PWC Fuel Consumption: Myth Vs. Reality

According to today's news feed, gas prices have hit their highest point since October 2008, averaging $2.799/gallon nationwide. Many experts predict we'll be paying over $3 come summer. Seems like now might be a good time to once again look at the both the myths and realities of PWC fuel consumption.

18th March 2010.
By Jeff Hemmel

According to today’s news feed, gas prices have hit their highest point since October 2008, averaging $2.799/gallon nationwide. Many experts predict we’ll be paying over $3 come summer. Seems like now might be a good time to once again look at the both the myths — and realities — of PWC fuel consumption.

To be fair, I haven’t actually tested the fuel consumption of any 2010 models. I did, however, test a number of craft in both 2009 and 2008. As most of you are probably well aware, those models — and their engines — have not changed much in this period. Yes, I know of at least one manufacturer that claims to have improved fuel consumption through a little tinkering of the electronic brain, but for the most part I’m going to assume my figures are still valid for the most part. For those looking for details, my test equipment consisted of an industry-standard fuel-flow meter.

The basic numbers aren’t surprising. High-horsepower, flagship muscle machines consume the most gasoline. At top speeds of 66-67mph, I’ve recorded the Kawasaki Ultra 250X (now 260) consuming 24 gallons an hour, Yamaha’s FX SHO burning a somewhat lower 21.7 gph total, and Sea-Doo’s RXT-X 255 (now 260) 20.6 gph.

It’s interesting to note, however, that few riders actually pin the throttle for an hour straight. Normal riding likely occurs at varying speeds, an occasional burst of top speed, followed by periods of slower riding. Think about all the times you slow to turn, talk, navigate a slow-speed zone, etc. If you drop that average top speed down to the 35mph mark, the numbers change rather dramatically.

Now, the across-the-board average dips to a mere 7.4 gph average. That’s about a third of the full-speed numbers. The Sea-Doo again held the edge (6.8 gph), and the Yamaha and Kawasaki both finished between 7.7-7.8 gph. But the point is, these craft aren’t always the gas guzzlers they’re portrayed as when you factor into the equation a more realistic riding speed. No doubt, they’ll burn the most, and burn plenty if all you do is run straight-line drag races. Overall, however, that consumption is less than what many buyers have come to fear.

Sea-Doo’s Louis Levesque once told me that when gas prices go up, PWC stand out as a cheaper alternative to a traditional boat. I looked into that statement several years ago for Powersports Business, and found he was right. Using data from Trailer Boats magazine, I found that boats of similar horsepower typically burned more fuel. Examples? At 250hp, a four-stroke outboard on a Triumph center console gulped down 15.2 gph at 35 mph; a fuel-injected two-stroke on a 23′ ProLine bay boat burned 9.2 gph; and a 260hp sterndrive on a 22′ Ebb Tide burned over 10 gph.

Low horsepower, introductory models? As you might expect, they really trim the fuel burn. In a 2009 comparison, I noted the Kawasaki STX-15F burned only 5.4 gph at 35 mph, the Sea-Doo GTI SE 130 6.4 gph, and the Yamaha VX Deluxe a mere 4.1 gph.

Nobody likes the new that gas is getting more expensive. But when weighing your options as to whether or not to buy a PWC, it helps to have all the facts. Of course, the next time someone accuses you of having one of those “gas-guzzling PWC” it might also be fun to set the record straight…


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About the author:

Jeff Hemmel

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Jeff Hemmel writes for boats.com, Boating, PersonalWatercraft.com, and Powersports Business. The former Senior Editor at Watercraft World, Jeff is a multi-time award winner as well as a 2008 inductee into the IJSBA Hall of Fame. His first book, "The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon...and 101 Other Things For Young Mariners To Try, Do, & Build On the Water," received a bronze medal in the 2010 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. For more info, visit Jeff Hemmel's website.

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