New Jet Boats: A Renaissance is Underway

Scarab and Chaparral are joining the jet boat market, with jet-drive power provided by BRP. These builders, along with Sea Ray, take aim at the dominance of this market by Yamaha.

17th May 2013.
By Charles Plueddeman

Just months after the appearance of the new Sea Ray 21 Jet bowrider, two leading powerboat manufacturers, Rec Boat Holdings (Four Winns/Glastron/Wellcraft) and Chaparral have both announced plans to build new jet boat runabouts powered by the BRP Rotax 4-TEC 1503. Each company expects their first jet boats to debut late this summer. All of these builders will be seeking to fill the hole in the market left by BRP, when this company decided to cease production of Sea-Doo sport boats in September, 2012. That move also made it possible for BRP to offer its Rotax engine-and-drive package to other builders.

BRP rotax jet engine

The Rotax 1503 SC 4-TEC, built by BRP, can now be supplied in a engine-and-jet drive package to multiple builders.

Neither Rec Holdings nor Chaparral has announced any real details about the jet-powered boats they will offer. Rather, each has confirmed they have signed an engine supply agreement with BRP.

Rec Holdings did release some information on how they plan to market jet boats. The company will re-launch the Scarab nameplate as a stand-alone brand with a separate dealer network, which will eventually offer four jet-powered models. Once the high-performance Wellcraft brand, Scarab reached its zenith in the late 1980s when its boats were featured on the Miami Vice television series. The first Scarab jet model should be ready by the end of the summer, with another released during the winter boat shows. The two remaining models will reach production in 2014. Rec Holdings also plans to offer two new jet-powered Glastron models styled to complement its current GT runabout line. (Read Glastron GT 160: Retro Runabout for 2012, for more insight into this model line).

“Getting into the jet boat market meets all of our criteria for future growth,” says Roc Lambert, Rec Holdings Group President and former BRP executive, most recently at Evinrude. “We can leverage our manufacturing capacity in Cadillac, Michigan, and these boats will complement our current product line. BRP is a great company, but boats were not a core business for them. We think the segment is still growing, and right now there’s only one competitor.”

That competitor is Yamaha, which has proved the potential of jet-propelled sport boats in the US market. Yamaha models are the best-selling fiberglass sport boats in the 19-, 21- and 23-foot categories, and have led those segments for several seasons. Yamaha has worked to position each of its models as a sport boat that happens to have jet power, rather than as a “jet boat,” while promoting the advantages of runabout jet boat propulsion: ease of maintenance, minimal draft, and the lack of a propeller—an implied safety feature especially appealing to parents. Yamaha also took advantage of the low profile of its engine by designing a stern area with lounging space that can’t be duplicated in a sterndrive-powered boat, and on top of that, the Yamaha sport boats are usually less expensive than competing sterndrive-powered models.

sea ray jet boat

The 21-foot Sea Ray Jet, which is powered by twin 120-hp turbocharged Weber engines, is clearly designed to compete with Yamaha, and in fact the 21 Jet looks very much like a Yamaha sport boat.

The Sea-Doo sport boat line included models from 15 to 23 feet in length, but Sea-Doo had the most success selling boats at the shorter end of that range. The Sea-Doo boat business was reportedly profitable, but BRP determined that other segments of the recreation market offer a better return on its investment in future product development; BRP also manufactures Evinrude outboards, Ski-Doo snowmobiles, Can-Am ATV and side-by-side vehicles, electric vehicles, and Can-Am Spyder motorcycles.

For boat builders who have been itching to challenge Yamaha in the jet market, the sudden availability of the BRP powertrain is a dream come true. The BRP Rotax 1503 engine and drive are also used in Sea-Doo personal watercraft, and so will be likely to stay in production for some time. This three-cylinder engine is tuned to produce 155-hp in its base trim, and 215-hp or 255-hp when equipped with a supercharger. It’s been in production since 2001 and there are about 450,000 units in service, according to BRP, and has proven to be rugged and reliable. The Rotax 1503 power pack includes the 4-TEC 1503 engine, controls, fuel and jet pumps, along with the exhaust, electrical, and closed cooling systems.

Editor’s Note: In September of 2013, Sea Ray announced that they would not be putting either of their new jet boat models, the 21 Jet and the 24 Jet, into production. Read Sea Ray Reverses Decision to Enter Jet Boat Market

For more information on specific jet models, see some of our reviews:

Sea Ray 24 Jet: The Biggest Jet Boat of the Year
Yamaha AR192 and SX192 Jet Boats: Sporty and Supercharged
Sea Ray 21 Jet: Bowrider of the Future
Hunt Harrier 36 Jet Drive: Video Boat Review
Cherubini 20 Classic: Baby Grand
Hinkley Talaria 44 Launched


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About the author:

Charles Plueddeman

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Charles Plueddeman is Boats.com's outboard, trailer, and PWC expert. He is a former editor at Boating Magazine and contributor to many national publications since 1986.

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