By Mike Milne

The most exciting recent developments in personal watercraft have been smaller, lighter and more affordable machines.

BRP started the trend – actually a re-invention of the PWC marketplace – by introducing the Spark in its 2014 Sea-Doo lineup. With a base price under $6,000, the Spark 2up lets new riders add features, customize or upgrade to the bigger, more powerful 3up version. BRP’s Sea-Doo Spark and the Yamaha WaveRunner V1 Sport (introduced for 2015 to challenge the Spark) have given the whole personal watercraft industry a major boost.

PWC sales are up 25 percent globally and 30 percent in North America. New engine developments this year are a reminder that power and performance are still important to PWC manufacturers and riders.

While Yamaha and BRP duke it out for new, usually younger PWC buyers, Kawasaki is relying on its 160-hp Jet Ski STX-15 F to entice new riders. Kawasaki also remained largely unchallenged at the top of the power heap, with its supercharged 310-hp Jet Ski Ultra 310 LX, SE and X models.

Yamaha’s 1,812-cc Super Vortex High Output (SVHO) engines introduced in four 2014 models put out over 250 hp and helped Yamaha’s top WaveRunners keep up with the fastest Sea-Doos and Jet Skis.

Sea-Doo pulled out a trump card for 2016 with the new 300-hp Rotax 1630 ACE engine. It’s available in the GTX Limited 300, the RXT-X 300 and race-style RXP-X 300.

ROTAX 1630 ACE Marine engine
ROTAX 1630 ACE Marine engine

The footprint of the new Rotax 1630 ACE is pretty much the same as the proven Rotax 1503 engine. With a longer stroke that raises displacement to 1.6 L, the three-cylinder supercharged 1630 ACE has a re-designed supercharger with a 32-blade wheel for a 30 percent increase in boost. Plasma-coated cylinders help keep weight down and increased oil-cooling capacity keeps it chilled-out.

Because BRP declares the engine’s output as 300 hp, you can bet that independent dyno-testing will show outputs well over that number. I drove a new GTX Limited 300 to GPS-verified speeds over 72 mph, so I am sure there’s power to spare.

The real speed freaks can turn to aftermarket PWC performance specialist Riva Racing, which showed off a fully customized 350-hp version of the Sea-Doo RXP-X 300 at Sea-Doo’s dealer meeting last fall.

Yamaha TR-1 engine
Yamaha TR-1 engine

For entry-level riders, Yamaha offers more power and performance with its new TR-1 High Output engine, in the 2016 V1 Sport and all VX models except the VX Cruiser HO.

Yamaha V1 Sport
Yamaha V1 Sport

Yamaha dropped its practice of not publishing horsepower in some aggressive internet marketing of its 2015 V1 Sport V (listing the MR-I engine’s output as 110 hp) in comparison to a well-equipped version of Sea-Doo’s 90-hp Spark 3up. Yamaha is still cagy about horsepower and only says the new 1049-cc, three-cylinder TR-1 engine is 12 percent more powerful than the MR-1. That puts the TR-1 output at over 120 hp, improving the power-to-weight ratio of the V1 Sport and the TR-1 equipped VX models.

Whether you are an experienced rider who wants the fastest and biggest production PWC available or a new rider seeking a balance of performance, fuel efficiency and handling, the two new engines from BRP and Yamaha mean there’s even more selection. In a growing sport, that’s always good news.

This article is featured in the Winter 2016 issue of Boats&Places magazine.