For years, performance enthusiasts have looked to the magazines (remember them, they were made of paper) as well as the Internet for one thing each winter — the radar performance numbers of the latest and greatest muscle machines. The reason? Very simple…to see which PWC is currently the fastest in production.

Equally interested were the manufacturers. I remember one year at Watercraft World’s Dream Demo, I roared away from the shore for a speed run and instead of focusing on me, then-editor Matt Gruhn clicked off his gun and quickly turned around. What he saw was about half-a-dozen separate radar guns quickly dart into vehicle windows. It was almost comical the wealth of radiation that was being flung my way.

Obviously, speed is a big issue.

When considering what boat holds the title of “fastest” PWC, however, it’s important to remember that it’s also not an exact science. Next time you read a review, consider this. Radar runs are influenced by a lot of factors, not the least of which are things like the temperature, humidity, elevation, wind and water conditions. Then you factor in the way most magazines conduct their tests. Typically that includes something like five gallons of gas, a glass-calm strip of water, and a guy like me, who knows how to get the best results and weighs little more than 150 pounds, assuming he actually had a decent breakfast that morning. As radar runs usually seem to take place at the crack of dawn — what better way to achieve ridiculous levels of calm you’ll probably never see on your own craft —  you can’t even assume that.

Translation? Radar runs are often recorded in as close to perfect conditions as possible. Yeah, it’s somewhat apples-to-apples between models, but at best it’s a comparison. Don’t expect to duplicate it. Unless you happen to have a boat built on a really good day on the assembly line, when all the components from various suppliers happen to be as close to the specifications as possible. In that case, you might get even better results.

Have manufacturers cheated during radar testing over the years? Yes…and no. Some years when bragging rights were really on the line, we nabbed the occasional offender in a tech inspection. Other years, when performance was not as important, tinkering wasn’t as obvious. But you can be sure if the manufacturers are involved someone has gone over the boats in question very carefully.

And no, there’s no really good way to keep them honest. With today’s computer-controlled four-strokes there is just too much that can be done to the engine — the simple tech inspection of the two-stroke era no longer applies.

Even a stock boat can, in essence, be a little bit of a cheat. It might be a production boat, but manufacturing tolerances mean some parts come off the line a little closer to the ideal specifications than others. If someone hand picks the best parts, you’ll likely get a boat that’s better than what typically rolls off the production line. Real world testing has shown us that production models often vary by as much as two miles-per-hour on top speed. That can be a significant difference.

What boats are currently the fastest for 2010? My educated guess says Kawasaki’s Ultra 260 and Sea-Doo’s RXP-X and RXT-X 260 are likely duking it out for bragging rights. In good conditions, each boat should go beyond the 65 mph mark, and probably hit between 67-68 mph with a light load. Yamaha’s FZR is nipping at their heels, most likely averaging around 67 mph. Still, I’ve always contended that acceleration provides much of a craft’s thrill factor. Here, the Sea-Doo RXP-X likely takes top honors.

Just remember, the minute it gets rough the equation changes. In big water, a larger boat that stays hooked up will almost always smoke a lightweight, smaller machine that gets tossed around more in the waves. If selecting a boat based solely on speed, you need to consider what conditions you ride in most often, as it will change the answer.

As to the question of fastest modified personal watercraft? There are all sorts of claims out there, but I believe the fastest run at an organized event still belongs to Puerto Rico’s Julio Rivera, who topped over 100 MPH at the Riva HydroDrag Spring Nationals.

Ironically, no manufacturer could claim those bragging rights. Rivera’s craft featured a Yamaha GP1300R hull…with a turbocharged Sea-Doo 4-TEC under the seat.