If your riding has you ready to take it up a notch, use this advice from a PWC pro to throttle up safely.
One of the most exhilarating feelings a person can have is the rush of wind created by maxing out a PWC on a glass-flat stretch of water, catching very quick glimpses as the speedometer creeps past 60 mph and the world goes by in a blur. Even though we regularly move faster than that in our automobiles, there’s something more adrenaline-inducing about doing it on a PWC with but a small bit of hull actually touching the water.
That’s just on a stock PWC that tops out at 65 mph thanks to an agreement between the U.S. Coast Guard and PWC manufacturers. But what about those folks who want to go faster? What if the need for speed is all that really matters? For those riders, there are aftermarket modifications that can add speed and power. But how can they ride fast, and maybe even race, safely?
For the answer to that question, we consulted a pro. Scott Watkins has been the product manager for Yamaha for more than two decades, but before that he rode. And he rode fast and hard. Watkins is a former freestyle world champion and earned a spot in the International Jet Sports Boating Association (IJSBA) Hall of Fame, so he knows of what he speaks.
Getting a good start (previous spread) is the key to competing in a PWC race. During the race, riders should stand as much as possible, to absorb the hits, and lean side to side and forward to back, to keep the pump hooked up.
Boating World: What’s most important to remember about maintaining situational awareness (e.g., knowing the location of other riders or boats, water depth, obstructions)?
Watkins: It’s important to pre-run any areayou plan on testing or operating at race speeds before you actually do so. If the area you ride allows you to set up buoys, do it. Even just a few are OK to practice high-speed turning. Also, it may help to warn others around you what you are doing.
Boating World: What’s the best way to work up to high-level riding?
Watkins: High-performance watercraft of today, particularly the [Yamaha] GP1800, can pull some hard g’s in a turn, especially if you’ve added aftermarket handling parts such as sponsons, a ride plate or a top-loader intake grate. These craft are capable of turning harder and with more g-force than most people can hang on to. They can test riders’ strength to the limit and beyond. Ease into your limit and do not ride over your head. Don’t forget, there will always be someone faster, and trying to keep up with that person will most likely leave you swimming.
Boating World: How do I position my body to make a hard turn?
Watkins: If you’re standing and making a left turn, your left leg will be forward and your right leg will be back. Your left knee will be pushing hard against the seat to take some of the g-force of the turn. Your upper body will have to handle the rest. For a right turn, switch it up. If you’re sitting down and making a left turn, your left knee will be low and press against the seat and the right knee will be a little higher, and your right foot will be outboard as much as possible.
Boating World: What’s the best way to use trim during turns?
Watkins: As a rule, bow-down trim is what you want for sharper turns, but not too much, because you don’t want to scrub speed.
Boating World: How should I position my body and use trim to run fast over chop to maintain optimal control?
Watkins: Riding in choppy conditions takes a lot of control, patience, skill and the ability to feel your way through the waves — call that instinct. Throttle control and keeping the pump hooked up is key to maintaining a fast pace in big water. It’s best to ride standing up as much as possible, to absorb the hits, and weight and unweight your body side to side and front to back in order to keep the pump hooked up as much as possible.
Boating World: How can I tell when I’m nearing the limits of my control?
Watkins: Fatigue will be the first sign you’re riding over your head. Find a pace that you think you can ride for a solid hour. Get to know that feeling. If you need to turn it up, know for how long and don’t go past that point. Know how long you can ride aggressively and in control at different speeds and conditions.
Boating World: When I sense I am going to wipe out, what do I do? Go limp, tighten up, try to position my body in a certain way?
Watkins: Try to get away from your boat, so you don’t collide with it. If you’re in a race, be aware of who’s behind you and where they are when you come off your boat, so you have a feel for how long to leave you head down before popping it out of the water. Put your arm in the air before you head into the water, to signal racers behind you.
Boating World: I’m considering my first race. How do I choose the right level of competition?
Watkins: For your first race, you should always race a beginner class, or amateur if beginner is not available. Know the rules. Join IJSBA as a race member and research as much as possible online about what class to race in. For instance, a beginner with a stock runabout PWC would race in the Stock Runabout class as a beginner or amateur. Know what modifications are allowed in your class (reference the IJSBA rulebook). Even Stock class allows for some modifi-cations that you will have to make if you want to be competitive. ECU modification, sponsons, intake grate, ride plate and an impeller that is matched to your ECU are a good start. However, you’ll spend a little more than $1,000 for this stuff.
For a cheaper route to get your feet wet, some race promoters will offer a Box Stock class. I’d say if you’d like to experience racing before you start spending too much cash, the Box Stock class is the way to go. The speeds are about 10 mph slower, too, so you won’t get over your head too easily.
Boating World: How do I approach it mentally? What level of aggression should I exhibit? Should I try to win or just use the first race just to get the feel of how things shake out?
Watkins: Depends on how much of the competitive gene you have in you. For instance, if you don’t like being passed on the freeway or always hunt for the fastest lane, even in slow traffic, you may have a hard time sitting back. Sitting back can be smarter, though. You’ll know after the first lap.If you think you’re going to go for it, the start of the race is probably to most critical and you need to really be on it. The best way is to study the experienced riders. Take the time to sit behind the starting line as much as you can, to get a feel for how the pros do it. What you learn here will save you many places on the track.
Also, take time to know the track. Watch races, watch how the other racers are taking lines. When you get to do practice laps, don’t try to win practice and pass the guy in front of you. Keep focused on the track, the next buoy and what lines you might want to take during the race. Focus. Focus. Focus.
Boating World: What’s the proper way to stay out of a faster rider’s way?
Watkins: If you have a faster rider behind you and he’s lapping you, you generally move to the outside of a turn to let him take the inside.
Make sure he’s lapping you, though, and not just behind you wanting to pass you. If you have a rider who seems like he can overtake you, don’t ride over your head and spin out or come off your boat. Ride at your pace and keep true lines. Don’t try to block; that will frustrate the faster rider and make him take a chance to pass you, which might take both of you out of the race.
Boating World: How do I overtake slow riders safely?
Watkins: If you’re lapping them, hopefully they know you’re there and let you go to the inside. If they are not being lapped, then the best and least risky way is to wait for a straightaway and set yourself up to get close to them before the straight. Otherwise, you have to wait for them to take a bad line and then go for it.
Boating World: How do I handle the chop generated by other riders?
Watkins: Stay out of the pump wash as much as possi-ble, and learn where the sweet spots are in other riders’ wakes. There are always some.
Boating World: Before the race, how do I get my body and PWC ready?
Watkins: For your body, hydrate, fuel up and stay loose. For the mind, make sure you completely understand this is for fun. For the PWC, make sure you have the right amount of fuel, check all the hose clamps, the bolts on sponsons, the ride plate and the intake grate. Look in the inlet duct at the prop and shaft to make sure there is nothing hanging out in there that shouldn’t be.
Boating World: What equipment do I need?
Watkins: Helmet, goggles (with the foam vents removed), gloves, PWC performance booties, leg protection, back protection (required by some promoters), neck support (recommended) and of course, an approved life jacket. Also, duct tape the goggles to the back of your helmet, in case they come off during the race. BW
Ease into your limit and do not ride over your head. Don’t forget, there will always be someone faster.