Are you looking for some fun out on the lake this weekend? A personal watercraft (PWC) offers you plenty of power, performance, and loads of fun. The “jet ski” and “wave runner” gained popularity over the last 20-years, with mass adoptions for sports and recreational use.
PWCs offer your crossover use for fishing and watersports, with dozens of custom configurations for use in saltwater and freshwater conditions. Whether you’re using a PWC to tow into the wave of your life at Teahupoo or taking it out on the lake for some fishing, it’s a convenient, easily transported vessel that is suitable for short-term use and day trips in all water conditions.
The PWC is so popular that they now account for more than a third of annual watercraft sales. According to estimates, there are over a million PWCs in service today, with more models selling around the world every hour of the day.
When PWCs launched, manufacturers started with a standing model, known as the “jet ski.” This PWC carries a single passenger, and it’s a dynamic, highly maneuverable watercraft. The craft had few accessories and features, but it offered plenty of fun for water sports enthusiasts.
Shortly after that, the seated version of the PWC arrived, named the “wave runner.” These models are like the motorbikes of the ocean, featuring a longer length than the jet ski and more seating capacity, accommodating up to four passengers on the seat.
The wave runner comes with more storage under the seat and in the bow of the vessel. You get plenty of power and almost the same level of maneuverability as the jet ski. While the jet ski and the wave runner are very different craft, most people refer to both models as “jet skis” or “skis.”
What Is a Personal Watercraft?
A personal watercraft is a Class A inboard motor vessel, as nominated by the Coast Guard. Therefore it must adhere to the same regulations as other motorized vessels in the Class A category. As a result, all PWCs must carry an onboard fire extinguisher and a sounding device like a horn.
The craft is subject to USCG manufacturing standards and load capacities, found in the owner’s manual and the capacity plate on the vessel. All PWCs must register with state authorities and adhere to Nautical Rules when out on the water.
While the PWC has the technical classification of a boat, there are several differences between these crafts and your average fishing or watersports vessel. Manufacturers don’t recommend using PWCs at night, and they don’t feature any lighting system.
Most states also require the driver and passenger to wear personal flotation devices or life vests when operating the craft. Some local authorities also prohibit the use of PWCs in lakes and marine reserves, so check with your authorities before taking it out onto the water. Some states may also place time limits on using the craft, such as between 9 am to 5 pm during the day.
Some states also require adults to accompany minors driving the craft, and some states might even require you to complete a license test to use the PWC legally.
The primary features and functions of the PWC are maneuverability in the water. These crafts operate using jet propulsion engines and no external propellors. The motor sucks the water up from the hull, pushing it through an impeller that forces the water into a jet, expelling it from the rear of the craft to provide thrust.
The mobility of the craft allows them to make tight turns on a dime, with a tiny turning circle and powerful acceleration. They are suitable for use in lakes and estuaries and the largest surf conditions. The PWC relies on thrust for turning, so the driver must constantly engage the throttle when turning to power the boat out of turns.
Most models come with a throttle key attached to a lanyard that cuts the power to the engine if the rider falls from the PWC.
The PWC offers you excellent use for fishing and watersports. They have the power and speed to tow wakeboards, and the low-profile hull means they can reach the shallowest waters for fishing in the flats.
Benefits of Personal Watercraft
The PWC comes with plenty of benefits for day fishing trips and watersports. Here are some of the top benefits of owning a PWC.
Speed and Handling
The speed and handling of the PWC are unlike any other watercraft available. The throttle-based steering system means you can make the sharpest turns.
Some drivers develop amazing techniques for 180-degree turns at high speed, dipping the front of the boat into the water while hitting the throttle and turning the handlebars, resulting in a hairpin tun that’s electrifying to watch and even more thrilling to do yourself.
They have plenty of speed, and the motorbike-style setup means that you feel the speedway more than you do in a power cruiser or speedboat.
The PWC offers you easy transport from your home to the water. Most models come with a trailer included with your purchase. They are exceptionally easy to launch and trailer, requiring just two people for the job.
Fishing and Watersports Capabilities
The PWC is ideal for fishing and watersports. The seated models allow up to four people to sit on the craft and deep, wide footwells on the sides. The vessel is stable, and you can stand up without misbalancing the vehicle.
The power of the motor makes it possible to tow skiers and wakeboarders with ease. Most models include tow bar hitches on the rear of the craft for the attachment of ski ropes. The low profile of the hull makes it exceptionally easy to reach shallow waters.
Efficient Jet Motors
The PWC relies on efficient jet propulsion motors for powering the craft. The motor capacity can vary between models, with some engines having capacities up to 1,498cc, producing 310-HP from a four-stroke motor. The jet propulsion system is more efficient than an outboard motor, giving you plenty of range with the craft.
Multiple Sizing Options
You have options for single-person standing models and for boats that can seat anything up to five or six people, depending on the length. Most wave runners measure under 8-feet in length.
Affordable Price Tags
The PWC comes with a remarkably affordable price tag, and that’s why it’s such a popular watercraft. Entry-level models cost around $5,000, while the high-end models with customizations cost up to $20,000. That makes them one of the most affordable high-performance watercraft available.
Disadvantages of Personal Watercraft
The personal watercraft is a highly functional, high-performance boat for fishing, watersports, or just having fun out on the water. However, they do come with a few drawbacks compared to other fishing and performance boats.
Limited Standing Room
While the side of the vessel has a deep gulley for your feet, there is practically no room to move around on the ski.
Most models come with under-seat storage for the full tank and battery and a few accessories for your trip. The primary storage area is in the bow, holding your fire extinguisher and a tow rope or snack and drinks for the day.
No Bow Access
The PWC doesn’t have any bow access for standing or casting. You have to do everything from your seat.
Most models cater for two or three people, with some of the largest designs catering for up to five passengers. However, you’re not going to get the same passenger capacity as other traditional watercraft.
Not Suitable for Long Trips
The PWC is suitable for day trips. They have a decent range, but they are not ideal for long trips. As mentioned, the manufacturer does not intend the PWC to function for nighttime use.
The PWC doesn’t include any amenities like a head, sink, or accommodation.
Best Personal Watercraft Brands and Models
There are dozens of brands offering PWCs, and plenty of models in each manufacturer’s range. Here are our top choices for the best PWCs available.
Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R
Kawasaki has one of the best reputations for PWC manufacturers. This brand built its reputation on building high-performance motorbikes, and it transferred this technology into its PWC range. As a result, you get an extremely fast and agile boat with plenty of power and performance on tap.
The Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is an affordable boat, costing around $10,000, depending on the customizations you want for the vessel. This model is a single-person craft in the jet ski style, with a driver set up that lifts you from the deck.
You get a powerful 1,498cc four-stroke engine allowing the rider to cut through the water at speeds up to 60-mph. The Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R weighs 551-lbs with an 8′ 8.5″ length. You get exceptional handling and plenty of power for competitive racing or use offshore in big wave conditions.
Yamaha WaveRunner EX
Yamaha is another popular motorbike brand offering you a range of PWC designs. This model is the Waverunner style, giving you a seat accommodating up to three riders.
There are several model options at different price points, with the entry-level model being the EX retailing for $6,999 EX, the EX Sport for $7,999, the Deluxe $8,999, the EXR Race $9,499, and the flagship of the range, the Limited, retailing for $9,599.
You get a 1,049cc Yamaha TR-1 four-stroke motor offering you a top speed of 50-mph on flat water, a fuel capacity of 13.2 gallons, and a 7.7-gallon storage capacity.
This Yamaha model is a great choice for fishing or watersports, offering you exceptional performance in all water conditions.
If you’re looking for the most affordable, high-quality PWC, we recommend going with the Sea-Doo Spark. This PWC has a price tag of $5,499, making it one of the most affordable high-performance models available on the market.
You have options for a two-seater base model, or you can upgrade to the more accommodative three-seater option for an extra $1,700. This model comes with a 7.9-gallon fuel capacity. You get a 352-lbs capacity for the 2-seater model and a 540-lbs capacity for the three-seater model.
The primary difference between the Sea-Doo Spark and other PWCs is the molded Polytec hull, giving the boat a strong hull featuring design and construction with polypropylene materials reinforced with fiberglass.
As a result, you get a lighter model than those using a molded fiberglass hull, allowing for the use of smaller motors to power the craft. The Sea-Doo Spark comes with an efficient but powerful 899cc Rotax 900 ACE engine producing 60-HP. You can expect a top-end speed of over 40-mph on flat water.
If you want a faster, more powerful model, you have an option to upgrade to the 90-HP version for an extra $1,300 on the price tag – well worth the extra money. The Trixx versions of the Sea-Doo Spark 2021 come with a variable trim system (VTS), allowing you to control the bow-rise at speed, and you get step wedges angled behind the seat.
As a result of the intelligent ergonomic design of the craft, you can ride the Trixx model in a standing position, almost vertical to the surface of the water. You also have the option of riding it in the seated position.
The Trixx comes with a powerful 90-HP Rotax motor, and you have custom options for Sea-Doo’s iBR electronic reversing system, custom graphics, and telescopic handlebars for easy rider height adjustment.
The PWC offers you a versatile, affordable watercraft that’s ideal for watersports and fishing. While there might be some limitations on passenger and storage capacities, it’s a fun craft to take out on the water for fishing, skiing, or just cruising the rivers.
With average price tags that are a fraction of a powerboat, it’s a great entry-level watercraft for anyone that wants to get out on the water.