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The Evolution of the Jet Ski (Personal Watercraft)

The Jet Ski – then and now

Let’s take a look at the evolution of ‘the’ personal watercraft from Sea-Doo's original 1968 model to today.

Jet Skiing in the'60s
The best way to give you perspective on just how far things have come is to take a look at how they started. The original 1968 vintage Bombardier Sea-Doo kicked things off right. And the two men behind it didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

Built by the collaborative effort of two men, Bombardier’s Laurent Beaudoin and Californian inventor Clayton Jacobson II, the craft started as two separate visions. Beaudoin longed to bring his company’s infamous Ski-Doo snowmobile to the water. Jacobson had the same wish for a motorcycle and had already begun work on a nimble stand-up craft that eschewed a conventional outboard for jet propulsion. Five years later, after Bombardier relinquished the patent and licensing rights, Jacobson’s stand-up craft would become reality as the first Kawasaki Jet Ski.

The original Sea-Doo has a width (58 inches) nearly two-thirds of its 7-foot-7-inch length, minimal dead rise, and two simple strakes breaking up an otherwise smooth hull.

Fast-forward nearly five decades and the modern-day RXP-X seems light years ahead of its simple forebear. It too is futuristic-looking, but in thoroughly 21st-century fashion. It’s 3 feet longer, 10 inches narrower, and features a multistage hull design.

Power…Look How Far Its Come
The original '68 was powered by an air-cooled, 318 cc single-cylinder Rotax aluminum-block engine, producing a scant 18 horsepower. To funnel enough air into the engine compartment, multiple stainless-steel vents were added to the deck. A small, portable gas tank handled fuel. An electric start would soon follow and be standard issue by 1969.

The modern-day Jet Ski (Sea Doo) engine is still produced by Rotax, but most similarities end with the logo on the cylinder head. Head-to-head, the two machines are night and day. The ’68 accelerates with all the force that 18 horsepower can muster en route to a top speed of 25 mph. Squeeze the throttle of the 2016 RXP-X 300, and you’ll surpass that top speed in about 1.5 seconds.

Let’s Look at The Different Features
According to a recent article, one surprising feature the '68 shares with its modern-day offspring is an early attempt at forward, neutral and reverse. The article reads “The original's Berkeley 5J5 jet pump featured a hinged cap that could be lowered over the nozzle outlet via a push-pull knob on the dash to redirect thrust.” Mechanical reverse didn't reappear until 1990, but it's the most recent generation of craft that has taken the functionality to the next level. Both Sea-Doo's Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR) and Yamaha's RiDE systems electronically control a modified reverse bucket to effectively mimic forward, neutral and reverse. Best of all, the modern systems are highly intuitive. A driver's hands stay on the handlebars and eyes focused on the water.

Modern-day craft also benefit from electronic throttle, which enables features like cruise control and no-wake mode. Both allow drivers to lock in speeds at the touch of a button and eliminate the fatigue associated with holding a trigger throttle long-term. Cruise control is also beneficial for towing skiers and boarders because it eliminates the surging that is inevitable with a human hand on the throttle. Electronic throttles even let Sea-Doo engineers develop driver-selected acceleration curves. Choose between a tamer mode that softens throttle response, opt for an eco setting to save fuel, or unleash the engine’s full stock potential — again, with just a tap of a button.

And then you have the less obvious features that separate the RXP-X from its predecessor. All modern-day PWCs feature a lanyard-style cutoff switch. Sea-Doo includes two digitally encoded to match only that particular craft and prevent unauthorized use. The secondary lanyard automatically governs speed.

The issue of losing directional control once throttle is released has also been addressed. Off-throttle assisted steering recognizes “collision avoidance” behaviors and turns on just enough thrust to initiate a turn.

Look at You Now
As you can see, PWCs have certainly come a long way over the years. Today, they are far more thrilling, powerful, and agile than upon conception. It doesn't stop their… jet ski’s are also quiet and clean to protect the environment. Not to mention all of the high tech features new ones are decked out with to give passengers the ultimate riding experience.