Whilst jet ski riding is unlikely to make it into the official Olympic Games, its exponential rise in popularity has led to it being tipped for inclusion in the inaugural ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) World Beach Games set to be held in San Diego in 2019. Jet skis were not always so popular and have perhaps been around for longer than most of us think. We look at the history of personal watercraft and how development has led to the modern and iconic Sea-Doo jet ski range.

Ski-Doo Snowmobiles

You might wander what snowmobiles and jet skis have in common but as well as both being exciting ways to experience outdoor speed and thrills, they share some design attributes and history. The first mass-produced snowmobile was called the Ski-Doo and was developed in 1959 by Bombardier. Ski-Doo snowmobiles are still amongst the most popular today.

jet ski history

Jet Ski History from Snow to Sea

The engineers at Bombardier realised the potential of a personal watercraft vehicle similar to the Ski-Doo but designed to operate on water. Picking up on previous attempts at PWC design by motorcycle manufacturers Vincent and Mival Bombardier made their own inroads and produced their first Sea-Doo PWC in 1968. However, Bombardier failed, a few years later, to take on board designs by Clayton Jacobsen II, a motocross racer and inventor. Jacobsen sold his patent to Kawasaki who produced the first of their own brand, which they called Jet Ski in 1973. Bombardier left the personal watercraft market soon after and didn’t rejoin until the late 1980s.

Jet Ski and jet ski

As happens so often with popular brand names, Hoover being a well-known example, Kawasaki’s branded watercraft brand name, Jet Ski, is now often used as a generic term and applied to all PWC.

personal watercraft

Stand Up Personal PWC

Bombardier took a break from personal watercraft production between 1970 and 1988. It was left to Yamaha and Kawasaki to take up the mantle, which Kawasaki did in 1973 with the introduction of the flat-bottomed WSAA Jet Ski 400 and the V-shaped WSAB Jet Ski 400. Yamaha entered the market in 1986 with the WaveRunner 500 (Marine Jet 500T) and another 500 model (Marine Jet 500S) in 1987 but didn’t produce their stand-up, single-rider Super Jet 650 until 1990. There are stand-up personal watercraft on the market today, the Yamaha SuperJet and Sea-Doo’s SDC TRAK 903 being examples, but these are known for being trickier to handle and are usually the domain of experienced or professional riders.

Sea-Doo Jet Ski History

Since their reentry into the jet ski market in the late 1980s, Bombardier’s Sea-Doo PWCs have gone from strength to strength. The high-performance Sea-Doo XP was introduced in 1991 and continued to be popular until Bombardier ceased manufacturing it in 2004. Successful manufacture continued throughout the 1990s and was marked by the production of the 500,000th Sea-Doo unit, a Sea-Doo GTI. In 1996 the Digital Encoded Security System (SESS) demonstrated Sea-Doo’s commitment to research and development and their ambition was highlighted in 1999 by the launch of the 13ft, 4 passenger Sea-Doo LVR.

pwc history

Sea-Doo have always had an eye on environmental impact and their Orbital Direction technology, which was introduced in 1999 significantly reduced fuel consumption and improved emissions. They have worked as well on noise reduction with the D-SEA-BEL sound reduction system coming as standard on all of their craft.

Bigger and Better?

Throughout the 1990s the popularity of jet skis increased and designs became bigger, faster and more expensive. This perhaps was one of the reasons that sales figures plateaued during the early 2000s. Sea-Doo found an answer to the issues of expense and size in 2014 when they introduced the plastic-hulled, lighter and more manageable Spark which is still popular today and predicted for future innovation and growth.

The Future

When looking at the history of personal watercraft, it would perhaps be wise to also consider the future. With names like Spark Trixx and Rotax, it is clear that the future of Sea-Doo jet skis is in increased manoeuvrability and agility. Safety and sustainability too will take the forefront with the introduction of more electric powered vehicles. Despite some bad press and vague environmental objections, jet skis remain a popular water pursuit and rescue vehicle, and are currently the most popular type of watercraft on the market.

Russell Powerboats not only stock a wide range of Sea-Doo jet skis and other marine products, they also offer jet ski maintenance and servicing packages. For more information and advice about these and our other services please contact our friendly team on 01252 877337