Personal Watercraft, or PWCs as they are better known, have been with us for many years and while the earlier versions were more for ‘hooning’ about, they have come changed. Today’s PWC is a very sophisticated and extremely versatile ‘boat’ and no longer considered something that does nothing better than go fast and annoy boat owners in a quiet bay or swimmers at the beach.
Today’s PWCs have developed from single-person pole skis and sit-downs to twin- and triple-seaters. They are unquestionably quick and generally a whole lot faster than they ever were. While speed is a selling point, it’s certainly not the main issue anymore, with buyers more interested in what the PWC comes with.
Comfort is an overriding factor of any boat and the PWC is no different. Today we see suspension seats and seating contours that are designed to better fit our different shapes and sizes.
With a PWC you can cruise, you can fish, you can dive, you can tow water toys, skiers and wakeboards and you can also race. And all this for a minimal amount of fuel but a whole heap of fun.
No matter what your intended use for your PWC, safety equipment is a must, as you need to be prepared for anything when on the water. Most large PWCs have plenty of storage space so you will have many areas to carry more than necessary. A first aid kit is vital, as are flotation vests for each person on the PWC. In addition, a tow rope, emergency flare, cellphone, VHF Radio, McMurdo PLB, and wetsuits, goggles and extra warm clothing for each person aboard, are all well worth carrying.
There are now only four PWC manufacturers left: Yamaha, Sea Doo, Kawasaki and Benelli. Between them they offer 35 models, of which only three are stand-up pole skis, the rest being either two- or three-person sit-downs.
If you want to go fast and have bragging rights over your mates, then you need to look at models such as the Benelli B3R Sport (315hp), Kawasaki Ultra 300X (300hp), Sea Doo RXT 260 (260hp) or the Yamaha FZS (235hp). All will do over 55 knots (63 mph) and then some. If you want to go even faster then there are plenty of go-fast goodies you can add and places around that will tweak the engines to get even more horsepower.
However, we thought that our readers would be a little more sedate in their pastimes and be about using their skis for more adventurous fun rather than just seeking an adrenalin rush.
CRUISING – Economical boating at its very best
There’s no doubt that when you look at all the models on offer, the manufacturers have realised that the big market is in having a ‘ski’ that is versatile and offers all the comforts you would expect for cruising. Sea Doo offers the biggest range of three-seaters, with 16 models, Yamaha has eight, and Kawasaki and Benelli four each.
Although small in size they make great touring machines and most are designed for that purpose. Touring-specific seats are common, and are not only forgiving under the behind, but also offer bolstered support that will save your lower back. Multi-position steering wheel adjustment also means you can set the PWC up for how you want it.
There are electronic throttles that save your finger from hanging onto the throttle for hours and cruise control so you can set the speed you want and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Plus, if you are in an area of 5 knots or no-wake zones then you can set your throttle accordingly so you don’t go upsetting other boat owners.
An Eco mode reduces fuel consumption (reportedly by as much as 15%) but keeps an aggressive power delivery rather than excessively taming the engine.
Today’s three-passenger PWCs are bigger, and more big-water-worthy, than ever before. Their hulls slice through the waves, spraydeflecting chines knock down the water, and their steering tracks straight and true. Most PWCs have more than 100 litres of storage for necessities; flagship models offer as much as twice that. Fuel capacities average around 60-70 litres, which considering the ultra-low fuel consumption, means you can cruise for long distances.
FISHING – Great for soft baiting and drifting
There’s a whole new sport being developed around PWC fishing and it’s booming. PWC fishers don’t confine themselves to staying in close to shore either. They go ‘out wide’ to chase diving gannets and boil-ups, just like those in conventional trailer boats. Once your ideal PWC has been purchased, you’ll want to get it rigged out for fishing. It is such a versatile craft that your equipment must not be a “permanent” fixture. If you want to play in the surf, or take your ski to the lake for the day, your extras such as rod holders, fish finder, downrigger, safety equipment, etc., should not hamper your movement or cause any injury.
Andrew Hill, president of the New Zealand Jetskifishing Club, says that generally when targeting snapper on a PWC it’s easier to use a soft bait fishing rig. The advantage is that not only do they work well when drifting, there is also the benefit of not having the mess that you get with frozen bait and needing somewhere to keep the bait chilled down. Rod holders and chilly/esky bin rigs are also a must and quite a few variants are available from suppliers such as Tenob, Manta and www.jetskifishing.co.nz. While they need to be securely fastened, they should also be easy to remove, so your PWC can be used for other leisure activities.
It is definitely worthwhile to also carry a net on board, so you reduce the chance of not landing your fish. Another handy equipment option is a medium sized gaff, for those larger fish that will be difficult to land in your net. A sea anchor is an option while drift fishing in faster currents and you need to slow the drift of the PWC.
Today’s quiet, clean four-strokes also won’t tick off your fellow anglers or spook the fish. With a 1.2m beam, a PWC hull has sufficient stability for you to stand safely in the footwells or on the generous aft platform, and when you do hook into a fish you can fight it without tipping the ski over or going into the drink. If you do hook into something really big, then be prepared to be towed around for a while – it’s all part of the fun!
DIVING – Bring on the bugs
One of the fun activities you can do with a PWC is diving. The beauty is, you can get the ski into the shallows right around where you want to go diving. Great for scalloping or collecting mussels. Sorry, there’s not really enough space for full SCUBA gear, but snorkelling or even a hookah dive kit is possible.
There’s plenty of space in compartments to stow the mask and fins, plus if you are a spearo it’s not too hard to find somewhere to strap on your speargun. Now if you are so fortunate as to fill the catch bag up with bugs or shellfish, then you can either stow it ‘inside’ or simply hang the bag on the side.
Some PWC owners have even resorted to the small portable dive systems that eliminate the hassle of trying to haul traditional scuba equipment aboard the PWC. It’s a compact, hookah-style compressor that provides surface air to its dual regulators. You will need to build a rack on the back to mount it.
TOW SPORTS – Great for young children
PWC’s make perfect tow boats , although make sure you have two people aboard – a driver and an observer. Most skis will have a tow hook on the transom and you may even want to fit a higher tow pylon to keep the tow rope out of the jet wash around the transom. While any three-seat PWC is capable of being a good tow vehicle, some are more suitable than others. Handy things to have are a pair of handgrips for your rear-facing spotter, a convenient board rack that can be mounted to the gunwale, plus the speed control that came in so handy while cruising.
In Ski mode, you can opt for various progressively stronger acceleration profiles, depending on whom you are pulling and what they’re riding. Once up, you can lock in their preferred speed and avoid fluctuations from a twitchy throttle finger.
Virtually any tow sport can be accomplished behind a PWC. Wake-skaters, in fact, prefer its manoeuvrability and minimal wakes to get them up close and personal with sliders, ramps and other obstacles.
I’d also argue that a PWC is the best tow choice for teaching a child. For starters, it’s open. The child in the water sees a parent or friendly adult spotter facing him or her, not an intimidating transom. If driven properly, acceleration is gentle and forgiving, not an arm-wrenching yank. Once the child is up, the wakes are more manageable. And after a fall, a PWC’s responsiveness allows its driver and passenger to quickly offer assistance.
BIG-WAVE SURFING – Not for the faint hearted
One more thing that a PWC is uniquely suited to perform? Try towing and slingshotting a surfer into monstrous ocean waves. It was surf legends Laird Hamilton, Buzzy Kerbox and Dave Kalama who, with a crew of Hawaiian island friends, originally pioneered the idea. Using PWCs, they rode offshore and targeted fast-moving waves previously considered unreachable by traditional paddling, using the PWCs’ speed and agility to get into position and then hurtle their rider, wakeboard-style, onto the wave’s face. In this way, PWCs opened up a whole new world of surf to those with the skills – and let’s face it, the cojones – to try it. However if that seems a bit daunting than playing around in the surf break or on basr is cool fun also. However make sure first that there are no swimmers or surfers also enjoying the same waves.