In 1967, The Doors released their debut album, “The Doors,” and Canada celebrated the 100th anniversary of the British North American Act, which established it as a country. That same year, a Canadian company began work on a new type of watercraft based loosely on a snowmobile. That company was Bombardier Recreational Products and that watercraft was the Sea-Doo. Of course, it would be impossible to talk about the Sea-Doo without first mentioning the Ski-Doo, the snowmobile launched by Bombardier in 1959. Those first Ski-Doo machines weren’t designed for hooning at Banff or Whistler, but rather to help missionaries, trappers, prospectors and land surveyors get where they needed to go when the Great White North was blanketed in white.
The first Sea-Doos borrowed some of the technology from the snowmobiles, including the air-cooled single-cylinder, two-stroke engine. The new Sea-Doos even borrowed a bit of the Ski-Doo’s styling, including the shape, the yellow exterior with the black stripes, even the handlebars. Production ran from 1968 to 1969, at which point it ceased due to reliability problems and product recalls. In 1970, the Sea-Doos came with a new water-cooled engine, but that would be the last model year produced for a while.
It was nearly 20 years before Sea-Doo got back into the watercraft business, but when it did, the market it essentially created was a bit more crowded than it was in 1970. Kawaski had debuted its stand-up Jet Ski in 1973. Yamaha was in the business building WaveRunners, and by 1988, both manufacturers offered sit-down models similar to the original Sea-Doo that debuted 20 years prior.
Sea-Doo responded with a new model, the SP. By then, the company had its own line of engines, the Rotax series, and the SP was powered by a 587 cc twin two-stroke.
When the 1990s dawned, Sea-Doo had developed three models: the GT, SP and XP, which had improved performance thanks to a twin-carburetor setup. By the middle of the decade, Sea-Doo had answered the market call for more power and began offering its 720 and 800 engines in its product line, rated at 85 and 110 horsepower, respectively. The personal watercraft market peaked in 1996.
By 1998, the engine size had increased to 947 cc and was available with what Sea-Doo called “real fuel injection,” or RFI. That engine ran quite a bit cleaner than carbureted two-strokes and was a harbinger of what was to come. No Sea-Doo model made better use of the 110-horse RFI engine than the XP model, which had its engine mounted farther forward in the hull and incorporated a seat with an adjustable shock absorber. The XP ran in excess of 60 MPH, which was among the fastest you could buy at the time.
In 2002, in a move to reduce emissions even further, Sea-Doo introduced its first four-stroke-powered watercraft. The 1.5-liter Rotax triple developed 155 horsepower. It’s fuel-injection system was electronically controlled by a standalone engine control unit. Over the next five years, Sea-Doo phased out its two-stroke engines.
With all the newfound power, Sea-Doo was able to offer quicker acceleration and larger craft in the mid 2000’s, which accommodated three passengers in comfort and stability. At this point, Sea-Doo owned about 50 percent of the watercraft market, which is about when competitor Polaris left the market altogether. Tigershark left the market in 1999.
When the Great Recession hit in 2008, sales tumbled across the entire industry. Sea-Doo had launched six new models that year and carried over several from the 2007 model year, which was the last time Sea-Doo offered a two-stroke engine.
As the economy improved and technology advanced, Sea-Doo began to offer a suite of safety systems it called iControl Technologies. One example is the iBR system, which stands for intelligent brake and reverse.
iBR uses the reverse gate to create “neutral,” which is handy because the engine is directly connected to the impeller. In past models, if the engine was running, you were moving. iBR also can be used to act as a brake. How much or how quickly the rider pulls on the left lever determines the force of the braking. It’s really clever. It reduces stopping distances by upward of 30 percent and makes slow-speed maneuvering easier because the driver can use the throttle on the right and iBR on the left to grease it right into a dock space.
The company’s off throttle assisted steering system, electronically increases engine speed to give the rider more steering control when his or her instinct is to release the throttle.
Sea-Doo’s iTC, or intelligent throttle control, acts as a cruise control feature and can be used to set the maximum and minimum speeds. Its intelligent suspension system (iS) puts a shock absorbing articulating system between the upper deck and the hull, effectively softening the ride for all onboard.
As technology advanced, prices and weight increased. Sea-Doo saw the need for a more entry-level product and introduced the Spark in 2014, a small, lightweight and fun-to-ride model that sold for $5,000, well below the industry average price, which was more than $10,000.
Today, more than 150 years after the British North America Act, Canada’s Sea-Doo enjoys its position as the number one brand of PWC worldwide with more than 20 models and more market share than any other brand.
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