dest-canada-back_to-largeWE ARE SEEING more and more big boats carrying a personal watercraft instead of a dinghy or a RIB (rigid hull inflatable boat). Is a watercraft practical? Is it economical? And, what are the benefits?

We spent the day sampling a group of Yamaha’s newest WaveRunner models to see what they offered and also to consider how practical it might be to have one of these instead of a dinghy or inflatable. In a recent media presentation by Yamaha, we learned that while there are both two- and three-passenger watercraft models, three passenger versions are 93% of the Canadian market.

Personal watercraft are generally 10 to 11 feet in length on a 4-foot beam, weighing approximately 700-800 lbs. If we compare that to a similar size inflatable with a 40 hp outboard, the personal watercraft is probably about 150 lbs. more. The weight difference is partly the all-fiberglass construction and partly the engine which is typically much more powerful than a 40 hp.

Transport Canada safety regulations require both a driver and a watcher in order to tow a person on a tube, a waterskier or wakeboarder; there also must be a place for the skier to ride onboard the boat for safety reasons. You cannot tow with a two-person personal watercraft (or any other two passenger boat) unless there’s room to bring a skier on board. So a three-passenger watercraft like the WaveRunner VX is legal for waterskiing and it certainly has the performance! The VX was one of two new WaveRunner models that Yamaha introduced for the 2011 model year: the VX and the VXR, both with big engines but value pricing. (Incidentally, these machines can be serviced or get warranty coverage at any of the 285 Yamaha dealerships across Canada which is a worthwhile consideration when cruising with your boat.)

If you have never driven a personal watercraft (and many yacht owners have not), it’s actually pretty easy. At rest, beside a dock or swim platform boat, these three-seat models are stable enough for even a large person to step on board on one side.

Everyone onboard a watercraft must wear an approved personal flotation device (PFD); eye protection is certainly a good idea! Wear a pair of polycarbonate unbreakable sunglasses or goggles just in case you encounter a bug in the air. Compared to an open dinghy or inflatable, you can stay just as dry and comfortable on a personal watercraft except that the watercraft has side foot wells that can take on water as you board, so wear sandals or go barefoot and put your shoes in the storage compartment.

Most watercraft have a storage space up front as well as a glove box for small-er items that you want to keep dry, but none are designed to carry the bags of groceries or duffle bags that many dinghies can.

What you do get in the new Yamaha VX WaveRunner is a four-stroke Yamaha marine engine with electronic fuel injection that starts almost instantly. The boat also has a neutral feature. Release that and the machine begins to idle along at 2 mph. These are very high revving engines designed for jet pump propulsion and there’s no spinning propeller in the water to pose a safety risk. Also, personal watercraft draw very little water so you can get right into shore and even beach quite easily.

What propels all personal watercraft is a high-pressure stream of water driven through a jet nozzle, so it’s easy to understand that the faster it goes the more effective it gets. Understanding this, Yamaha has built an amazingly smooth high revving engine. It takes between 5000 and 6000 rpm to plane off the VX WaveRunner and hold a cruising speed but from there, it gains speed fast. Just pull the finger-trigger throttle and the VX accelerates with real determination, easily pulling a skier up from a deepwater start. With the engine turning 6000 rpm, the VX is cruising at 30 mph; we saw a top speed of 52 mph at an indicated 7000 rpm. This is breathtakingly fast and a real thrill.

The appeal is easy to see; even a novice rider can get on, go places at an impressive rate of speed, pull a tube or a skier, take three people in to shore or off visiting other boats at the anchorage and the VX Sport model does it all for a mere $10,395 base price. For under $12,000, you can move up to the VX Deluxe or Cruiser models which add features like a reverse and a fold-down stern step that makes it easier to get on board from the water. We think that’s an important benefit.

All VX models have responsive handling and can handle surprisingly big waves. Lots of people run them in offshore ocean conditions; a WaveRunner is a remarkably seaworthy craft. To accommodate novice riders, Yamaha has a feature called “Low RPM Mode” which reduces the engine thrust and speed so the novice rider can get on and ride easily, and at speeds that are easier to handle. They can still go wide open; it’s just not as fast. You don’t even need to tell the person that the machine is in Low RPM Mode. You can switch it with a remote control.

Even Yamaha’s top-of-the-line, highperformance WaveRunner, the FZR has a Low RPM Mode. That way, a family can keep a young person or weekend guests traveling at more reasonable speeds while dad can switch it back to full power for experienced riders. The FZR has a supercharged 1802 Yamaha marine engine and all of the top features including a modified hull design that can best handle high speeds and challenging conditions.

How fast does an FZR go? The supercharged FZR has simply stupefying acceleration. You can barely hang on under full power and from a standing start, in about 4 seconds the FZR blasts past 60 miles an hour on its way to a 65 mph plus top speed.

We can certainly understand the safety benefits that a yacht owner gets by having an inflatable or a dinghy, but the performance and fun factor of a personal watercraft like a Yamaha WaveRunner makes them a very desirable choice, especially if you have an inflatable life raft for emergency use anyway (and we think you should – see page 82 in this issue). While a dinghy can carry more cargo, your Yamaha WaveRunner can easily tow skiers, cover long distances fast, cruise slowly through the shallows, even take you fishing and – by the way – provide you with an exciting physical workout if you feel like riding it hard. Check out the bargain priced VX models as well as the rest of the Yamaha WaveRunner line this spring!