Our US correspondent Elliott Maurice takes a look at some of the best jet boats on the market, covering a broad range of styles.
Who wouldn’t want a jet boat? It is a boat powered by a jet, right? Well, not exactly, unless of course we’re talking about military boats or very rare high-performance superyachts powered by gas turbines.
The jet-powered pleasure boat is a humbler, yet still exciting, proposition powered by a conventional piston engine linked to a water jet rather than a propeller.
This uses an impeller (a fan shaped propeller inside a tunnel) to suck water in through an opening in the hull and spit it out through a narrow steerable nozzle mounted on the transom to push the boat along.
With no propeller or rudder hanging down beneath the boat it’s not only safer to use in shallow water but has less drag, meaning faster speeds and better fuel economy.
The downside is that it tends to be tricker to manoeuvre at low speed, especially when going astern (there is no reverse gear, just a bucket that drops down to redirect the thrust under the boat) and it works best at higher speeds when the boat’s motion through the water helps drive water into the impeller.
The jet boat started life in New Zealand back in 1954, where it was designed to run at speed along shallow rivers where propeller-driven boats were prone to bending their propellers on hidden rocks.
High performance jet boats still run these courses today and with their exceptional agility, flat bottomed hulls and ability to perform a crash stop by dropping the reversing bucket at full revs, nothing else can pull the kind of stunts these boats do.
With no rudder or outdrive to maintain a grip on the water, jet boats can spin 180 degrees in their own length, even when travelling at high speeds. They can also be drifted sideways through a high-speed turn like a powerful rear-wheel drive sportscar.
Combined with explosive acceleration due to the lack of propeller tip cavitation, it makes for one of the most exhilarating drives around but only if you know what you are doing. So if you are thinking about buying one, there are several things to consider to make sure you choose the right one for you.
Pros and cons of buying a jet boat
The most popular use of a jet boat is as a fun runabout for watersports and cold water swimming – the lack of an exposed propeller is a big safety feature, particularly when boarding or jumping off the bathing platform.
Secondly, the extremely shallow draft allows jet boats to be easily beached. And since there are no external propellers to snag when backing off, there is less chance of getting stuck or breaking something. However, you do need to keep an eye out for weed or debris getting sucked into the intake and blocking or damaging the impeller.
The flat-bottomed design of most jet-boat hulls, particularly those below 21ft long, can make for a pretty firm ride in any kind of chop. While the bow rider configuration and low freeboard also makes some jet boats prone to submarining in big waves – burying the bow and taking on water.
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The lack of mechanical grip from a propeller and the keel effect of an outboard or sterndrive makes them reluctant to track in a straight line and they can quickly become a handful in anything other than a light chop.
Jet boats also tend to run small capacity, high-revving engines – a 300hp supercharged Rotax only has a 1.5 litre capacity but revs to over 11,000rpm. Although reliable if well maintained (they were developed for use in small aircraft) they tend to be noisier and thirstier than larger capacity naturally aspirated engines.
The only other consideration of a jet boat is the unusual way they handle at slow speeds. A jet boat never wants to go in a straight line at slow speed and requires constant correction to keep it going where you want it to.
Many of them also lack a neutral gear so the impeller is spinning even at idle. Manufacturers try to counter this by partially dropping the reversing bucket to balance forward and reverse thrust but it’s never as effective as a proper neutral gear.
This can prove a little challenging when first attempting to dock a jet boat, especially in astern when the steering works the opposite way to a conventional propeller driven craft. It is easily mastered with practice: just don’t expect a jet boat to handle like a propeller-driven one.
So how much do they cost and how fast can they go? A quality jet boat can be bought brand new from as little as $25,000 including a trailer. At the other end of the spectrum a 40ft Hinckley Picnic Boat, will set you back the best part of $1.7million.
Most jet boats will run at nearly 50mph, but there are several off-the-shelf jet boats that can easily exceed 70mph, while the fastest ever jet boat is also the fastest boat in the world – Dave Warby’s Spirit of Australia II clocked 317mph in 1978.
So if you’re happy with all of the above, read on for our pick of the best jet boats on the market right now.
6 of the best jet boats
Best luxury jet boat – Hinckley Picnic Boat 40 S
The Hinckley Picnic Boat is every bit as iconic, luxurious and desirable as a Rolls-Royce – but at $1.7million, it has the price tag to match.
Hinckley built its first waterjet-powered boat in 1995, becoming an instant classic among wealthy owners and boat enthusiasts thanks to its elegant lines, effortless performance and ability to navigate shallow water – it draws just 2ft 2in.
Today the Hinckley Picnic Boat boasts computer-assisted joystick controls, allowing you to turn the boat in its own length and move it sideways onto a berth simply by twisting or pushing the joystick in the direction you want to go.
The hull is constructed from an inner layer of carbon fiber and an outer skin of bullet-proof Kevlar. Power comes from ultra-reliable, twin Cummins 480hp diesels and Hamilton 322 waterjets.
With a cruising speed of 40mph and top speed of 44mph, the Hinckley is one of the most desirable boats on the market today.
Best all-round jet boat – Yamaha 275SD
At around $140,000 highly specced, the Yamaha 275SD’s only real competition comes from the Scarab 285ID, which has a smaller hardtop.
With twin 250hp 1,812cc proprietary engines, the Yamaha has a wheel-mounted paddle stem for docking that immediately engages forward and reverse on both engines for precise control when docking.
A comprehensive 12.3” touchscreen MFD display gives control of all systems, including the Wet Sounds seven-speaker system and comprehensive water sports and driving modes.
A wake ballast system is also available for wake surfing. The Yamaha’s soft-riding V hull gives a top speed of just over 50mph, and with a comfortable eight-person capacity (12 at a push), along with a small heads compartment, the Yahama 275SD makes for a fantastic day boat.
Best starter jet boat – Scarab 165ID
Scarab’s smallest jet boat makes a great starter boat package with its entry-level 170hp engine and $25,000 starting price including trailer providing the perfect gateway into the sport.
The base engine gives a swift but manageable top speed of 50mph and ensures it’s an easy boat to drive, once you’ve mastered the usual jet boat characteristics.
It’s also an easy boat to own with an all up weight of 617lbs on its single axle trailer making it safe to tow behind a mid-range family car and small enough to store in a garage.
The 20-gallon fuel capacity is enough for a few hours’ use and the Scarab packs a lot of quality detailing into such a small package.
The ultra-leather upholstery is beautifully detailed and there’s more than enough stowage for a day on the water. Perfect for a small family to go tubing or pull up on a sandbar.
Best fishing jet boat – Rogue Fastwater 22 Jet
This aluminum-hulled jet boat is very much a specialist machine and as extreme as they come.
Much like the rapid-shooting boats of New Zealand, versions of these ultra-tough jet boats are used in almost un-navigable conditions by law enforcement, military and search and rescue alike, hence the rugged design.
Made to order, the Fastwater 22 can be specified as a fisherman’s dream with a trolling motor, live bait wells and massive storage all available.
With a rugged 212hp Hamilton Jet for power, these super tough boats can easily exceed 40mph fully loaded, and can run through the kind of conditions almost no other boat could tackle.
At around $100,000 in fishing trim, a made-to-order Rogue may be the ultimate fisherman’s tool.
Best water sports jet boat – Scarab 215ID
When it comes to watersports, you want to pick a size that can incorporate a twin-engine configuration. Again, Yamaha and Scarab are so close that it comes down to personal choice.
At 21ft, the Scarab 215ID is still a manageable size and easy to tow. It can accommodate up to 10 people if necessary thanks to ample seating in the cockpit and bow.
The largest twin 300hp Rotax power option offers enormous performance. Options include a high power JL Audio system complete with subwoofer and tower pods, RGB lighting and multiple striking color schemes, making the Scarab as stylish as they come.
The business end includes a gas-assisted folding wake tower, for low air draft when trailering and storing, a comprehensive multi-function ballast system for creating your perfect surfing wake and wedge-induced profiles for wakeboarding.
With a deeper V hull design and twin power, the Scarab tracks with enough precision to tow an experienced monoskier too.
Although not quite as adept as a purpose-built wake or ski boat, jet propulsion makes this a far more versatile option than any shaft-driven alternative.
With a fully loaded price of around $70,000, the Scarab 215ID is around 50% cheaper than an equivalent Ski Nautique G21.
Most exotic jet boat – Seven Seas Hermes Speedster
Hand built by Seven Seas Yachts in Greece, the 22ft Speedster is made to order. Available in any color combination, the boat is primarily aimed at the superyacht tender market.
Powered by a 170hp Rotax, the Speedster is capable of a 45mph top speed. Modelled and detailed around the legendary Porsche 365 Speedster, details include a Mota-Lita steering wheel and throttle/shifter modelled on the original Porsche’s, along with fluted leather Porsche-styles bucket seats and rear bench.
Exquisite attention to detail and finish throughout justify the $249,000 price tag, making the Seven Seas Hermes Speedster arguably one of the most exotic 22ft runabouts around.