Making a Splash: The Next Wave of Personal Watercraft

Innovations for personal watercraft deliver something for everyone. A new construction technique dramatically reduces weight and pricing, new engines deliver more power and the first model that has a built-in audio system might be music to your ears.

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The one rule that historically applies to personal watercraft (PWCs) is that you have to pay to play. In other words, you typically shell out a lot of money—sometimes more than you might pay for a new car—to achieve the adrenaline rush that’s associated with flying off waves at high speed and carving hairpin turns.

Fortunately, price no longer has to be a pain in 2014. The arrival of the first PWC that has an all-plastic body means that you can pay nearly 40 percent less for a PWC than has been required. However, buyers who have a bit more money to spend will be glad to know that the most expensive models have more-powerful engines than ever before. Furthermore, although the first audio system that’s on a PWC might sound like a great idea, it’ll force you to shell out an extra $2,000.

WORTH THE WEIGHT. The 2014 Sea-Doo Spark ($4,999), which was unveiled by BRP in September 2013, is the lightest and least expensive PWC that’s on the market, and it represents a significant shift for the industry. The Spark is $3,000 less than the next-least expensive PWC that’s on the market.

Rather than being made out of fiberglass, which is the industry norm, the Spark is molded with a mix of polypropylene and long-strand glass fibers. Called Polytec, the material uses a unique combination of plastics compared with all other materials that are used for PWCs, and we found it to be much lighter than are other composite materials. The Spark also has no glove boxes or stowage bins that are molded into the frame, although you can buy the features as optional attachments that clip to the PWC. Pricing for such attachments starts at $80.

As a result, the Spark’s base model tips the scale at just 405 pounds, which is 276 pounds lighter than any other PWC that was available at press time. The Spark’s significantly lighter weight requires far less power to propel the PWC across the water. It uses the industry’s least powerful engine—a 900-cc four-stroke Rotax ACE engine, which generates a mere 60 hp. (A 90-hp engine upgrade costs $700.) The second-most powerful PWC has an engine that generates 110 hp. Despite that, the Spark still maintains an impressive power-weight ratio, so its acceleration is on par with that of other economy models that have more horsepower.

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The bottom line? For the average rider—certainly the beginner—a 60-hp PWC that delivers top-end speeds in the low 40-mph range will be more than enough to get the adrenaline flowing, based on our hands-on evaluation. We also found that the light weight translates into sporty handling and the capability to make quick turns and power slides (sideways turns across water). We even were able to spin the PWC on its nose.

Experienced riders who are used to being on the most powerful PWCs might find the performance a bit disappointing at first, says marine-products journalist Jeff Hemmel, who has covered PWCs for 25 years. However, the average rider will experience plenty of power and fun, he says.

Sea-Doo spokesperson Tim McKercher says the use of Polytec for the Spark’s body also boosts a consumer’s ability to customize his/her PWC. No additional cost exists for pigmenting the material, and design elements, such as stowage compartments, easily can be molded in, he says. For instance, the Spark has five color choices, 20 graphics kits (as opposed to two or three graphics choices as are commonly available on fiberglass PWCs) and a full line of accessories, such as glove boxes, bumpers and sunshades.

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