Choosing a personal watercraft can be difficult if you don’t know what to look for. With the wide range of brands and models offering different features, the search can really get overwhelming. Should you go for the reputable Kawasaki Jet Ski — or the fun and modern Sea-Doo PWC?
Kawasaki paved the way when they launched their Jet Ski, while Sea-Doo started the trend of creating recreational personal watercraft suited for entry-level riders.
Between these two top brands, which one do you think will work best for you? In this article, you’ll find a comprehensive review of Kawasaki Jet Ski and Sea-Doo personal watercraft as we weigh factors like price, category, and overall performance in the water.
Table of Contents
The History of Personal Watercraft
For the longest time, motorcycle-looking vessels known as personal watercraft have been providing people with fun and excitement because of their speed. They’re most commonly known as ‘jet skis’ today, but did you know that they were not actually referred to as such before?
Back in the 1960s, a motorcycle racer named Clayton Jacobson II had an accident on the racing track, so he contemplated and confided with a friend the idea of having a motorcycle that wouldn’t crash on hard grounds even when driving at high speeds. Upon reaching home, he drafted a sketch of his vision which has a similar look to the PWC we have today, and to further improve and pursue this concept idea, he decided to quit his job.
While he was building his prototypes, Jacobson partnered with Bombardier to create and patent the first watercraft model that was later produced in 1968 until 1970. But while the prototype was good, Bombardier didn’t receive much success when promoting it, and this subsequently pushed the company to take a hiatus that lasted for 20 years.
After Bombardier’s downfall, Jacobson partnered with Kawasaki in designing and registering a stand-up prototype that they first introduced in 1972. This watercraft was referred to as ‘Power Ski’ and ‘Water Jet’.
Because Kawasaki had better marketing strategies than Bombardier, it became more successful than its predecessor, and later on, became the household brand name ‘Jet Ski’ that we all know today.
Kawasaki Jet Ski
When it comes to speed and performance, nothing beats the quality of Kawasaki — a Japanese company that manufactures automotive transportation vehicles in the United States. They’re a corporation initially known for creating motorcycles, and also the first one to introduce and commercially distribute personal watercraft.
Kawasaki produced the first stand-up water vessel, Jet Ski, which became the generic name of all PWC. During the mid-1970s to the 1980s, this model was the only PWC available in the market. For a long while, it dominated the industry until Yamaha released their Waverunner line — the strongest rival of the Kawasaki Jet Ski.
This personal watercraft gives its rider the simulation of riding a motorcycle in the water. Its slowest model can go about 55 mph, while the fastest can reach 67 mph in good water conditions. Safe to say, fans love and stay true to the Kawasaki Jet Ski brand because of its speed.
If you will compare the three top brands (Yamaha, Sea-Doo, Kawasaki), Kawasaki jet skis have the highest price tag when it comes to base prices and maintenance fees. Currently, their models’ prices range from USD 9,899 to USD 16,499, and it’s because of the powerful racing engines Kawasaki jet skis are equipped with.
See, Kawasaki doesn’t create PWC for relaxation purposes, as their products’ specs cater to more experienced riders and adrenaline junkies looking for high-octane water action. Even their starter model, which is the STX-160, has a 1,498cc inline four-cylinder engine that’s purely built for speed and performance. Aside from its powerful engine, the design of the Jet Ski’s hull also contributes to its speed and water displacement.
Kawasaki PWC is known to have the most durable hull that’s made from heavy old-school fiberglass. This hull design displaces more water as it slices through the surface, and this makes effortless glides and maneuvers during tight turns.
Kawasaki Jet Ski is the pioneer of commercially produced personal watercraft. However, we find it a bit of a downer that until now, they only have a total of four series in their product lineup.
Unlike Sea-Doo, Kawasaki doesn’t have a wide range of choices — they don’t even have a single model for the recreational-light category! Perhaps Kawasaki thinks that there’s nothing to improve on something that’s already sufficient, which is somewhat true in their case.
Another issue we have with the Jet Ski models is that their maintenance fees are high, and the cost of their parts is 30% more expensive than other brands. Upon more research about other owners’ experiences, we’ve also found that the Kawasaki Jet Ski’s best condition only lasts for two years. After that, the unit will have to be repaired and maintained now and then.
Don’t even get us started on the features. We know that Kawasaki started as a manufacturer of motorcycles and dust bikes, but really, it wouldn’t hurt them to put some modern features in their starter jet ski so people could have something to play with, like a small LCD screen for instance.
If Jet Ski is for speed, then Sea-Doo’s for quality workmanship and innovative features.
Sea-Doo is a Canadian personal watercraft brand manufactured by Bombardier Recreational Products. Their PWC is preferred by a lot of people, especially beginners because of the wide variety of models from different categories that range from recreational light to performance.
Looking back, Sea-Doo didn’t always find success with their vessels. For 20 years, they disappeared from the global market, and in 1989, came back stronger than ever with their redeeming model — the Sea-Doo XP. This model helped them re-establish their brand in the industry, and from 1989 to 2003, it dominated the market and became widely known as the ‘Watercraft of the Century’.
Combine Kawasaki Jet Ski’s performance and Yamaha Waverunner’s sit-down style and you get the Sea-Doo — a revolutionary PWC that combines performance and modern technology. With a wide range of models and series from different categories, Sea-Doo can cater to your preferences, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced rider.
Oh, and Sea-Doo also offers the most affordable personal watercraft in the industry! Their entry-level jet ski is priced at USD 5,699, while the high-end model costs USD 18,299.
Undoubtedly, Sea-Doo has the best starter rides in the market. For instance, their 2014 Spark model guarantees fun without compensating for its engine’s power and speed. It’s the cheaper and lighter version of a Jet Ski, with a speed that averages from 40 to 50 mph. Sure, the Spark PWC is pretty small, but it has a seating capacity that can carry up to three persons. Since it’s also lighter, it’s easier to handle and it’s more fuel-efficient than other jet skis.
Sea-Doo may be the cheaper alternative to other brands, but their models are equipped with innovative and exclusive features you can’t find anywhere. There’s the IDF or the Intelligent Debris-Free feature that automatically gets rid of seaweed and sand from the pump, as well as the Closed-Loop Cooling System that prevents saltwater from entering the engine to reduce corrosion.
There are also advanced technology features present in all Sea-Doo models such as Bluetooth audio system, LCD touchscreen, and swim platforms where you can sit and relax.
In addition, Sea-Doo’s high-end models are equipped with Rotax engines, which makes them a good competitor if we’re talking about speed and acceleration. One of Sea-Doo’s performance jet skis, the RXT-X, can reach a maximum speed of 60 mph in just a little over 3 seconds. Now, take that Waverunner!
Enthusiasts know that Sea-Doo models are built to last; however, we’re not really convinced with some of its construction materials such as the plastic hulls that are more difficult to repair and repaint than fiberglass.
Also, Sea-Doo maintenance costs can get expensive (i.e. seats, upgrade systems, modifications). This is why people often joke about just buying another Sea-Doo jet ski instead of having their current one upgraded or repaired.
Comparisons Based on Category
Both Sea-Doo and Jet Ski have their own respective features that set them apart from each other; hence, why it can be complicated if you choose between the two. For the next part of this article, we’ll review them according to their categories, and we’ll also pick out the model or series we think has more edge over the others.
Rec-lite jet skis are considered the cheapest vessels in all categories. They have the smallest hull and engine and they’re lightweight, which makes them perfect for easy cruising or relaxing at the sea. While they may have less power, these PWC are still able to perform tricks because they’re ultra-responsive — giving plenty to play around with for beginner riders.
Our Top Pick: Sea-Doo’s Spark Trixx
What we like about this model is the compact and lightweight design that makes it easy to tow and store when not in use. Although its hull is smaller than others, its Rotax engine packs 900 ACE with 90 horsepower that will allow its rider to do spins and wheelies without much effort.
This category is the higher level of rec-lite and is the most famous in the market because of its price range. Personal watercraft in the recreation category are more stable and don’t tip in the water. They also have more seating capacity and storage space; however, they’re less powerful if we compare them to tow-sports models.
Our Top Pick: Sea-Doo GTI SE
When it comes to recreation PWC, the Sea-Doo GTI SE offers the most fun and comfort compared to its alternatives. Among its cool features include a boarding ladder, a touring seat for extra passengers, and a 100-watt premium Bluetooth audio system for listening to music while gliding over the water. You can also upgrade it so it can act as a tow-sports jet ski!
Do you like water sports such as wakeboarding, tubing, and water skiing? If yes, then you need a personal watercraft that has both speed and towing power that will be able to pull a person up above the water. These kinds of PWC fall in the tow-sports category.
Our Top Pick: Sea-Doo Wake/ Wake Pro
We might seem a little biased, but as the Kawasaki Jet Ski lineup doesn’t have a series that include tow-sport PWC, Sea-Doo wins this round by default.
The Sea-Doo Wake and Wake Pro are both designed and programmed to ensure maximum enjoyment in the tow-sports. Both series include three exclusive Sea-Doo features like the Linq ski pylon, wakeboard rack, and ski mode that allow you to adjust the acceleration and speed for wake launches and pop-outs.
Performance vessels are for thrill-seekers looking for the real power of a racing PWC. As these kinds of jet skis can reach a maximum speed above the Coast Guard’s approved limit, the only ones recommended to drive them are professionals and advanced riders.
Our Top Pick: Jet Ski Ultra 310 LX
Nothing beats Kawasaki when it comes to high-performance personal watercraft. For this round, we’ve chosen the head of the Jet Ski fleet, the Ultra 310 LX. This monster PWC carries a 1,498cc, supercharged and inter-cooled 4-cylinder, 4-stroke engine — a power that you can feel and hear!
Among this PWC’s features include the JetSound audio system (the first of its kind) and ergonomically designed luxury seating that can accommodate three people. Because the Ultra 310 LX has a staggering price of USD 19,199, we might as well consider it as a luxury jet ski, too.
This category is designed for people who are looking for a luxurious experience in the water. Personal watercraft in this category have bigger engines, more features, and unnerving speed that can take your breath away. They’re also guaranteed to be more comfortable and stable even in the most choppy waters.
Our Top Pick: Jet Ski Ultra 310 LX and Sea-Doo GTX Limited 300
Both brands are winners in this category as the two of them have really awesome and luxurious features worthy of investment. (Psst… years from now they’ll surely have a good resale value!) Some specs of the Ultra 310 LX are already mentioned earlier, so let’s have a look at some of the Sea-Doo GTX Limited’s specs and features.
What Sea-Doo GTX Limited lacks in the advanced audio system, it compensated with its 7.8” LCD wide-angle screen, large swim platform, and direct access storage located at the front of the PWC. Its 300 horsepower engine is also impressive, as well as its Advanced Combustion Efficiency technology that makes this vessel fuel-efficient.
To know which PWC works best for you, you also need to take into account your level of expertise, your budget, your riding style, and how you’re going to use the jet ski — is it for a family, racing, or relaxing?
As a guideline, if you’re looking for a starter PWC, then the Sea-Doo rec-lite and recreation models are your best options. But, if you want speed, power, and performance, then you can’t go wrong with the Kawasaki Jet Skis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Which is a better brand, Sea-Doo or Kawasaki (Jet Ski)?
Both of these brands manufacture the best personal watercraft in the industry, and which one makes the better models depends on the category and features you’re looking for. If you want speed and performance, we recommend going for the Kawasaki Jet Ski, but if you’re leaning more on features and quality workmanship, then you should choose Sea-Doo.
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at many of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which also rubbed off on my two young sons! I am also lucky to spend a lot of ocean-time in my favorite second home, Indonesia. In addition to SurfHungry I have founded several other websites in my areas of passion, namely coffee and rock climbing, and am also a regular rowing content contributor.