After a splashy debut, jet boats lost a little steam in the industry over the years. The dip in sales and popularity seemed to coincide with a few other factors. First, most jet boats used two-stroke engines that fell out of favor due to environmental concerns. They polluted the water people were purportedly out to enjoy in the first place.
Second, two-strokes were notorious for prodigious fuel consumption. Third, people who bought jets didn’t buy them a second time if and when they moved up to a larger boat. It’s almost as if they suffered from an image problem. They weren’t “real” boats, or were considered toys. Earned or not, the reputation led to a dip in sales.
Now, engine makers have cleaned up two-stroke technology. Bombardier Recreational Products, for example, owns Evinrude and its proprietary E-Tech technology, which greatly reduces exhaust emissions without sacrificing the benefits of two combustion strokes per crankshaft revolution.
If the display at the Miami boat show can serve as an indicator of market trends, jet boats are back. Chaparral is introducing a new jet boat, the Vortex. So is Glastron. Scarab, a new boat company with a recognized name, is building a whole line of jet boats.
All three builders use Rotax power from Bombardier, which is offering 150-, 200-, and 250-horsepower versions, all based on the same block. Emissions have been reduced, and as a result fuel consumption is comparable to V8-powered boats of the same size.
There are also developments at Yamaha, a company that has always embraced the jet-drive platform, and has had the manufacturing prowess to usher its line of boats from two-stroke power to four-stroke, four cylinders. As a stopgap measure, Yamaha leaned on its motorcycle division for an engine that could power its boats until the company had time to develop proprietary engines.
In addition to an 1,100-cc engine, Yamaha now uses an 1,800-cc engine it developed in-house. It is available as a high-compression model that makes 180 horsepower, and a low-compression model that makes 210, thanks to a low-boost supercharger. The top of the heap is the SV HO engine that makes 260 horsepower with an added measure of boost. And because these are four-stroke engines, emissions are readily controlled.
It will be interesting to see if the solutions to previous problems, real or imagined, will lead to a renaissance of jet boats in the marine market. Judging from the show floor at the Miami Boat Show, they could be headed in that direction.