"Wow! It really works," I thought while piloting the Shuttle Craft — a remarkable jet boat shell that locks around a watercraft for power and steering control. Contrary to my preconceptions, the mated hulls handled as if crafted from a single mold, yet split into separate play toys with less effort than operating an automobile hood release. Also surprising was the utter lack of movement, rattles and squeaks at the union. The combo is truly the best of both worlds, offering the comfort, space and utilitarian benefits of a jet boat without giving up the thrills of a Personal Watercraft — so stay with us for a closer look.
The Shuttle Craft is a 15 foot (about average for a jet boat) V-hull fiberglass boat capable of transporting up to five passengers, coolers and gear at speeds up to 35 mph. There is a u-shaped cut-out in the stern where the watercraft slides into. A snug fit is ensured by custom-molded, wrap-around rail kits that adapt the docking port to the precise contours of your watercraft's rubrail. Rail kits are now available to fit almost all two- and three-passenger, late-model personal watercraft. To link up with the Shuttle Craft, the PWC operator simply drives into the glove-tight docking port and fastens a ratchet strap across the area below the helm to hold the union firmly together. When the riders get to where they're going, disengaging is a matter of pulling a release handle on the ratchet strap and pushing or reversing away.
A padded sun deck, neatly hidden in a storage locker on the port side, can be unfolded across the docking port to add more room for sunbathing while others are enjoying the watercraft. Standard features include a 17-foot Shorelander trailer (which also holds the PWC), marine stereo with a water-resistant cover and dual speakers, upholstered seating, three large storage compartments for water skis, fishing tackle, etc., and Coast Guard-approved running lights that allow the composite unit to be used at night. A fold-down Bimini top and mooring cover are optional.
Driving the Shuttle Craft attracts the focus of many curious onlookers. Granted, the four beautiful women onboard for the test also had something to do with it, but on its own merit, nothing I've ridden in my seven years as a boating writer approaches the Shuttle Craft's power to command attention and bring good-natured interrogations. Everyone you meet wants to know how it handles, how fast it goes and if it will pull a skier. The PWC used to power the Shuttle Craft has a direct impact on the answers to these questions, but more horsepower doesn't always translate into a higher top speed, or make it better-suited for pulling a water skier. According to Shuttle Craft officials, three-passenger touring craft are best-suited for the marriage because they usually have the most low-end power.
The boat we tested was propelled by an 80 horsepower 1995 SeaDoo GTX. With five adults onboard, the combo reached a top speed in the low- to mid-30's. The Shuttle Craft took off without much bow rise, and acceleration was on a par with similar-powered, fully-loaded jet boats. Of course, for sheer thrust, it's an armadillo compared to the wrenching hole shot the watercraft alone delivers, but there is easily enough get-up-and-go to pull a tube or an average-size person on dual skis. For slalom skiing with this set-up, your best bet would be to unload some passengers on the beach or throw anchor, disconnect the watercraft, and ski around the Shuttle Craft so family and friends can watch. With the new 110 horsepower SeaDoo GTX and Yamaha WaveVenture 1100, the Shuttle Craft will run significantly faster and should be able to pop Fat Albert up on a single ski without breaking a sweat.
The Shuttle Craft handles like a jet boat with precise and predictable steering control, and in some ways offers even safer operation. It doesn't turn quite as sharp, so the chance of a passenger being ejected is greatly reduced, and it won't spin out if the driver makes a sudden maneuver. The boat banks nicely through wide radiuses, yet not enough to allow the stern to slip.
The broad, 87-inch beam provides an exceptionally-stable platform for stand-up fishing and moving around. Underway, the Shuttle Craft's deep-vee forward entry cuts through choppy water without pounding or soaking the riders; and other than a small amount of water that bubbles up at the union, there is no evidence of the dual-component makeup.
The Shuttle Craft, priced at $5,000 with trailer, is roughly half the cost of a similar-size jet boat, and far more versatile. Best of all, this ingenious head-turner is much more than a good try at a way-out idea. It does what it's supposed to do marvelously, without the squeaks, rattles and flaws you might expect from something so contemporary. If you've had trouble deciding between a personal watercraft and a jet boat, your dream machine has arrived!
|Capacity (with a two-seat PWC):||5 passengers (750 pounds)|
|Hull and Deck Material:||Fiberglass|
|Price (with trailer):||U.S.$5000|
For more information and the name of a dealer near you, contact: Shuttle Craft International, Inc., 2201 Speers Ave., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7L5X6, (800) 241-9958.