinnings
The Spark project began way back in 2006 when the Sea-Doo engineers were tasked with creating an entry-level watercraft that could circumvent a declining market with a fresh approach and an affordable price. They wanted to dispense with the inherited design formula and go from a blank canvas in their bid to recapture the simple pleasures of the PW’s golden age – and one of the most radical consequences of that approach comes in the new boat’s method of construction.
Out goes fragile fiberglass and in comes an adapted polypropylene-based substance called ‘POLYTEC’. Now plainly, the tooling for polypropylene is very expensive but once you have it, you are able to generate very clean, complex and accurate mouldings. That in itself is a great aid to reliability but polypropylene’s inherent strengths also make it ideal. It is buoyant, strong and resistant to punctures and delamination - and, because its pigment runs throughout the material, even a deep scuff can be easily fixed with a heat gun. Better still, Sea-Doo’s construction technique employs a modular approach, with a hull and deck that are moulded as complete, single pieces and then connected with screws around the rubbing strake. Not only does that help keep the boat’s internals completely watertight but it also enables you to unscrew and remove the entire deck in about 15 minutes, exposing all the working parts for unobstructed servicing.
Generally of course, poly boats are quite heavy but the fact that the Spark is half a metre shorter than Sea-doo’s high-performance RXT-X means that it is also less than half the weight. In fact, at just 159kg, it is 50% lighter than any other two-man ski out there and that means the engine can also afford to be quite small. The engine selected is a marinised version of the established 900cc snowmobile unit and although the output is quite modest (60hp in standard guise or 90hp in High-Output format), this three-cylinder, 12-valve motor still brings the Spark a respectable power-to-weight ratio of between 0.38 and 0.57 horsepower per kilo (compared to around 0.7 for the company’s race-ready boats). The new Spark is therefore not only 15% shorter and 50% lighter than any other ski in the world but with fuel economy of between 7.3 and 9.1 litres per hour and a price of £4,999, it is also 35% more frugal and 40% cheaper than any other ski you can buy. In short, eight years of application and a clean-slate approach has generated a craft that is fundamentally different to anything else on the water.
The basic hull design takes its inspiration from Sea-Doo’s old XP95. However, it adds an elongated bow, an extra splash deflector, a fore-and-aft beam in the hull base for the engine’s heat exchanger and an ‘active sheerline’ to help keep the inside edge buoyant in a hard turn. Get underway and these user-friendly tweaks immediately make sense, with the waterline well advanced and a substantial forward portion of the hull dipped reassuringly against the water’s surface for a flat and secure plane.
This running attitude certainly gives the Spark secure directional stability and decent grip in the turn, but while her hull angles are in fact quite acute (in order to help soften the ride of this lightweight boat), you can also generate some enjoyable slide by shifting your weight toward the inside of the arc and playing it off against the throttle. If you overdo it, the Spark’s weight-forward bias can see the back end spin around the pivot of the bow, but on a novice boat, a well-advanced centre of gravity is often the best solution.
From the driver’s perspective, all is very well appointed. The dash display is obscured underway and there is virtually no storage on the standard model but the pared back approach means there are no unnecessary trinkets to distract you from the water. No wing mirrors, no diagnostic displays, no rubber matting, no banks of dash buttons – and you don’t miss any of it because the important stuff is all there. The seating unit is usefully narrow, enabling you to grip properly with your thighs and the generous footwells mean you can plant your feet squarely in the trays. And if you feel the need for something more bespoke, Sea-Doo’s six-stage upgrade path is also well conceived...
You pick the number of passengers (two or three) and the engine (60hp or 90hp). You then select whether you want iBR (for active braking and easier close-quarters control) and you decide if you want the Convenience Package (comprising the forward storage bin and the aft re-boarding step). You then pick one of the five family-friendly factory colours (Vanilla, Orange Crush, Bubble Gum, Pineapple or Licorice) and add your favoured personalisation options. With 11 kits, 21 colours and three design levels (Light, Medium and Full), there is no reason why any two Sparks should ever look the same.
To criticise the Spark for its moderate performance or its approachable ‘lemon sherbert’ styling is to miss the point – because that is exactly what Sea-Doo is aiming for. This is no hard-edged rocket ship with high-end power or X-rated graphics. This is simply a light, vibrant and affordable boat that you can spec to your preference and your wallet in terms of size, output and extras. After eight years of painstaking work behind the scenes and with a host of industry firsts to its name, the Spark represents as fresh, accessible and keenly resolved an entry-level boating concept as any I have seen.
Specifications: Sea-Doo Spark
Engine: Rotax 900cc ACE (basic or HO)
Power to weight ratio: 0.38-0.57hp/kg
Fuel capacity: 30 litres
People capacity: two/three
Top speed: 40-50mph
Fuel economy: 7.3-9.1 litres per hour
Price: from £4,999
For more high-octane action vessels see: Gibbs Quadski Video: From Quad Bike to Jet Ski in Seconds and Jet Surf Video: Watch Amazing New Motorised Surfboard.