The Complete Guide to Jet Boats Plus 7 Of Our Favorites

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If you are looking for high-performance, thrilling water rides, jet boats are the way to go. With these jets, you can drive at exhilarating speeds, enjoy unparalleled maneuverability and boast leap onto planes without holding back. These watercraft are uniquely different from your traditional water boat.

Unlike the conventional prop and outdrive used in water boats, jet boats are powered by single or double engine configurations with an impeller that sucks water in through a grate in the hull and propels the boat. One of the biggest factors here is safety; without a prop at the back, anyone can swim or tube near the stem without worrying too much.

Another thing about jet boats is that you can practically take them any place because they have less of a draft. These jet boats can have drafts as short as 14 inches (SX190 Yamaha) and 34 inches (19 Sport Sea Ray). You can easily take your jet boat stern in and walk out into the beach without having to swim to land. Make sure the water is a couple of inches deep and has no obstructions.

With a jet boat, you can get multiple seating rooms with enough space to move around the boat thanks to the compact engines. These boats tend to be smaller and are commonly used for navigating in inland waterways like lakes and rivers or in areas near the shore. They also make an ideal choice for family watersports like waterskiing, wakeboarding, and tubing.

WHAT IS A JET BOAT?

A jet boat is one of those crazy adventure sport boats that was originally developed by a New Zealander. These boats do not operate like regular motorboats. It has water intake systems that are similar to jet skis. The first jet boat did not have any propellers so that it would be able to navigate very shallow rivers that New Zealand is known for.

With a massive jet boat like a Shotover, you can travel at an impressive 85 kph in waters as shallow as 10 centimeters. With propellers, these boats can perform their signature 360-degree spins.  

HISTORY OF JET BOATS

Sir William Hamilton originally developed jet boats back in the year 1954 for use in the shallow and fast flowing rivers in New Zealand. This was specifically designed to overcome the problem of propellers striking rocks.

Before Hamilton, there were many attempts at making water jet propulsion but were not lasting mostly because the design of the units were inefficient and did not prove to be better than the conventional propellers. Unlike the previous attempts at water jet developments like the Hanley Hydrojet and Campini’s, Hamilton was specifically targeted towards developing a propulsion system that could operate efficiently in shallow waters.

This was the beginning of the popularity of jet boats and jet units. With further improvements down the years, water jet proved to be more advantageous than propellers for a wide variety of vessels. Today, water jets are widely used in several high-speed vessels like patrol boats, rescue craft, offshore supply vessels, and passenger ferries.

Jet-powered boats may date back to the 1950s, but it did not enter the mainstream market until the 1990s when the sale for jet boats and personal watercraft kicked off at an impressive rate. The industry dipped 2012-13 but it quickly underwent a massive comeback in 2014 after big players like Chaparral and Rec Boat Holdings (RBH) entered the jet boat market following BRP’s exit. Both companies have signed engine supply agreements with BRP.

Their entry into the market was made with jet boat runabouts that were powered by the BRP 4-TEC Rotax 1503. From the earliest years of its existence in the market till date, their allure remains the same – thrilling acceleration, absence of spinning propellers at the stern and a compact power train.   

HOW DOES A JET BOAT WORK?

A jet boat works off of thrust. By forcing the water in a rearward direction, it creates a reaction by generating a propulsive thrust; a perfect example of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion which states that ‘there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action’. Think of the thrust you feel when you hold a high power fire hose or the recoil you feel on your shoulder when you fire a rifle.

The jet pump draws water into a bowl which is then pressurized. The water then leaves the pump at a high velocity. The resultant effect on the boat is a backward moving thrust that gets the boat moving forward.

The thrust/weight ratio in the boat is determined by the amount of thrust the jet pump can generate and the weight of the jet boat. The boat’s weight and the hull’s hydrodynamic design also determines the amount of thrust needed in order to get the boat moving at a given speed. Ultimately, it is the size of the impeller that determines the amount of thrust generated at a certain RPM (other factors also control this but for the sake of simplicity, we will not get into it).

The size of the impeller also determines the amount of horsepower required to spin it at a certain RPM. The amount of horsepower absorbed will be directly affected by the speed at which the impeller spins. Horsepower requirements vary with the size of the impeller. Let’s take for instance the Berkeley brand impellers.

Berkeley impellers are categorized as A, AA, B, C, etc. The size of the impeller decreases as the letter increases and the engine loads lesser. It also requires less horsepower to spin it to maximum RPM. To put it simply, an impeller A will take more horsepower to spin it to 550 RPM than impeller C.

On the other hand, impeller C spinning at 5500 RPM will generate lesser thrust compared to impeller A spinning at 5500 RPM. But it will need lesser horsepower than impeller A to spin it at 5500 RPM.

Take a close look at the Impeller curve chart I found at Berkeley. It shows you the amount of horsepower needed to spin different impeller sizes at a certain RPM.

The chart shows how impeller A requires 400hp at 5050 RPM to spin it to 5050 RPM. Impeller C on the other hand only needs 280hp at 5050 RPM to get it spinning at the same speed. Keep in mind though, that at this rate impeller A will generate more thrust compared to impeller C since impeller A is moving more water at that given speed.

The more water an impeller moves at a certain RPM, the more load an engine will get, thereby needing more horsepower to get it spinning at that speed. However, because impeller A can move more water at the given speed, the water pressure at the pump is higher, thereby generating more thrust at the given RPM.

HOW MUCH DO JET BOATS WEIGH?

On an average, a 16ft jet boat will weight around 1600 lbs., an 18ft jet boat will weigh 2000 lbs. and a 20ft jet boat will run between 2200lbs. to 2400lbs.

An important thing to keep in mind before you set out on the water is the maximum weight of the boat and the maximum weight it can carry. Before you go on a boat trip make sure that you are taking the right number of people on board as it is shown in the ‘maximum number of people on board and the max gross load.’

If you don’t find a capacity plate in your boat, you can make the estimation yourself with the help of this equation.

Length of the vessel (ft) x width of the vessel (ft) ÷ 1.5 = Total number of passengers

Normally the capacity plate in your boat will show the max engine power.

MANEUVERABILITY AND WATER DEPTH

Jet boats can operate in shallow waters because it can jet water above the waterline. By ejecting water above the water line, there is no need for vents or props which can protrude right below the hull. It is also what makes the jet boats highly maneuverable because there is no drag to the hull as it skims across the surface which would otherwise disrupt changes in the direction.

Due to its high maneuverability, you can reverse most of it in full speed and bring it to a full stop within a little more than its own length. This maneuver is popularly called the “crash stop”.

Another high-speed maneuver is “jet spin” or Hamilton turn. Here you will cut the engine throttle and then turn the steering sharply before opening the throttle back again. It makes the boat spin around quickly and creates a large water spray.

CAN YOU FISH FROM A JET BOAT?

The answer to this question would have been an easy “no” a few years back until specialized fishing jet boats entered the market. A popular example is the Yamaha FSH 190 with its center console design and jet-driven inboard that’s designed for some serious fishing. It comes with features like fish boxes, washdown, a live well and rod holders for an ideal day out fishing.

Jet boats, in general, have certain fishing advantages. For starters, you won’t have to concern yourself about wrapping lines around the prop. You won’t have to work around the outboard when you are struggling with a fish as a jet board has no outboard. With the boat’s transom design, the built-in seating and swim platform makes an ideal spot for casting. As you are closer to the water on the stern, it also becomes easy to unhook the fish and release it back into the water.

OUR 7 FAVORITE JET BOATS IN THE MARKET

Jet boats are all the rage right now, and we have found 7 of our favorite models that are worth your money. In no particular order:

  1. Yamaha 210 FSH Sport

Jet Boats

Jet-powered fishing boats are rare, and we are ecstatic that the latest Yamaha 210 FSH Sport has made way for more fishing opportunities on flats and skinny water. If your family has grown together with jet-powered watercraft, this one will add new dimensions and some pretty cool fishing features. You will love the boat’s casting platforms fore and aft along with the plethora of features for fishing like rod storage and rod holders almost everywhere in the boat.

This 210 FSH Sport does not disappoint on the performance, safety, and comfort either. It has a layout that is quite rare in center console boats because of the dual engines housed underneath the leaning post. This is a perfect jet boat if you want to go fishing or just want to enjoy your day out.

Key Features:

  •    Forward seating starboard and port with storage that can be converted into casting platforms once the pads are removed
  •    Hardware made of stainless steel
  •    High Output Twin 1049cc TR-1 3 cylinder 4 stroke Cooler engines
  •    T-top and removable windshield for garage storage
  •    The fish box is insulated
  •    In-floor storage with space to accommodate five-gallon bucket
  •    Well laid console and helm
  •    Stainless steel steering knob and wheel in the tilt steering
  •    21.3 inch/ 6.47 m overall length
  •    Standard power: 2 x 1049cc TR 1 Yamaha HO 3 cylinder 4 strokes
  1. Scarab HO 215 Impulse

The first thing you notice is the striking white upholstery and pearlescent orange that makes the interior stand out without appearing too gaudy. On a practical front, the cockpit is deeper than you would expect, making it safe for families. It also comes with twin captain chairs with bolsters and a lounge with impressive cutouts giving more legroom.

The front seating has space enough for 4 people, a boarding ladder and anchor locker. With a 10 people capacity, the Scarab HO 215 Impulse is ideal for family excursions, wakeboarding and social outings with friends.

Overhead you will find a wakeboard tower made of aluminum which can be lowered using a Bimini top. You will find wet storage at the swim platform, right where it should be – the perfect place to drop wet fins, snorkels, and masks. The boat also comes fitted with premium speakers, a wakeboard rack and an attachment point for a towrope.

Key Features:

  •    Custom windshield in automotive style
  •    Choice of Vivid Green, Sunburst Orange, and Laser Red
  •    Reboarding ladder in stainless steel with low profile extended swim platform
  •    Bimini top and foldable wakeboard tower
  •    Captain’ chairs in twin ComfortRide and flip-up bolsters
  •    Stern seating in Versa-Lounge exclusive to Scarab
  •    Removable cooler
  •    4 premium speakers MP3 port
  •    Custom trailer with swing away tongue and chrome wheels
  1. Chaparral Vortex 243 VRX

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say no other boats compare when it comes to the performance, comfort and style of Chaparral flagship jet boats. The Chaparral Vortex 243 VRX is a watersports platform with a folding tower accompanied by a built-in Bimini top, complete with high tow point for wake surfers. It has sportier colors and graphics (yellow, aqua, green, lime, red, gray and blue).

The medallion touchscreen with speed-control Rotax functions adds precision control over fuel efficiency, towing parameters, control over speed, and power setting for docking. 243 Vortex VRX also comes equipped with an Intelligent Shift and Throttle (iST) by Bombardier. This option uses fly-by-wire technology to shift your jet drive smoothly.

You can order your 243 Vortex VRX with a pair of 4 TEC 250 ECT 250hp Rotax or 4 TEC 200 ECT 200hp Rotax engines. Both the engines are controlled through a single lever.

Key Features:

  •    Custom Gelcoat scheme in triple colors and graphics in Yellow, Stealth Gray, Aqua, Lime, Fire Red or Biscayne Blue
  •    Canvas top color-coordinated with sunbrella for a folding arch tower

Fiberglass helm dash custom molded with wrapped and hand-stitched upholstery

  •    Remote helm stereo
  •    Transom aft hinged seats with storage underneath and walkthrough center
  •    U shaped seating with swivel and slide helm seat along with reversible port seat Oasis lounge
  •    Cockpit table on the swim platform and cockpit
  •    25-quart cooler under the port bench seat that can be removed
  •    In-floor ski storage with a rubber mat and fiberglass hatch
  •    Tandem axle trailer coated in black powder with custom graphics, galvanized wheels and disc brakes
  1. Yamaha AR240

If you are looking for a high-performance jet boat focused on family recreation, Yamaha AR240 is the way to go. This one comes with a twin engine with a large stern area suited for water activities and a cockpit with storage and seating and a bow area spacious enough for two adults.

This is a performance-based water activity jet boat with copious amounts of storage and seating, an advanced management system for vessel and a hull with an evolutionary design. And that’s not all. This AR240 is fitted with a clever mechanism allowing the driver to be in better control of the boat at all speeds. This is called an “Articulating Keel”, and it has dramatically changed the way in which a boat handles maneuvers, especially in off-power.

AR240 comes with a twin 1.8-liter marine 4 stroke engines which use specialized high output engine mapping. You will enjoy their instantaneous and thrilling acceleration. You can get on a plan in just 2.3 seconds and drive at 30mph in under 4.3 seconds.

Key Features:

  •    Suede Gray and Red or Black and Green
  •    Multiple seating configurations with bow filler inserts
  •    Captain’s chair with a flip-up bolster for adjustability
  •    Portside area for entertainment with a glovebox with lock options
  •    Removable integrated cooler
  •    Integrated platform for swimming
  •    Marine Polk stereo
  •    Aluminum wakeboard tower that can be folded
  •    Bimini top
  •    Control options for “No Wake Mode”
  1. Yamaha 275 SD

This 275SD sportsboat by Yamaha is designed for dayboat luxury and comes with wide beams packed with smart innovations. This is Yamaha’s first ever foray into the luxury category and is powered by 250 hp twin marine engines. The 27-foot long 9-foot beam is perfect for families invested in lux-waterfront lifestyle. In fact, they are actually too wide for daily trailering and are not sold with a trailer.

You will love their DRiVE technology (available only in this model) that improves maneuverability at low-speed with paddle controls and a swim-up seating (patent-pending) under the waterline that attaches itself to the stern. When the boat is in DRiVE mode, the right paddle will throttle the engines forward while the left paddle will throttle the engines in reverse. If you release both the paddles, the thrust will revert to neutral.

It has a Connext display screen that appears to “float” above the dash. The screen will show you controls for the audio system, mapping function and data. It has a bright display so that you can see it in bright daylight.

Key Features:

  •    Tower with hardtop
  •    DRiVE technology for low-speed control
  •    Twin 500hp 1.8 liter SVHO Yamaha intercooled and supercharged engines
  •    12 inch Connext display screen that “floats” above the dashboard
  •    Boat is made with billet aluminum, stainless steel, luscious vinyl and detailing for a luxurious experience
  •    Swim-up stern seating with removable seats below the waterline for in-water seating
  •    Convertible stern seating to connect to cockpit areas and stern for luxurious and comfortable lounging
  •    Versatile galley with plumbed sink, lockable storage and counter
  1. Scarab Open 255 ID

The 255 Open ID is one of Scarab’s flagship jet boats, and we are thoroughly impressed by its versatile center console and twin jet propulsion. You can upgrade and customize the onboard amenities and appearance of your boat with a long list of options to choose from. As if this is not enough, this jet boat is also built in such a way that you can maximize the onboard space with seating and stowage for as many as 13 passengers.

Wait there’s more – you can also select packages to make it more suitable for wake surfing, cruising, and fishing. Equip your jet boat with a table to the bow at $427, a Wake Enhancement Surf Stream System at $860 or a porta-potty starting $220.

The jet pump is powered by Rotax 150 ECT Rotax 4-TEC twin engines (base model) and produces 300hp. You can upgrade it to twin 200-, 250- or 300-hp. All the options come with a closed engine cooling to protect the internal engine from corrosion and salt.

Key Features:

  •    Includes custom factory trailer
  •    Optional display touchscreen command center for centralized control
  •    Innovative tailgate turns usable space on stern into the swim platform
  •    Buyers can customize their boat with optional features
  •    Digital Speed Control comes with three modes: Docking, Eco and Ski
  •    iNR (Intelligent Neutral and Reverse) for more control at low-speed maneuvers
  •    Optional Porta-Potti found in the console
  •    Lateral thrust control to direct thrust to either of the transom sides
  •    Kicker AM/FM stereo sound system with an option of 2 or 4 speakers
  •    Can accommodate up to 13 people
  1. Chaparral 347 SSX

Chaparral 347 SSX is for the most demanding boaters who want the best of both worlds. This will appeal to the small bowrider side of you looking for a bigger boat with all features of a bowrider but with overnight capabilities. The 347 SSX is also perfect for cruisers looking for a practical dayboat but with the capabilities to accommodate occasional overnight stays.

Just two stairs down the cabin, you will find an ultra-leather full-size couch that can convert into a 6 inch long double berth. You can mount a 24-inch flat screen TV and watch it on the lounge. This small galley is complete with a stainless-steel microwave (optional), trash receptacle and a solid-surface color-coordinated countertop.

Chaparral 347 SSX offers 12 sterndrive twin packages by MerCruiser and eight packages by Volvo Penta. You can upgrade your MerCruiser packages with SeaCore corrosion, Premier Axius joystick, and Digital Throttle Shift (DTS). The Volvo Penta packages can also be upgraded to Trip Computers, Cruise, Trim Asist and Joystick controls by DP.

Key Features:

  •    Package in color coordinated canvas with hardtop such as: storage bag, side curtains and windscreen
  •    Twin NSS9 EVO3 Simrad multifunction/chart plotter display
  •    L-shaped cabin couch can be converted to full berth
  •    Bow port cockpit lounge cushion with storage
  •    Seat with special seat lever with aft and forward adjustment
  •    Bluetooth with premium AM/FM sound system
  •    Dash board shrouded with dark vinyl for an upscale automotive look and minimize glare on panel
  •    Porcelain toilet, pull-up shower, stainless steel sink and handrail for safety at the Head
  •    9 inch twin touch screen displays with engine data functions, transducer, insight charts, WiFi, GPS and chart plotter
  •    Stainless-steel bezels, aluminum faces and fog-resistant lens glass at the helm

JET BOATS PROS AND CONS

PROS

Jet boats have a lot of advantages over traditional stern drives. Taking into consideration where and how you plan to do your boating, here are some benefits that will make you ditch the traditional stern drive for a jet boat.

  •    Performance:

Jet boats have unmatched maneuverability and extremely quick acceleration. These boats can perform in ways a stern drive couldn’t even dream of. They can also ride in high speed, depending on the horsepower rating and engine setup.

  •    Shallow Draft:

There is almost nothing hanging down below a jet boat because it doesn’t have a driveshaft/prop or outdrive. This means you can drive your jet boat in as shallow as 12 inches of water depth or less (although we wouldn’t recommend it.) If you are boating in a shallow lake or it has stumps, a jet boat could be a great option.

  •    Safety:

Jet boats are touted for their safety benefits. The jet pump is enclosed, and there is no whirling prop or hardware under the hull that could potentially injure or strike a skier or swimmer. All boats, in general, are quite safe to be honest irrespective of what power plant is used but knowing there is no exposed propeller below certainly does give people a sense of security.

  •    Watersports:

Jet boats are an ideal choice for watersports like “wakesurfing.” This is fairly a new watersport, but it is already taking over some of the most popular watersport activities like wakeboarding and skiing. It requires the wake located behind the boat in order to push a surfboard where the person will be standing without the help of a rope. Typically, this is done close to the boat at the back which is why an exposed outdrive or prop can be dangerous. Wakesurfing can be safely done behind an inboard boat, the latest Volvo FFD or a jet boat.

  •    Draft:

Any boat with a jet drive has a superior draft advantage. In a jet boat, the draft runs only as deep as the hull, unlike in a stern drive. This makes it possible for people to drive their jet boats in very shallow waters without any issues and eliminates any problem of potential drive-damage or running aground in skinny waters.

  •    Acceleration:

A jet boat can quickly plane with very little bow rise giving it an unmatched visibility advantage because the captain will not lose sight as the jet boat comes on plane. In certain propeller boats, drivers often lose forward vision for about 3-4 seconds. This acceleration can also be thrilling, and jet boats typically have an almost instantaneous throttle response that you wouldn’t normally get in propulsion systems.  

  •    Interior Space:

Modern day jet boats have significantly larger space inside the cockpit as compared to a stern drive. This is mainly because the jet motors are located lower and further back in the boat. Jet boats normally don’t need a large sun pad at the top and hence can extend the area of the cockpit to 12 to 18 inch longer than a stern drive with the same size. This means a 22 inch jet boat will have an interior cockpit space similar to that of a 24 inch stern drive.

  •    Handling:

Jet boats have an impressive sportscar-like handling performance. Jet boats can be quick and nimble with a thrust that can be redirected in a flash. Even an average jet can leave behind other boats in a flash with a quick jerk to the wheel and a punch on the throttle.

Cons

All boats have its own share of pros and cons, and a jet boat is no exception. Here are a few cons to keep in mind when purchasing your jet boat.

  •    Noise level:   

Most of the latest model jet boats are designed to operate at higher RPMs compared to stern drivers. There’s not a lot of debates that jet boat motors will be nosier compared to stern drives. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is noisier for the passengers in the boat. You can stop the noise from escaping the compartment where the engine is located.

Chaparral has succeeded in making some significant improvements in reducing the noise level in their jet boats. It has now reached a point where you can’t really tell the difference in the level of noise. The differentiating factor lies in the type of noise. Jet boat motors tend to give out a higher pitch while the motors in stern boats make a deeper, lower noise.

  •    Fuel Consumption:

Fuel consumption goes hand in hand with the noise topic and for the same reason – RPMs are higher. It has the potential to lower their level of efficiency. But this is not the case with all jet boats. Fuel economy is determined by many factors and RPM is just one of them. Fuel consumption in a jet is slightly higher than a prop boat which may be anywhere between 10-25% higher fuel efficiency. This is due to the fact that the jet drive can harness less of the engine’s power.

  •    Level of Maneuverability*:

There is an asterisk to this one because it has to be made very clear that this is limited to only a few jet boats. Different jet boats use different systems for turning. There are some that do not fare well with reverse turning. Others are not. In fact, most of them are really good. Sometimes even better than the traditional stern drives. It is important to do your research. A good idea is to get a test drive. Vortex jet boats by Chaparral is a good place to start.

  •    Low Speed Handling:

Jet boats are not the best in low speed handling. A jet thrust can be advantageous sometimes, but you will miss having a rudder, skeg or prop in this case. It can get difficult to drive your jet in a straight line as the boat wanders off at the side, especially during a windy day. If you are not an experienced driver, you might end up over-steering as you approach the dock or drive in slow speed zones.

  •    Reverse and Neutral Shifting:

A jet is incapable of reversing the direction of its impeller. To reverse, you can drop a bucket over the water coming out of the pump. The bucket will redirect the flow of water, making it shoot forward rather than aft. A jet is always in gear and has no neutral because it is pumping water through the nozzle all the time. You can position the bucket so that the water is deflected partially, recreating the neutral in other power systems. It can be quite a challenge to make sure that the boat does not move.

ARE JET BOATS DANGEROUS?

Jet boats are reasonably fast and can accelerate as fast as 80 km/h. And their famous 360-degree turns can be paralyzingly fast. But these are specifically for jet boating sports where you pay money to be thrown from side to side and bounced around violently as it accelerates at lightning speed and avoids rocks by mere centimeters.

One of the biggest risks to having a jet boat is ingesting random objects or ski ropes. Jet boats can suck up everything – rocks, weeds, plastic bags, life jackets, rope, you name it. Be extra careful when you travel in shallow water as it can and will suck up small rocks and sand from just a couple of feet from the bottom. It also has less torque compared to a propped boat, so if something like a thick weed bed in a lake gets sucked into the pump, you are stuck till you get it out.

These boats are built for anything but idling. You will have almost no directional control without the help of some thrust. This can be dangerous especially if you are running down the river at Wide Open Throttle (WOT) and you find yourself chopping the throttle in order to avoid something. You will lose the steering simply because there is no thrust.

It can also be tricky to back up jet boats. When this happens, it is likely for your boat to suck up large rocks when backing off the beach.

The steering will not be the same as outboard or stern drive. Your control over the steering will increase as the boat speeds up. As it picks up speed, you will find the shafts, rudders, struts etc generate an extra hull resistance making them more efficient at speeds between 20-50 knots (approximately 60 mph; 90 km/h).

Other than that, jet boats are very safe and are popularly favored for the shallow draft that it allows. They can be very agile when driven by an experienced hand but can be dangerous in the hands of a novice

CONCLUSION

A jet boat is an excellent choice if maneuverability and speed are what you are looking for. They are ideal for lake cruising and are also easier getting to and from the shore. Your boat is less likely to hit rocks and stumps when in the water. You can take your family for a day out in the waters and not worry about sharp propellers hurting anyone as they swim.

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