The three major brands of personal watercraft (PWC), these companies make up the vast majority of the market.
How can you decide on the right jet ski for you? Which model of PWC will work best for you and your family?
With this breakdown, we examine what makes a Sea Doo PWC different from a Yamaha Waverunner and a Kawasaki Jet Ski different from them both.
To avoid confusion, we’ll use PWC to refer to all three brands, and Sea Doo, Waverunner, and Jet Ski (which is technically a Kawasaki brand) to refer to the individual branded crafts.
Categories of Personal Watercraft
Not all PWCs are created equal. Different lifestyles benefit from different categories or models.
PWC categories also vary between companies.
Sea Doo offers many models and categories of PWC, including Recreational and Rec-Lite, Performance, and even a dedicated Fishing option.
Yamaha offers fewer models, while Kawasaki carries the smallest line of the big three.
For comparison, let’s look at five primary categories.
- Tow Sports
When it comes to light recreational PWCs, the battle is between Yamaha vs. Seadoo, as Kawasaki doesn’t make a machine in this category.
A recreation-lite (Rec-Lite) PWC is typically a lighter, smaller machine that can be easily transported and tossed into the water for casual use.
This class was first created with the Sea-Doo Spark and later reinforced by the Spark TRIXX.
As personal watercraft get larger and more expensive with more convenience options, Rec-Lite models offer a budget-friendly introduction to the world of PWC.
They won’t show out in a race against a higher-end PWC, but Rec-Lite PWCs perform their essential functions well at a price many people can afford.
- More affordable than other PWCs
- Small and lightweight for easy towing and transfer in and out of the water
- Two and (small) three-seater options available
- 40-50 mph speeds
- Needs smooth water; rough water can be an issue for lightweight PWCs
- Three-seater models are more for two adults and one child rather than three adults
- No added conveniences
- Lightweight means less stability (even in smooth waters)
- Can’t tow a tuber or skier
The next step up from Rec-Lite PWCs, the Recreation category of PWC is mid-range.
This category is the most popular category of personal watercraft due to a modest price tag and focus on speed, entertainment, and family fun.
Built into the price of recreational PWCs, some conveniences are included, like water-tight areas for storing phones and more cushioning in the seats for greater comfort.
Recreation models also offer more stability on the water than Rec-Lite models, making them an excellent choice for beginners and families.
A lot of PWCs available at rental companies are Recreation level.
- Top speeds of 50-65 mph
- More stability
- More storage options
- Features like ECO mode, audio options, and security systems built-in
- Some models include towing capabilities
- May drag on the water compared to higher-end supercharged models
- The weight and stability makes it harder to do tricks
- Still not great in choppy waters (although better than Rec-Lite models)
When it comes to tow sports, Sea-Doo is the specialist, offering two tow-specific models – the Wake and the Wake PRO.
The Wake and Wake Pro are designed specifically for activities like wakeboarding, water skiing, or tubing.
Yamaha and Kawasaki do, however, offer PWC that can safely and effectively be used for towing tubes or wakeboards.
As far as Yamaha’s Waverunner vs. Sea Doo for tow sport activities, the Yamaha VX Cruiser HO, one of their recreation models, has become a favorite of wakeboarders.
This is due to the PWC’s powerful engine and comfortable seating.
The Yamaha VX Cruiser HO comes in at price point very similar to Sea-Doo’s towing PWCs.
- Nimble, powerful machines
- Designed for stability
- Some models offer storage for boards
- Designed to keep the rope away from the pump
- Up to 60 mph speeds
- Additional features may not be worth the extra money if towing isn’t your primary focus
- Only Sea-Doo makes a tow-specific PWC
The touring/luxury class of PWC is designed for those who have driven Sea-Doos, Waverunners, or Jet Skis before and are looking for a little something extra.
They are the most expensive models of PWC, have the largest engines, the most power, and the most extensive storage and swim platforms available on the market.
Thanks to the large sizes of luxury class PWCs, these machines can typically handle rough waters better than smaller, less-expensive models.
All three of the big three PWC companies offer machines in the Luxury category.
Just compare the FX Limited SVHO Waverunner vs. the Jet Ski Ultra 310LX: both offer plenty of storage and a 4-stroke 1812CC/1498CC engine, which means 300+ horsepower and added gauges for things like air and water temperature.
These are powerful machines on which three adults can ride in relative comfort, and are great for activities like tow sports or offshore fishing.
- More power
- Large engine
- Greater stability
- Designed for comfort with extra space and extra padding on seats
- Capable of speeds up to 65 mph (the current water speed limit in the US)
- More expensive than other models
- May be too much power for the average family spending the day out on the water
When it comes to PWC, it’s not all about comfort and relaxation.
It’s also about acceleration and handling.
The Performance category of PWC is for people invested in racing and pushing their PWC that extra step.
The machines in this category, the GP1800 R SVHO Waverunner vs. Sea Doo’s RXP-X vs. Jet Ski Ultra 310 R, all boast top speeds faster than 65 mph.
Several performance models incorporate racing handlebars for better handling on buoy courses, racing seats, and outlines that are low and aerodynamic.
While this makes them fast and agile, performance PWC can be too much for beginners and are best ridden by experienced riders.
- Powerful engines
- Aerodynamic, streamlined design for cutting through the water quickly
- Feature robust audio systems that dealerships can install for an extra cost
- Decent storage; Ultra 310 Jet Skis offer up to 212 L of storage vs. Sea Doo’s RXP-X 157 L of storage
- Racing handlebars and seats
- May be too much for some riders; the high speeds and rapid acceleration can pose a risk to inexperienced riders
- Built for racing, geared toward one or two riders instead of three
- Reach higher speeds than legal in the US; designed for closed courses
Strengths and Weaknesses by Brand
Just like cars and trucks, when it comes to PWC, a lot of people will pick a brand and stick with it as they move from Rec-Lite or Recreation models to more specialized vehicles.
Here’s where each brand shines above the others.
Sea-Doo offers a wide variety of PWC at various price points where new buyers can find something within their budgets.
Sea-Doo prides its line on being fun, family-friendly, and accessible.
Starting with one of Sea-Doo’s Rec-Lite models comes with the downside of fewer features, but Sea-Doo offers the least expensive PWC on the market with their Spark.
When you’re ready for more, Sea-Doo also has the most extensive line of PWC, including models expressly for fishing and tow sports.
Bottom Line: It’s the cheapest and gives you lots of room to grow.
Yamaha is an attractive brand for people looking to bring the whole family along on the water.
Yamaha prides its line for its fuel efficiency, which means less refueling, and its powerful, long-lasting engines that give ample speed to their watercraft.
Their Rec-Lite model, the EX Waverunner, is priced a little higher than Sea-Doo’s cheapest offering, but comes with a few add-ons to counteract the price.
When you’re ready to level up, Yamaha’s line can get you wherever you want to go, including onto your feet with their stand-up model, the SuperJet.
Bottom Line: The middle of the pack with a reputation for quality.
Kawasaki Jet Ski
The most expensive models on the market, from starting price to the top of the line, Jet Ski (by Kawasaki) has become the generic term for personal watercraft for good reason.
They were the first and are still the fastest on the water.
Even their starter model, the Jet Ski STX160 is built for performance.
These are not lounging PWCs. These are dominant machines, made for racing.
Once you think you can handle it , the Jet Ski Ultra 310X will take you faster than any Jet Ski on the market.
Bottom Line: The fastest. The most expensive. Built for high-octane action.
Which PWC is the Right One for You?
When it comes to the right PWC, it all comes down to experience, which features are important to you, and how you plan to use your personal watercraft.
The three most popular PWC brands on the market offer various options for anyone wanting to get out on the water.
If you’re unsure, consider renting a PWC first to see how it handles.
Most rentals are Recreation models, although Rec-Lite models are sometimes available. (Many dealers also have testing areas.)
Renting or test driving before you buy lets you compare features and get a feel for how each model handles.
By riding, you can explore the nuances and find which PWC brand is the perfect one for you.