March 21, 2007 The concept of a powered watercraft for personal use is roughly 100 years old this year and the earliest we can trace came about early when the remarkable polymath Frederick William Lanchester came up with the idea of putting a powerful motor in a small boat. The personal watercraft (PWC) concept took shape in the 1960s, combining the elements of self-power, small size and quick steering and though there were several viable efforts, notably by Bombardier, it was Kawasaki ‘s standup JET SKI watercraft of the early seventies which kickstarted the market. Unlike snowmobiles, motorcycles , quads and all other forms of personal powered recreational vehicle, the Jet Ski offered a thrilling experience with significant less likelihood of serious physical damage (water is a lot softer than mother earth) and a workout so physical that it promotes extreme health. Since then the PWC market has evolved into four major manufacturers with two main forms of ski – stand-up and sit-down – with the larger sit-down versions easily serving as three-person craft. I have watched it happen, as I attended the launch of the original Kawasaki Jet Ski way back in the seventies. It had a 400 cc motor so it seemed like an ideal time to reflect on how far the PWC has come in such a short time when I recently attended the launch of the Kawasaki’s latest Jet Ski, the Ultra 250X. As they have done several times in motorcycle history (the Kawasaki 500 H1, the Kawasaki 750 H2, the Kawasaki Z1, the Kawasaki Z1300, and most recently the Kawasaki ZX14), Kawasaki has gazumped all those who came before it with a single product. Kawasaki Heavy Industries prides itself on producing the biggest, the fastest, the most powerful and every few years you can count on them delivering it. The Kawasaki’s Ultra 250X model designation refers to its horsepower output. That’s 250 horsepower – capable of pushing the Ultra 250X along at around 68 mph. That’s not the biggest strength of the machine though – awesome power is available pretty much from the get-go, and simply hanging on to a machine with 250 horsepower flinging you at the horizon is a feeling like no other. The Ultra 250X hauls butt like no other off-the-shelf PWC and we can’t wait to see what the aftermarket dreams up for it and what competitors respond with. In the meantime, it’s the king of the heap. We guarantee that if you can wrestle the Ultra 250X into submission, then grizzly bears won’t pose a problem and runaway locomotives will be simply backhanded away.
Personal Watercraft sales peaked in the United States in 1995 with approximately 200,000 units sold and there are 1.5 million PWC in the market. The average retail price of a PWC in 2004 was US$9,226, though at the extreme end of the market where the Kawasaki Ultra 250X fits, prices are roughly 50% higher for the 210-215 bhp sit-down flagships of the respective PWC manufacturers – the Kawasaki has landed only slightly more expensive than the others on price and offers a lot more bang-per-buck because of its greater than 10% horsepower advantage.
How did they do it? We’re gonna cheat here – rather than paraphrasing the copious technical information Kawasaki provided to the press at the launch of the machine, we’ve reproduced it holus bolus. See the images files for the main presentations given by Kawasaki Australia to the national PWC media. Put simply, the attention to detail, the ingenious technological solutions, and the sheer engineering boldness is compelling.
Interestingly, the world’s most powerful and fastest production motorcycle and the world’s most powerful PWC share some common elements – the motors are cousins, having both derived from Kawasaki’s 1200 four. One wonders how hard the boys at Akashi have though long and hard about turning the ZX14 motorcycle into a ZX15 Ultra and force-feeding it.
The massive grunt makes the Ultra 250X a contender as a family watercraft and an out-and-out recreational sports vehicle. It’ll carry three people with ease, tow a couple of skiers, even barefoot, and we’d hesitate to suggest it’d be perfect for the DockitJet. Though the engine is large and powerful, it is nonetheless a very low emission vehicle.