By Jeff Hemmel

Sea-Doo Enlists YouTube Star For Latest Video

In the fast-evolving world that is the Internet, sometimes movies are ads and ads are, well, movies.

Take Sea-Doo’s latest effort with fast-growing YouTube star Devin Graham, better known to his fans as Devin Supertramp. Graham has attained a loyal following by producing a growing number of outdoor, lifestyle videos, featuring everything from people swinging between canyon cliffs to live recreations of the Assassins Creed video game. As his popularity has grown exponentially, brands have latched on for the ride, partnering with the filmmaker to produce films that subtly push their product. One recent movie features a “pirate battle” between partying twentysomethings, complete with dancing, water cannons, and some cool stunts on the water jet-propelled JetBoard. Only at the end of the clip do you see it’s a promotional video for Aruba. Sea-Doo’s efforts follow suit, showcasing the brand’s much-hyped new Spark — as well as the company’s promotional tie-ins with a few of today’s top wakeskaters — without ever really making the promotion in-your-face obvious.

I have to admit, it’s cool. Supertramp has an eye for the action, as well as the editing chops to put together a fast-moving, cutting-edge piece. Check it out and see what you think.

Just don’t be surprised if the subliminal message below makes you want to go PWC shopping…

 

 

By Jeff Hemmel

Personal Watercraft Industry Association Announces Safe Rider Campaign

Most of us probably like to think we’re safe personal watercraft operators. The Personal Watercraft Industry Association, however, is now asking riders to make that claim a little more official as the Association kicks off their 2nd Annual Safe Rider Program, focused on “promoting the responsible use of personal watercrafts by encouraging safety and education.”

Before you yawn and click on over to Instagram, consider for a moment that we all could use a little refresher course in boating safety. Accidents happen, and they happen to responsible users as well as that annoying jerk who cut you off on the way to the launch ramp. This PWIA campaign is just a reminder to do things right. That means scanning the water for other boats and hazards; avoiding aggressive maneuvers; following local boating laws, including rules to prevent the transfer of invasive species; examining your equipment; reacting to the conditions; insisting on a safe distance from other boats, swimmers, and fixed objects; driving SOBER; evaluating the weather and waterways; and respecting the environment by avoiding fuel spills and operating close to marine life.

In short, all the simple things you should be doing every ride, but maybe just need a little nudge to remind you about.

The campaign, which kicks off Memorial Day weekend, encourages riders to go online and sign a pledge committing to the safe and responsible operation of their craft. And when you do, you’ll get a cool little sticker to display on your PWC. Who knows, maybe it will even create a little peer pressure for others to follow suit.

“Our mission is to advocate for a safe and enjoyable experience on any personal watercraft,” explains David Dickerson, executive director of PWIA. “Bringing the Safe Rider campaign to PWC users for a second year in a row will help us to continue to reach a larger audience with the message that PWC fun and safety go hand in hand.”

Check out the pledge at www.pwia.org, and while you’re at it take a moment to find out a few more details about the “Safe Rider” campaign. That includes information on instructional courses and downloadable safety materials, including a brief handbook titled Riding Rules for Personal Watercraft and PWC Orientation Checklist.

“Responsible riding isn’t just about personal safety,” continues Dickerson. “Our pledge encompasses PWC etiquette for riders of every skill level in multiple locations or scenarios. It includes being considerate of those around you. Being mindful of other vessels in your vicinity and how your rate of speed or wake affects them. And don’t forget about marine life, be sure to respect ecologically sensitive areas. Sign the pledge today, commit to its recommendations and start having fun on the water!”

By Jeff Hemmel

Are Sound Systems A Good Idea On A PWC?

Kawasaki introduced a first for 2014. Actually, they introduced a couple of firsts. One is a 310 horsepower engine, the most powerful production mill the industry has ever seen. The other, however, is a sound system. A good idea? I had my doubts…until I found myself using it frequently during Kawasaki’s recent press introduction in the Florida Keys. Still, I’m not so sure.

Yes, there have been sound systems for PWC before, aftermarket solutions that managed to add speakers and some sort of source unit in a variety of fashions. Never before, however, has a manufacturer included one from the start. The specs for Kawasaki “Jetsounds” are as follows: dual, 30-watt waterproof speakers neatly integrated below the mirrors; a Jensen head unit built into an oversized handlebar pad; an amp rated at 20W (x2 channels, max 40W x2); and two water-resistant storage cases, one built for a USB memory stick, the other for a device like an iPhone or other digital music player, accessed and stored in the glove compartment. It’s a pretty sweet setup, really, and one that looks like a true OEM solution rather than a cobbled-together add-on.

So why am I waffling just a bit…especially given that most of us frequently turn on the music when we venture out on regular boats? I guess it comes down to distraction. Things happen fast on a PWC, and the idea of any additional distraction taking the driver’s attention away from the water concerns me. PWC also still fight many a battle when it comes to being good neighbors on the water. I can only imagine a lakefront homeowner who already, rightly or wrongly, has a grudge against the craft just loving a trio of skis coming by blasting tunes. But then again, doesn’t a lot of the issue just come down to being a responsible, courteous boater? Music or not, I’m still going to look behind me before I make a turn to make sure no one is approaching me from behind, and whether I’m on a PWC or my boat, I’m still going to turn the music down when I get near shore and sense my choice of tunes won’t exactly thrill the neighbors.

On my ride in the Keys, I initially ignored the sound system altogether. But then I turned it on to check it out. Scrolled through to a good song. And yes, kind of enjoyed it. No, I couldn’t really hear it at full throttle jamming across the waves, but back things down a bit and having a little music out there was actually quite cool. I also found the built-in system much preferable to waterproof earphones. The latter isolate you from your surroundings, which I still find dangerous. The former, used responsibly, does not.

Still, I find myself hesitant to give the system an all-out recommendation. That’s strange, because I wouldn’t think to write a boat review and criticize a craft for having a stereo. I wouldn’t worry about the music distracting drivers, either. Something about a sound system on a PWC, however, seems…well…different.

What do you think? The start of something cool…or a sign of the apocalypse? I’ll ponder the subject more as soon as the next song finishes…

By Jeff Hemmel

Financial Analyst Gives Thumbs Up To New Sea-Doo Spark

At the unveiling of the new Sea-Doo Spark, most of the assembled press on hand at the brand’s Orlando dealer meeting gave the new, inexpensive craft a big, enthusiastic thumbs up. Now, a financial analyst is weighing in on the Spark, and the positive effects it may also have on BRP Sea-Doo’s bottom line.

According to an interview with BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson, the introduction of the Spark — as well as the Can-Am Spyder Roadster — could be “game changers” for BRP. “We view the new lineup very favorably,” Johnson told industry magazine Powersports Business, adding that the Spark in particular “has the potential to significantly re-energize this mature market.”

Reenergizing a market is precisely Sea-Doo’s goal for the Spark. But will it bring in new customers, entice existing enthusiasts to add a craft to their fleet, or simply cannibalize sales of other models in the lineup? According to Johnson, Sea-Doo does expect the craft to steal sales away from other models to the tune of about 10%. The company’s forecast, however, is that the Spark will generate about C$65-70 million in sales, while only causing a loss of about C$35 million. My gut reaction is to agree. Already I have received calls from friends and acquaintances — some diehard fans of other brands — confirming they can’t wait to buy one. The Spark is also the first craft that I ever remember causing such a commotion among the press. I literally watched two people high-five when the price was announced.

That’s enthusiasm. And that’s exactly what this market needs.

Oh, as to Johnson the analyst? He’s bullish on the company stock, obviously, rating BRP as an “outperform.”

 

 

By Jeff Hemmel

The Calm Before The (New PWC) Storm

There’s definitely something in the air. Sure, things may seem calm at the moment, but a storm is brewing. Thankfully, it’s a good one for personal watercraft enthusiasts.

The storm in question is a storm of new — yes, NEW — PWC coming on the horizon. Once a given every new model year, truly new craft have become a thing of the past in recent years. Blame the economic slowdown for much of these calm seas, but you certainly can’t blame the manufacturers. Things seemed a little sketchy, a little downright iffy, and as a result they chose (wisely) to play it safe. Even Sea-Doo, the lone manufacturer to continue to crank out truly new models every year, gave in to the trend. In 2013, the brand introduced not one new craft, and even exited the sport boat end of their business.

The storm clouds, however, are definitely building for 2014, and the industry — and its fans and consumers — couldn’t be happier. If rumors hold true, and I think they will, every manufacturer will have at least one new model for 2014. And from what I’ve been hearing, these will be some pretty cool new introductions. Not warmed over models from previous years, but truly new craft.

The rumor mill has speculated plenty on what they might be. I won’t go into it now, except to say odds are we may see a welcome new entry-level price point for some models, and maybe even some cool new powerful machines on the high end. There’s even talk (a long shot maybe, cut cool nonetheless) of a four-stroke standup from Kawasaki. Now wouldn’t that be a kick?

The good news is simply that new craft are on the horizon, and with them a renewed wave of enthusiasm for the market.

Let it rain.

By Jeff Hemmel

Catch A Free (PWC Test) Ride…

Over the years I’ve fielded a lot of questions about exactly which personal watercraft an individual should buy. I’m honest with my recommendations, but I couch them all with the same suggestion — if at all possible, get a test ride. It only makes sense. A certain model can look oh so cool in the showroom, or have garnered terrific reviews in the press, but until you actually sit in its saddle, punch its throttle, and power it through a turn, you really don’t know if it’s the craft for you.

It’s during a test ride that you’ll notice all those little details. Like how the seat fits you, do you like the hull’s ride, is it wet or dry, are the controls intuitive and easy to use, is the craft stable at high speeds, do you like how it feels powering through a tight corner? All these and more are things can make a craft perfect for you, or convince you to look elsewhere. And none can be discerned from any photo, video, or (as much as it pains me to admit) a writer’s description. Sure, my opinion is of value. I’ve ridden these things for over 30 years now. And I get to ride them all, meaning I know how they compare to what else is currently on the market. But individuals have individual preferences, and the only way to see if a craft fits yours is to get some time in the saddle.

Thankfully, two manufacturers — Sea-Doo and Yamaha — are making it a little easier to do that. Sea-Doo is once again in the middle of its Sea-Doo Test Ride Tour, which puts an East Coast and West Coast team on the road and has them visit as many popular PWC hotspots as possible. Those teams are ready to help answer questions, show you the new features, and help you get some time on a boat before you choose it. The Sea-Doo tour continues until the end of July. Want a schedule? Look for it at www.ibrake4.com.

Yamaha is also offering test rides, but in a different format. Rather than put a crew on the road, Yamaha is essentially turning to its dealers, encouraging them to put on their own “demo days.” Customers can sign up at a participating dealer in their area by visiting the www.YamahaOnTheWater.com web page. Individual dealers can make the events a big deal, or choose to conduct a more intimate test ride. Either way, the customer will get on the craft they’re interested in, as well as get to know the dealer they may be buying it from.

If you’re seriously interested in a personal watercraft, I’d urge you to check out one of these demo opportunities if they’re available to you. And if they’re not, tell your dealer you need to try a craft before you make a purchase. It only makes sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jeff Hemmel

Yamaha Just Made It Easier…And Cheaper…To Buy A PWC

Yamaha just did something revolutionary. No, it didn’t make a faster PWC, a more maneuverable PWC, or even a PWC with some new whiz-bang technology. Instead, the company just made a PWC easier and cheaper to own by trotting out a certified pre-owned program for used models. Yup, that same used machine you were searching Craigslist for now just may be found at your local Yamaha dealer…with a warranty to boot.

Why? Why not. The certified pre-owned concept has worked great for car manufacturers. And judging by the numbers, it could work just as great in the personal watercraft market. According to Yamaha’s research, there are well over 100,000 used personal watercraft sold a year. That dwarfs new model sales. And the vast majority of those sales — 90% — are private-party transactions that a dealer has no part of. Yamaha’s desire is to tap into this market, bring more customers into their dealer’s showrooms, possibly upsell a few of them into a new machine, generate a lot of business for their used models, and build a relationship for the future with a lot of new customers.

The biggest advantage of the CPO program to the consumer is simple peace of mind. Rather than taking their best guess at how a pre-owned watercraft was maintained, or how it will run once they fork over the cash, consumers buying a CPO craft will get a 12-month warranty, backed by Yamaha and with service at a Yamaha dealership. There’s also the fact that a CPO craft has undergone a 35-point inspection by the dealership’s service department. Someone probably far more knowledgable about the workings of a personal watercraft engine has gone through the craft and deemed it ready for sale. A customer will also know the engine has less than 200 hours on it, and though it should be obvious, that the craft is less than six years old.

A customer can also qualify for special financing deals, purchase even more warranty coverage, or if they’re really savvy, find a craft with an even longer warranty on it. According to Yamaha, craft previously sold with an extended warranty will maintain what’s left of that coverage in addition to the 12-month warranty for being a CPO unit. Example? If a craft was sold at a boat show with an extended warranty deal and still has 24 months remaining on that warranty, that CPO craft would be covered for 36 months.

Think you’ll pay more for a CPO model? Not necessarily. Prices on the used market vary widely, so it’s hard to say. Yamaha dealers do pay a fee to certify a craft, and that fee will certainly be passed on to consumers, but it’s pretty minimal. And given that, for the fee, the boat gets an inspection by a dealer and a year’s warranty, I’d say a lot of people would find it a sound investment.

When I talked to Yamaha Marketing Manager Bryan Seti, he likened the CPO program to having a new, entry-level unit for dealers to sell. Can’t afford an $8,000 VX? Good news, you can find a less expensive option that still carries a warranty.

That’s peace of mind you don’t find on Craigslist.

 

 

 

By Jeff Hemmel

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane…It’s A Guy With A Really Cool Water Pistol

Anyone who has ever hung off the back of an old-school standup PWC knows the power of the thrust exiting a PWC’s jet pump. What once knocked our shorts off (or caused us to sing in a slightly higher octave) is the same blast of water that now propels modern runabouts past the 65 mph mark. Or, in the case of the JetLev, FlyBoard, or Jetovator, what could be used to propel you not just across the water, but up into the air as well.

Yup, hang onto your shorts. This trio of high flyers is ready to send you skyward using the same water-jet propulsion that pushes your favorite PWC. The JetLev ($99,500) was first on the scene. It  looks like the backpack used in the old TV show Lost In Space, but let’s face it…at that price it’s far from a toy for the masses.

The FlyBoard was next on the scene, and lowered the price substantially, all the way to $6,500. This contraption is kind of like a jet-propelled wakeboard.

The Jetovator? It’s the bicycle or sport bike of the bunch, putting you in a saddle and letting you rocket across the water, or wheelie skyward. Price? About $9,000.

While the JetLev uses an unmanned, PWC-like vehicle to follow it around and provide the boost, the FlyBoard and Jetovator trim a lot of that cost by using what many PWC enthusiasts already own — their Jet Ski, Sea-Doo, or WaveRunner. In each case the rider removes the jet pump assembly and bolts in place a U-shaped tube that redirects thrust into a hose (typically 40′ long) that is linked to the gadget attached to the person in flight. The obvious advantage is that you can ride your PWC for its intended purpose one minute, and then switch it to rocketman mode the next. The switch is relatively simple, and won’t tax anyone’s mechanical skills.

Still, these latter two are a two-person job. The actual thrust delivered is controlled by a rider that stays aboard the PWC and controls throttle. FlyBoard offers an optional throttle-by-wire kit that puts all the controls in the hands of the person up in the air. Jetovator indicated it is doing likewise, although the control has not yet hit the market. Still, even with the throttle-by-wire kits, both manufacturers suggest someone stay aboard the PWC…just to be on the safe side. All manufacturers also require a combination safety/instructional course before flying.

What do you think, does flying above the water appeal to you? And for boat owners in general, how do you feel about potentially sharing the waterways with this modern squadron of flyboys?

 

By Jeff Hemmel

The Truth Behind PWC Bans At Powell, Mead, and Mohave

There’s been some rumblings within the PWC community of late regarding the banning of personal watercraft from three, frequently visited western lakes designated as national parks — Powell, Mead, and Mohave. And like most stories, much of what you read is true…and much of what you read isn’t.

Yes, it’s true that the National Park Service is banning PWC from these lakes, but the ban is on older models only — carbureted two-strokes that don’t meet 2006 emissions standards. Any four-stroke model, as well as two-strokes that feature direct injection, are still allowed to use their craft on the lakes just as before, as they meet the requirements. Again, that’s worth restating, as plenty of people seem to be missing it — four-stroke models, as well as fuel-injected two-strokes — can continue to be enjoyed on Lakes Powell, Mead, and Mohave just as before. Any suggestion to the contrary is a fallacy.

Yet another truth is that, while the ban may seem like a new reaction and threat to personal watercraft usage, in reality it’s one we’ve known about for a full decade. The ban on Powell has been scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013 since all the way back in 2003. That’s when the NPS actually first declared that PWC must meet the coming ’06 emissions standards. The agency immediately, however, added a caveat. Implementation of the ban would be delayed till January ’13 to lessen the impact on PWC owners who use these areas and give them time to take the appropriate steps.

To me, that sounds like the NPS gave enthusiasts holding onto their aging models a decade-long heads-up to upgrade to a modern four-stroke PWC…something manufacturers have been trying to figure out how to do for years.

But are those models really worthy of a ban? There remains much debate about just how much pollution is caused by a two-stroke personal watercraft engine. Critics paint a dire picture of Exxon Valdez proportions, supporters note plenty of faulty science being used to support the claims. It’s an argument we didn’t win a decade ago, and with four-strokes now firmly entrenched, one that nobody seems really willing to revisit now. What really stirs the pot for PWC supporters, however, is that two-stroke outboards — craft that also fail to meet those same emissions standards — have thus far been allowed to stay.

That’s discouraging for many in the PWC community, especially the American Watercraft Association’s Chris Manthos. In a recent interview, Manthos noted that his predecessors at the AWA put up their best fight at the time, but had limited resources. He also notes the PWC community, and in some ways the entire powersports community, failed to stand together as one united force in support. Think he’s got a point, or at least want to make sure it’s a fairer fight the next time around? Join the American Watercraft Association (www.awahq.org). If you’re a PWC enthusiast, these are the guys defending your right to ride, and they could certainly use the support.

I probably skew more toward the environmental side than a lot of my counterparts in the industry. I think there’s a lot that can be done to clean up the water, the air, and the planet in general, and I think we should all be willing to make some sacrifices to get the job done. But I’m also all for fairness, and making rational decisions based on sound information. And so far I’m not convinced that PWC were anything but the easiest kid to pick on at the playground.

 

 

By Jeff Hemmel

Imagine Going Over 100 MPH…On A PWC

Several years back, WaterTop Unlimited (now Look Marketing) head Tim McKercher brought side-by-side drag racing to the PWC market, reasoning it would be an innovative new twist on a sport typically dominated by closed-course, motocross-style competition. While not a runaway hit, it proved successful, enticing everyone from the Average Joe to hardcore speed freak to give it a try. For the former group, drag racing was just a fun way to battle your buddy without any real fear of collisions or injury; for the latter, a chance to go head-to-head on heavily modified craft. It’s the event’s Speed Alley, however, that brought with it the true promise of crazy speed. Solo runs against the radar gun were an amazing test of both man and machine, and encouraged a whole new crew of speed freaks to truly push the limits of today’s personal watercraft.

The elusive 100-mph mark fell early on, when Puerto Rico’s Julio Rivera first recorded triple digits, chalking up a 100.5 mph run at the RIVA Racing Spring Nationals in 2009. The most recent record was established the  weekend of November 3-4, when Joseph Mastrapa, from Palmetto Bay, Florida, posted a 101.7 mph peak speed.

Trust me, that’s fast…crazy fast. Several years ago I did a story with RIVA where I sped across the water at 72 mph. Truth be told, the speed actually felt pretty comfortable. But adding 30 more miles per hour? No thanks. Make one wrong move, tip your weight slightly in the wrong direction, and you’d be flung like a rag doll. At those speeds, water isn’t soft and cushy…it’s hard and unforgiving. Guys like Rivera and Mastrapa have nerves of steel, as well as some pretty impressive engine and hull-building skills between them and their teams.

Strangely, I believe Guinness still recognizes the world record on a PWC as 87.5 mph, a mark set by Outback Steakhouse co-franchisee Forrest Smith (who, incidentally, used RIVA to help him modify a Yamaha GP1200R for the challenge). Why hasn’t the record book recognized guys like Rivera and Mastrapa? Word is there’s a lot of paperwork and money involved, something that no one has bothered to mess with in the last few years.

That may soon change. Current HydroDrag promoter Mike Young hopes to find a sponsor that would bring Guinness representatives to the event next November. If he succeeds, the renowned record book will certainly have a new name amongst its pages.

Here’s a look at Mastrapa’s record-breaking run…

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