PWC advancements have more boaters eyeing them as yacht tenders.
There was a time when personal watercraft were seen as the mosquitoes of the yachting scene, buzzing around noisily while serving no function short of entertaining the rider alone, but those times are long gone. PWCs have developed to become less intrusive and more useful, and many boats and yachts carry one or more aboard to serve as both a source of fun and as a tender.
Increased utility is one of the more important PWC advances in recent years. Virtually all modern models can handle multiple passengers, and some models boast whopping-big stowage compartments to haul gear or provisions. The Kawasaki Ultra 310LX, for example, can haul 56 gallons worth of goodies. Think about that for a second: 56 gallons is about the same amount of room as is in one of those big 200- quart marine coolers. Shuttling groceries for the week from the mainland to a mooring? Not a problem.
Sea-Doo has taken a different tack to boost utility. Its newly introduced LinQ system is composed of add-on modules that lock onto the back of the PWC (they are compatible with a number of Sea-Doo models) and in some cases can even be stacked one on top of another. There are add-on four-gallon fuel tanks, dry stowage compartments and coolers. Or, if additional fun is the goal, as opposed to those more Spartan functions, owners can leave all that stuff aboard the big boat and instead drop in the LinQ retractable ski pylon.
Another way PWCs have enhanced their usability is with expanded range. While once we thought of PWCs as useful only for short jaunts, many of today’s models have cruising capabilities. The Yamaha VX Cruiser is a great example. It carries 18 and a half gallons of fuel and has a range beyond the 100-mile barrier. We’re not suggesting a yacht owner anchors 50 miles from the harbor before making any round trips, but with that kind of capacity he could make an extended cruise and use the PWC over and over again, without having to refuel or carry extra gasoline on a diesel-powered yacht.
Comfort boosts are another common theme on the newest PWCs. During the past decade, seat development has been prominent. Seats have grown larger, to accommodate up to three riders, and narrower, to provide riders with a more natural riding position. Now they’re being manufactured with heat-resistant materials too. New handlebar designs with more adjustment points — up to 18 in one case — are also having an impact on comfort. And on top of all that, high-end models have “smart” features such as cruise control, digital multifunction displays and no-wake modes.
Swim platforms have become de rigueur on many larger models. The Sea-Doo GTX Limited now boasts a platform large enough for two people to relax on and can be padded with faux teak. Better yet, the back of its seat can be shifted aft onto the platform to create a “social area” aboard a PWC — something I’ve certainly never seen before.
In a nod to modern needs, watertight phone compartments are being introduced on new models. And yes, they do come equipped with USB ports for charging.
Enhanced entertainment is part of the game too, with many of today’s PWCs featuring a stereo. In the past, riders turned to headphones for music, but that can be dangerous, because the headphones can block outside noises, such as a boat’s horn. Cranking a stereo certainly could have a similar effect, but it isn’t nearly as complete, and a pair of 20-watt channels isn’t overwhelming in the first place. Kawasaki hit the right notes with its Jetsound audio system, which it introduced in 2014. It includes dual 30- watt waterproof speakers that are integrated under the mirrors, a two-channel 40-watt amp, a head unit built into the handlebars, and stowage cases for a USB memory stick and an iPhone.
Just last year JL Audio introduced its “Slam- Pak” system, designed to fit Yamaha Waverunners. It consists of a pair of 6½-inch coaxial speakers, an 8.8-inch subwoofer and a 500-watt four-channel amp that mates with a Bluetooth receiver to play the operator’s chosen music wirelessly from his device. While this system isn’t integrated into the PWC itself, like with Kawasaki, it’s easily added to 2013 and newer models and has significantly more audio oomph. The one downside is that it costs $2,559.
Beginning in 2017, Sea-Doo also went down the integrated route by including a pair of 6½-inch built-in speakers on many models. The system is driven by 100 watts of power and a Bluetooth connection to a cellphone, which sits protected in a dedicated waterproof, shockproof compartment that includes a USB charging port. An external unit includes controls for volume, playlists, and functions.
So can a PWC really serve as a tender, particularly on some of today’s smaller yachts, on which space and weight may be at a premium? You bet. In fact, this option has become so popular that many boat builders plan for it. Most modern PWCs are light enough to be handled by davits — even the beefiest models top out around 1,000 pounds, and some models are as light as 400 pounds and are barely 9 feet long — but increasingly, power swim platforms (hydraulic or electric) serve as the most convenient storage and launch points.
“We used to use a boom system for tenders and PWCs,” said Scott Smith of Formula Yachts, “but the reliability wasn’t always perfect. The Latham hydraulic lifts we use today, however, are excellent. Not only are they extremely reliable, they allow you to lower the entire swim platform all the way into the water. It can be an expensive option, but it just couldn’t be any easier to use, and people absolutely love it.”
Smith said that on the 40 Performance Cruiser and the 45 Yacht, buyers choose this option more often than not. The Latham lift he mentioned can handle up to 1,600 pounds, so the weight of a PWC is a non-issue. As he said, it can be expensive — Formula prices the option at around $38,000 on the 40 Performance Cruiser and $45,000 on the 45 Yacht — but its popularity proves that most people feel it’s worth the expense.
In many cases on larger yachts, PWCs can be stored in a garage. While this may add a bit of complexity to the launching procedure, it also keeps the PWC protected and out of the weather. On yachts that are bigger still, other options become possible. On the Astondoa Century 110, for example, there’s a garage of sorts up on the bow deck dedicated purely to housing a pair of PWCs. The roof swings up on hydraulics, and davits are used to swing the PWCs overboard for launching.
Ben Masonheimer of Silver Seas Yachts in Newport Beach, Calif., said that having a yacht with a garage expands an owner’s options in a number of ways. “We’ll commonly see people put a more traditional jet tender on the swim platform and a PWC in the garage,” he said, “so they have the best of both worlds. But sometimes people opt for two PWCs.”
Masonheimer said the main factor that could limit one’s ability to keep a PWC in a garage is overhead clearance. On some models the handlebars may sit too high. He also pointed out that no matter the arrangement an owner chooses, the swim platform has to be cleared first in order to launch from a garage.
There will be, naturally, some downsides to utilizing a PWC as a tender. As I mentioned earlier, stowage capacity on PWCs is much better than it once was, but obviously it’s still more limited than what a traditional tender has. Passenger capacity is also rather limited, with a two- or three-person maximum. And wet shoes can be expected, so footwear planning is essential.
Then there’s expense to consider. While a small inflatable with an eggbeater outboard can be had for a few thousand dollars, PWCs do tend to cost more. They range from just less than $5,500 for one of Sea-Doo’s Spark models to more than $16,000 for a top-of-the-line, fullsized luxury PWC. Add to that the cost of fuel and maintenance — a modern PWC is quite a bit more complex than a simple dinghy and that fact will be reflected in service costs over the years — and choosing this option makes for one expensive tender.
On the flip side, few who get into boats and yachts plan to avoid certain expenses. And given the added capabilities (read: fun!) a PWC aboard offers, many boaters feel that the tradeoffs are well worth the advantages.