Hugo Andreae takes his first ride on the Kawasaki SX-R stand-up Jet Ski to see if this pumped up speed machine really is the next big thing in water toys.
Being a 52-year-old bloke, I’m not usually one for paying much attention to instruction manuals but having never attempted to ride a stand-up jet ski before, I thought it might be worth a quick peek. I’m very glad I did because page 1 of the Kawasaki SX-R manual contains some rather important advice to wear wetsuit bottoms or some other form of protective clothing.
The consequences of ignoring this are also spelled in alarmingly anatomical detail. The precise wording is: “As a result of falling into water or being near the jet thrust nozzle, water can be forced into body cavities such as the rectum.”
Not the kind of thing you usually expect to read when getting to know a new toy but it certainly caught my attention. If this seems a little over dramatic perhaps it’s worth a quick reminder of what we’re dealing with here and why the readers of Yachting World should be interested in a jet ski in the first place.
Jet ski evolution
There are two kinds of personal water craft (PWC) – the original stand-up style like this Kawasaki SX-R Jet Ski and the larger sit-down style such as the Seadoo Spark and Yamaha Waverider. It is these sit-down models which now dominate the market, to such an extent that in 2011 Kawasaki discontinued its stand-up range altogether. The jet ski name lived on as a generic term to describe any form of PWC (it’s actually a Kawasaki registered trademark) but not the product itself.
For six years the line lay dormant until in 2017 Kawasaki launched a brand new Jet Ski called the SX-R – a pumped-up, pimped-up, stand-up model with eye-bleeding graphics and a monstrous 1,500cc four-stroke engine.
It is the 2020 version of this model which Boats.co.uk has invited me to test over the course of my week-long summer holiday on the basis that the usual two-hour blast won’t give me enough time to get the hang of it.
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These guys know a thing or two about boats, being one of the largest used boat brokers in the UK, and the reason they’ve just taken on the import rights for Kawasaki watercraft is because they reckon the SX-R is going to be the next big thing in yacht toys.
The theory goes that for less than the price of a Seabob, you can buy one of these 60mph rocketships, which unlike the bigger sit-down PWCs, is small and light enough to sit alongside the tender on many larger cruising boats, and a whole lot more fun to boot.
It’s a reasonable enough theory but it does rely on the owner possessing two things – a reasonable degree of rider skill and a wetsuit. I only have the latter. Still, what could possibly go wrong? Other than that whole body cavity thing…
A more in-depth study of the specifications reveals a few other minor concerns. That new engine chucks out 150hp at 7,500rpm yet the Kawasaki SX-R is barely 8ft 6in long and weighs just 250kg, making it the fastest accelerating stand-up production PWC ever made. Not altogether surprising given that its power to weight ratio of 600hp per tonne is considerably higher than a McLaren 720LT supercar’s (563hp per tonne).
Rather more surprising is that it’s not fully stable until its planing. Oh, and it doesn’t have a neutral gear; as soon as you start the engine you’re off. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve always been a big fan of neutral. I find it really helps with the whole ‘not crashing into things’ routine.
Feeling more than a little apprehensive, I back the equally blinged-up road trailer down the slipway and ease the SX-R off its rollers into the water. It may be light by PWC standards but a quarter of a tonne still takes some manhandling – a hydraulic bathing platform or crane is a must for easy launch and recovery from a boat.
In shallow water, it’s easy enough for me to keep one foot on the ground while kneeling on the soft rubber deck with the other (in deeper water you need to be dragged behind it a little way before pulling yourself onto it). I slip the kill cord over my wrist, say a last minute prayer and stab the little red starter button.
The engine bursts into life and immediately starts to pull me forward. Even at idle I can feel the thrust of the water jet pushing at my thigh so I raise my other leg and kneel on the platform with my feet hanging over the edge. I’m relieved to discover that it’s actually quite stable and easy to steer like this, even at low speeds, so long as I keep my weight low.
It’s only when I try to stand up that things get interesting. Nor can I overestimate just how much power this thing has. The sensitive finger throttle needs only the gentlest of squeezes to unleash the kind of acceleration normally only experienced by astronauts and human cannonballs. Even after seven days’ use, I still couldn’t swallow enough brave pills to attempt a flat-out run.
Big boys’ toys
On the plus side you don’t need to be travelling at Mach One to have a lot of fun on the Kawasaki SX-R. I’ve always found sit-down PWCs to be enormously enjoyable for 20 mins but then I’m ready to give it back. After doing the going really quickly thing and the whizzing round in circles thing, that’s it, I’ve had enough. Not with the SX-R, even at quarter throttle it’s both entertaining and challenging, particularly when it comes to turning.
I’m a reasonably competent windsurfer and mono-skiier but mastering quick turns on the SX-R while standing up is a real brain scrambler. It sounds simple enough – turn the handlebars, lean into the bend and apply throttle – but selecting the right amount of each at the right time is considerably trickier than you might think.
Too much or too little of any one variable at the wrong time and you’ll end up face down in the water. And believe me there is nothing more humiliating than swimming forlornly after a very swanky, very green, very shiny jet ski in front of a beach full of people. The kill cord stops the engine quickly enough but at 30 knots or more the SX-R takes a while before it comes to a halt. And laughter carries a long way across water.
On the other hand when you get it right and carve a perfect arc across a sparkling green sea with your elbow trailing inches from the surface you look and feel like a God. Apparently.
Once or twice I almost got it right, or at least right enough to want to keep on trying to master it, which is why I also found it so much more engaging than a sit-down PWC. The downside is that there isn’t room to take anyone else with you nor can you stop and bob around on board it once you get somewhere.
There isn’t even a dry storage locker for a drink and a sandwich let alone an anchor and there’s only a 23-litre fuel tank. There aren’t even any dials or gauges, just two warning lights to show ‘engine running’ and ‘low fuel-level’. As Boats.co.uk rightly surmise it is a toy; an extremely fast, exhilarating and strangely addictive one but still a toy.
The fact that it’s nothing like as easy to master as a Seabob or PWC is both its greatest asset and its greatest flaw. If you aren’t prepared to put the time in to learn a new skill or haven’t got the appetite or physicality to get stuck in, you might as well buy a Seabob and a nice pair of swimming trunks.
If you have, then there’s a lifetime of fun to be had mastering the SX-R. Just don’t forget the wetsuit.
Kawasaki SX-R specifications
LOA: 8ft 9in (2.66m)
Beam: 2ft 6in (0.76m)
Weight: 250kg (551lbs)
Engine: 150hp @ 7,500rpm, 1,498cc four stroke
Fuel capacity: 23 litres (5 gal)