The 12 Best Jet Skis

Sep 17, 2020

Category: Rides

Very little comes close to the experience of piloting an open-cockpit personal vehicle on the open water. With a sensation comparable to that of a motorcycle, coupled with the aquatic locale, jet skis provide an incredibly unique style of thrills. From the outside looking in, it can be difficult to distinguish the different styles and genres of personal watercraft (or PWC) currently available, let alone the complexities from within each respective class. So, with this in mind, we’ve scanned the latest and greatest within the product space to bring you this guide to the best jet skis.

Originally released in the early 1970s, personal watercraft are known by a variety of names, though the majority of the generic terms used are in fact, specific brand names, such as Kawasaki’s “Jet Ski,” Polaris Industries’ “Sea-Doo,” or Yamaha’s “Wave Runner”—just like Cleanex is to tissue paper of Xerox is to copiers. Whatever you opt to call them, these water-going vehicles are mainly divided into two genres: stand-up; and sit-down. As the name suggests, the former is piloted while standing while the latter is helmed from a saddle.

Photo: Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R

Floating Class Wars

The Four Main Types Of PWC

Though literally dozens of different models and sub-models are currently in production, personal watercraft models can usually be divided into four main categories.

Lite Recreational: The newest style to grace the PWC world, Lite Recreational models pair lightweight hulls with minimalistic bodywork and small but punchy engines that collectively make for pure water-going hooligan machines, capable of pulling wheelies and candles all day. Their relatively diminutive form and engines do mean this class doesn’t fare particularly well in rough waters.

Recreational: This class is one step up from the Lite Rec class, and as such comes with bolstered performance and several other amenities that make for a more comfortable ride. While these aren’t ultra-high-performance vessels, they still tend to pump out north of 100hp, are good for speeds of around 50mph, and routinely come equipped with features like braking and reverse.

Photo: Sea-Doo SPARK TRIXX

Performance: As per the name, these are industry-leading machines, capable of freeway speeds, and typically outfitted with numerous noteworthy features as standard. Performance models also sit towards the top of the spec sheets, though unsurprisingly come at a substantially higher price point their than Lite Rec and Rec counterparts. There’s also the offshoot “Sport” class.

Luxury: For those that want the latest and greatest and biggest and baddest, there’s the luxury class. These models boast the most features, the highest performance, and the utmost comfort. Plush seating, stereo systems, large swimming decks, and multiple pillions are all pretty common on these high-dollar PWCs.

Sea-Doo SPARK TRIXX

Put simply; the Sea-Doo SPARK TRIXX is the PWC-equivalent of a naked hooligan motorcycle, specifically designed to perform all manner of tricks on the water (hence the monicker). Powered by an Austrian-built Rotax 900 ACE HO engine that generates 90hp and built around a lightweight Polytec composite hull, this nimble PWC boasts an excellent power to weight ratio that’s more than sufficient for getting the nose up, while step wedges make it easy to show off on the water. Despite the minimalist nature of this model and its sub-$8K MSRP, it nonetheless comes fitted with a multi-way adjustable handlebar riser and Sea-Doo’s Intelligent Brake & Reverse (aka “iBR”) feature as standard. In addition to a closed-loop cooling system that’s designed to prevent damage from saltwater, the SPARK TRIXX’s inline-three also features multiple power delivery modes, including a dedicated “wheelie mode.”

Engine: 899cc Inline-Three
Power: 90hp
Length: 110”
Weight: 428lbs
Top Speed: 48mph
Hull Material: Polytec

Purchase: $7,599

Yamaha EXR

Yamaha’s EXR (or R-spec EX model) is a popular and potent lite recreational class PWC that offers solid performance and even better bang for your buck. Backed by Yamaha’s famous reliability, the EXR is powered by the Tuning Fork Company’s high-output TR-1 marine engine that sends 110 horses to the water via a 144mm high-pressure pump with a stainless steel impeller. The latest version of the EXR is built atop a hull constructed from Yamaha’s NanoXcel 2 fiberglass-based Sheet Molding Compound (or “SMC)”, which is the same material utilized on the Hamamatsu manufacturer’s flagship Waverunner. Coupled with an updated engine tune, the lightweight hull material allows for an impressive top speed of 54mph. Docking the EXR is also a breeze, thanks to the use of Yamaha’s RiDE dual throttle system, which includes a supplementary throttle lever on the left handlebar that controls reverse thrust.

Engine: 1,049cc Inline-Three
Power: 110hp
Length: 123.6”
Weight: 540lbs
Top Speed: 54mph
Hull Material: NanoXcel 2

Purchase: $9,499

Yamaha SuperJet

It was 30-years-ago that Yamaha unveiled its original Superjet PWC model, and after an extended hiatus, the Japanese marque has now returned the iconic standup Waverunner to production for the 2021 model year. For the modern incarnation of the Superjet, Yamaha has replaced the predecessor’s carbureted 73hp 701cc two-stroke twin mill with a retuned version of its TR-1 marine engine, while the old Superjet’s SMC deck and hull have been swapped out in favor of redesigned VaRTM Fiberglass units. A padded foot tray and handlebars that offer 50mm (or 2”) of play allows for a comfortable rider’s quarters, too. Despite the updates, the 2021 model retains the wild character of its predecessor, while upping its reliability and lessening emissions output. This also means the control issues of the first model persist, though that’s admittedly just part of the Superjet’s unruly nature.

Engine: 1,049cc Inline-Three
Power: 100hp
Length: 95.7”
Weight: 375lbs
Top Speed: 54mph
Hull Material: VaRTM Fiberglass

Purchase: $9,499

Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R

Yamaha’s Superjet can be called the company’s answer to Kawasaki’s SX-R, and though the two occupy the same market space, the two are vastly different machines. Boasting a sleeker, much more modern aesthetic compared to its Yamaha-made counterpart, the SX-R packs a substantially larger 1,498cc engine that also touts an extra cylinder over the Superjet, allowing for faster speeds and more oomph in general. The added weight also makes for a more planted ride, albeit it has a slightly less playful character because of it. While Team Green’s standup model is pretty sparse on amenities, it does pack a few unexpected features such as a magnetic key, storage area, and a plush hydro-turf-padded deck. And, as you can probably see from looking at it, the SX-R collapses into a compact form for easy storage when not on the water.

Engine: 1,498cc Inline-Four
Power: 160hp
Length: 104.5”
Weight: 551.3 (Curb)
Top Speed: 62mph
Hull Material: NanoXcel 2

Purchase: $9,999

Sea-Doo RXP-X

Sea-Doo’s RXP-X 300 is a beast of a flagship vessel, built around a supercharged and intercooled Rotax 1630 ACE Engine—the most powerful lump currently offered by the Polaris-owned outfit—with a polished high-performance impeller and a closed-loop cooling system that’s good for a cool 300hp. Equipped with race-inspired ergonomics and control setup, the RXP-X 300 sports Sea-Doo’s all-new T3-R hull which helped in shaving 86lbs of weight (compared to the outgoing model). Other noteworthy standard fare on the Sea-Doo include variable trim system and a handlebar-activated launch control feature, the marque’s Intelligent Brake and Reverse function, and a 7.6” digital display, though there are also numerous optional factory upgrades including a BRP premium audio system. The RXP-X’s competition-derived appearance is also slightly misleading, as it’s actually an incredibly comfortable machine, with plush seating for three, and a saddle that can even be reversed for fishing, picnics, or just hanging out on the water.

Engine: Supercharged 1,630cc Inline-Three
Power: 300hp
Length: 130.6”
Weight: 847lbs
Top Speed: 67mph
Hull Material: Fiberglass

Purchase: $15,399

Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R

When Kawasaki was looking to gain a stranglehold on the PWC industry, it knew it needed something special at the heart of the vessel, so Team Green turned to its world-famous two-wheeled division, borrowing the engine architecture from the firm’s Ninja ZX-14R sport-tourer to ultimately deliver the Ultra 310R. In addition to gaining a little bit of extra displacement, the four-banger that powers the 310R gets a high-volume intercooler and an Eaton Twin Vortices Series Roots-type supercharger that together allow the engine to generate a class-leading 310hp. All that power equates to 1,890lbs of thrust, which can propel the 1,047.4lb Jet Ski to speeds of just shy of 70mph. The 310R also sports an unmistakable competition-inspired appearance, from its angular fiberglass hull design to the “Kawasaki Green” and black-colored race livery that adorns it. There’s also a Smart Learning Operation (or “SLO”) mode that limits power for novice riders while learning.

Engine: Supercharged 1,498cc Inline-Four
Power: 310hp
Length: 132.7”
Weight: 1,047.4lbs (Curb)
Top Speed: 67mph
Hull Material: Reinforced Fiberglass

Purchase: $16,499

Yamaha FX Limited SVHO

Another industry-leading luxury-class PWC, Yamaha’s FX Limited SVHO is a full-size flagship Waverunner that underwent a major overhaul in 2019, gaining a revised powertrain and a new deck and hull design made using the company’s NanoXcel 2 material. The FXLSVHO is born out of race-derived technology but features a slew of top-shelf amenities and appointments, including cruise control, a no-wake mode, pull-up cleats for easy docking, a 4.3” CONNEXT touchscreen display, and even a custom-designed Yamaha cooler that stows away in the bow compartment. Kicked along by a massive supercharged 1.8L Super Vortex marine engine, the FX LI SVHO also gets an accessory package that includes a unique gear mounting system, a Garmin fishfinder, and a pair of waterproof wireless Bluetooth speakers. The FXLSVHO also features a code-locked ignition to prevent theft and misuse, as well as the ability to set “acceleration profiles” that limited power for younger or novice pilots.

Engine: Supercharged 1,812cc Inline-Four
Power: 250hp
Length: 140.9”
Weight: 822lbs
Top Speed: 70mph
Hull Material: NanoXcel 2

Purchase: $17,699

Nikola WAV

Electric powertrains have already hugely permeated the motorcycle and automotive world, and while the phenomena have taken longer in the PWC segment, the space is nonetheless increasingly embracing the proton-powered tech, with one of the first available production models being the Nikola WAV. Pronounced “Wave,” this fully-electric jet ski offers instantly-available torque and speeds of around 60mph. Additionally, the WAV sports a sleek deck and hull design that is constructed from an advanced thermoformed polymer, while the EV PWC’s ergonomics have been directly inspired by the riding positions of superbikes. A big part of what sets the WAV aside is its bevy of modern tech, with a 12” 4K touchscreen display and a suite of sensors — all of which, like the infotainment system, are all IP68-rated for water-protection. Electronically-regulated cruise control is another standard item on the WAV, as is LED lighting throughout.

Engine: Electric Motor
Power: N/A
Length: N/A
Weight: N/A
Top Speed: 60mph
Hull Material: Thermoformed Polymer

Purchase: $20,000+

Taiga Motors Orca Performance Carbon

The Orca is another modern take on a fully-electric PWC model, this time from Canada’s Taiga Motors. Starting from $15,000, the 120hp base-model Orca packs a 20Wh battery, a 31-mile range, and a 56mph top speed, while the upgraded 180hp Performance-spec gets a 25Wh battery, 37-mile range, and 65mph top speed, plus there’s a lightweight carbon fiber-hulled Carbon-spec that starts from $24,000. The Orca features a slew of modern, technologically-driven features such as GPS, LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth-connectivity, allowing the Orca to receive over-the-air firmware updates, a waterproof phone and device storage bay, adjustable power delivery modes, and brake and reverse functions. Good for two hours of riding time, the battery can also receive an 80% charge in as little as 20 minutes. A significant part of what makes this model shine is the minimal need for maintenance, with the fully-electric powertrain only requiring basic servicing after five years of use.

Engine: Electric Motor
Power: 180hp
Length: 117.6”
Weight: 588lbs
Top Speed: 65mph
Hull Material: Carbon Fiber

Purchase: $24,000+

Narke ElectroJet

When Hungary’s Narke first unveiled its Electrojet PWC, it was touted as the first production EV jet ski model, and though the emerging space has since grown, the Hungarian-designed PWC is still a fantastic model. At the core of the Electrojet is a compact Lithium-ion battery pack and a 45kW electric three-phase asynchronous motor that was fully designed and developed in-house together generates up to 95hp and allow for speeds of almost 50mph and roughly 90 minutes of riding time on a single charge. Narke also sells several noteworthy optional upgrades including an upgrade to smartphone-connectivity, a wireless M.O.B. system, and an integrated quick-charger, plus the company offers almost a dozen different color choices. The use of carbon fiber for the deck and hull enables the thing to tip the scales at under 950lbs. And, while the majority of today’s PWC market tends to sport somewhat dated-looking aesthetics, the Electrojet boasts an incredibly modern design, with sharp angular lines and a sleek, aggressive hull.

Engine: Three-Phase Asynchronous Electric Motor
Power: 95hp
Length: 158.26”
Weight: 926lbs
Top Speed: 47mph
Hull Material: Carbon Fiber

Purchase: $43,850+

Strand Craft V8 Wet Rod

Strand-Craft’s Wet Rod V8 is something of the ultimate yacht toy. Measuring over 16’ in length, this behemoth PWC takes the luxury class to new heights, with a beautifully designed and constructed hull and deck composed of carbon fiber. The most interesting aspect of this ultra-high-end PWC is its engine, which is a Corvette-style, all-aluminum supercharged 6.2L V8 that generates a whopping 300hp. Standard features also include a 15” touchscreen display, LED lighting throughout, a battery switch, a premium sound system, an under-seat cooler, and the customer’s option of a two-tone livery. There’s also the option for a V8 Turbodiesel engine, an underwater camera, carbon fiber inlays, a teak wood deck, and a GPS system, just to name a few. The use of side RAM-air intakes and dual-exhausts that exit at the midway point of the port and starboard sides give this model a thoroughly hot-rodded feel, too.

Engine: Supercharged Aluminum 6.2L V8
Power: 300hp
Length: 200”
Weight: 1,250lbs (Curb)
Top Speed: 65mph
Hull Material: Carbon Fiber

Purchase: $49,000

Mansory Black Marlin 550

Mansory is a luxury automotive tuner based in Germany, known for taking already exotic, high-performance super and hypercars and cranking them up to 11, bestowing the elite vehicles with bolstered powertrains, custom bodywork, and aero-kits. And it’s this same formula that was used to create Mansory’s ridiculously exclusive Black Marlin 550 PWC. Starting with Sea-Doo’s already extremely-competent RXT-X 260RS, Mansory has massaged the 1.5L Rotax engine to now generate an absurd 550hp which translates to speeds on the open water of over 80mph. The supercar equivalent of a PWC, this industry-leading—and quite frankly race-grade—speed is largely owed to the shedding of a significant amount of weight through the use of carbon fiber construction. On top of the bonkers blown engine, the Black Marlin also gets its own unique aesthetic design, which clearly takes ample influence from the German tuner’s supercar body kits.

Engine: Supercharged 1,494cc Inline-Three
Power: 550hp
Length: 139″
Weight: 833lbs
Top Speed: 80mph+
Hull Material: Carbon Fiber

Purchase: $62,600

The 12 Best Fishing Canoes

Want to check out a few quieter, more peaceful options for surface water travel? Then be sure to dive into our guide to the best fishing canoes for a look at a dozen of the best personal-sized, purpose-built angler’s boats.

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