Jun. 2, 2008 – PWC fuel consumption questions

By Jeff Hemmel
PWC contributor
With the cost of gasoline flirting with the $4 per gallon mark — and looking to stay in that range throughout the summer riding season — fuel efficiency has become a bigger priority with customers. Those who can afford it may just swallow hard as their high-dollar, high-performance PWC runs up the fuel bill. Others forced to ration what gas goes in the car and what goes in the PWC may look long and hard at far more thrifty entry-level machines in order to keep that fun lasting all season.
Unfortunately for both the dealer and consumer, little is truly known about a PWC’s fuel consumption. You won’t find it publicized in vehicle specs. Most magazines also don’t offer the information or go to the lengths required to get an accurate read on the situation. That leaves all concerned in the dark as to just what is fact — and what is fiction — when it comes to fuel use.
How much fuel will a PWC use during regular use? And based on that information, is there really a potential for dealers in these troublesome times as powerboat enthusiasts look for a cheaper alternative? Powersports Business recently took a closer look at fuel consumption in search of the answers.

The Price of Performance
As you might expect, the highest performance models — characterized by large displacement engines and speed-enhancing add-ons — prove to be the thirstiest. To determine just how deep that thirst actually was, editors of a sister publication to Powersports Business, Watercraft World, turned to fuel flow equipment at this year’s Dream Demo test week. Fuel-flow meters were hooked into each boat’s fuel line with the assistance of company techs. Results were measured at a cruising speed of 35 mph, as well as wide-open throttle.
The results were at once expected, yet surprising. At the highest end of the performance spectrum, craft consume a lot of fuel when pushed to their full potential, in the neighborhood of 22 gallons per hour at wide-open throttle. In most cases, that’s more than these boats can even hold in their tanks. True performance enthusiasts who spend a lot of time at wide-open throttle had best be prepared to rack up a sizable fuel bill for a weekend of fun.
Kawasaki’s Ultra 250X was the biggest consumer, gulping down a healthy 24 gallons per hour at top speed, at Dream Demo a measured 66.6 mph with a light load aboard. Yamaha’s recently named Watercraft of the Year, the FX SHO, fared slightly better, burning through 21.7 gallons per hour at a top speed of 66.7 mph. The biggest surprise? Sea-Doo’s RXT-X, at 255 hp the highest horsepower engine currently in production. The RXT-X burned 20.6 gallons per hour at a full speed of 67.3 mph. It’s important to note that both the Kawasaki and Sea-Doo require premium unleaded; Yamaha’s entire line is designed to run on 87 octane. The good news portion of the equation is that few riders truly average full-throttle speeds throughout a day of riding. A more comfortable cruising speed is often around 35 mph, a speed at which the data shows fuel consumption drops in dramatic fashion. Even staying with the most fuel-hungry, high-performance machines on the market, the numbers show fuel consumption to average about 7.4 gallons per hour at this speed. That’s a big difference from the top speed numbers, and one that dealers should make certain customers are aware of.
Actual numbers at 35 mph: Sea-Doo RXT-X (6.8 gph), Yamaha FX SHO (7.7 gph), Kawasaki Ultra 250X (7.8 gph).

Apples vs. Oranges
Looked at from another perspective, even those seemingly thirsty performance machines fare well when put up against most conventional boats. It’s a sales pitch PWC industry execs have long touted. “When gas goes up, PWC become a cheaper alternative than a boat,” said Sea-Doo’s Louis Levesque, who says that the PWC holds an advantage in both fuel consumption and purchase price.
Levesque is right. That even the highest price PWC costs in the neighborhood of the cheapest open-bow runabouts is obvious. That the same PWC is then cheaper to operate than a boat with similar horsepower was proven after consulting test data from another sister publication, Trailer Boats magazine.
Again judging both types of vessels at 35 mph, we compared our thirstiest model PWC against a variety of boat types of similar horsepower. From a Triumph 235 center console with a Yamaha F250 four-stroke outboard (15.2 gph at 35.4 mph) to a ProLine 23 bay boat with a 250hp Mercury ProXS fuel-injected two-stroke (9.2 gph at 34.7 mph) to a EbbTide 224 runabout with a 260hp MerCruiser sterndrive (9.9 gph at 32.8 mph), PWC were time and time again a more efficient choice in comparison. Certainly this is somewhat of an apples vs. oranges comparison — weight and wetted surface area are vastly different, not to mention passenger capacity — but the point is made. When high gas prices force you to budget your fuel purchases, PWC prove to be an alternative that will keep you on the water for less money.
And less high-performance offerings will really stretch that dollar. At that same 35 mph mark, Yamaha’s VX110 series consumes as little as 4.1 gallons per hour. As its manufacturer proudly states, it’s the industry leader in fuel-efficiency.

Passion Fueled
But in the end, the greatest advantage of a PWC is also the greatest advantage of boating in general — the activity breeds enthusiasts, consumers who are willing to make sacrifices in other areas in order to continue pursuing their favorite leisure activity.
“Boating is one of those rather rare passion-fueled activities that people won’t simply give up due to changing economic times,” said Yamaha’s Andrew Cullen. “Rather they may change other aspects of their life — perhaps giving up a trip to an adventure park, a weekend vacation or some dinners out — to open up the ability to spend time on the water.
“We’re seeing buyers coming into the PWC market right now because it is such a cost-effective, yet immensely fun way to get in on the boating lifestyle.”

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