The Watercraft Journal's First Look with Kevin Shaw


A supercharged race-ready watercraft had not entered the list of the top 10 best-selling personal watercraft for nearly a decade. That is, until 2017, when the Yamaha GP1800 WaveRunner came in 6th place, beating naturally-aspirated Recreation-segment machines left and right. Being the inaugural year for the GP1800, certainly the shine of newness helped bolster demand. Yet, what truly elevated the craft from being a “SVHO-powered VXR” to the sport’s winningest runabout was its design.

The done-and-dialed Super Vortex High Output 1,812cc, centrifugally-supercharged four-cylinder fitted into a NanoXcel2-molded body gave the craft a leading power-to-weight ratio. It’s adaptation to aftermarket handling and performance parts pushed it further. Tipping the scales at 769-pounds, the GP1800 is lightweight, torquey and incredibly responsive. Needless to say, racers took to the craft immediately and the podium finishes followed in kind. And they kept coming.

With little competition in the way of impact to both the industry and sport, as well as mass consumer appeal, the 2017 GP1800 handily earned The Watercraft Journal’s “Watercraft of The Year” award. It was also chosen as the vehicle of choice to become the latest Limited Edition “GP1800R” from RIVA Racing, as well as a special edition offering from Dean’s Team. And why not? An air ribbon delete and an ECU tune pushed it to to 79-80mph. Toss in an intercooler upgrade and a repitched prop, and the GP1800 was capable of 86mph all day long.

Currently, the GP dominates all tiers of supercharged runabout classes; particularly AquaX offshore races, the Pro Stock IJSBA and Pro Watercross classes, and most notably, major offshore endurance events like the Mark Hahn Memorial 300 and the Long Beach-to-Catalina Championships – having clenched first place twice in a row, respectively. By all observers, the machine appears relentless in its domination, and understandably so. It was ranked the third best selling PWC for the first half of 2018, coming in just 55 units behind second place’s Sea-Doo Spark Trixx (2017’s best seller).

Frankly, the GP1800 changed the landscape for Yamaha, and because of this machine, the future of the WaveRunner lineup has been directly effected. “Personal watercraft sales were strong this summer, and we exceeded expectations across the board, selling out of several of our most popular models,” noted Bryan Seti, Yamaha Watercraft’s general manager. “With this product introduction that highlights many new features and technologies never seen before in the industry, we expect to build on our momentum and continue to bring customers the best experiences on the water.”

For 2019, Yamaha’s GP becomes more race-ready as the new GP1800R. That’s right, the “R” is back, baby! It’s no surprise that Yamaha works incredibly close with some of the most prestigious race teams in the world, and part of that partnership is regular feedback and input. Using what intel was provided, Yamaha upgraded the GP1800R with a top-loader intake grate and race-designed ride plate for greater precision and predictability in rough water. In fact, that word came up several times during our introduction.

“We really focused on improving predictability,” said Scott Watkins, Yamaha Watercraft’s WaveRunner Product Planner. “The new ride plate is longer to reduce bow rise when accelerating quickly. The planning surface is angled slightly for just the right amount of rocker to give the GP1800R the right riding attitude for optimum top speed. Also, the edges of the planning surface help the GP1800R track straighter at higher speeds.”

Equally, the new intake grate features a foil that feeds water to the top of the impeller to improve traction and keep the pump hooked up to maintain maximum thrust when turning. Additional improvements include hull reinforcements around the pump tunnel and redesigned brackets to battle the added force on the intake grate. New color options are only minor from last year’s offerings: Torch Red Metallic and black, and Team Yamaha Blue and white with neon yellow accents.

With the loss of the VXS two years ago, the VXR stands apart – especially now that Yamaha has made the VXR a naturally-aspirated version of the GP1800R. “This year we really wanted the ‘R’ to mean something,” Watkins teased, revealing the upgrades to the new 2019 VXR. Not only does the VXR receive the same redesigned intake grate and ride plate as the GP1800R, but also drops 30-pounds of weight thanks to the addition of a NanoXcel2 hull and deck. The 155mm pump remains.

“With the 2019 performance upgrades, we took designs that were proven on the race course by the best riders in the world, and made it something customers can get right out of the box,” said Watkins. “The result is a whole new character to these WaveRunners, that recreational riders and racers alike will find fuels their desire for ultra high performance experiences on the water with unbelievable handling.” Livery options are a Torch Red Metallic-and-white, and a very similar Team Yamaha Blue-neon-yellow-and-white pattern to associate the VXR to its supercharged sibling.

The addition to Yamaha’s race-ready lineup of “R-equipped” runabouts is the astoundingly fun EXR. The addition to Yamaha’s entry-level EX Series is almost our personal favorite of the bunch. As is with the new lineup of race-ready machines, the EXR becomes “the most affordable WaveRunner to feature Yamaha’s high-performance, super-lightweight NanoXcel2 hull and deck material,” according to Yamaha. Coming in at a scant 540 pounds – a full 60-pounds less than the EX Deluxe – it includes a top-loader intake grate and a 40mm pump extension for increased agility, handling and performance.

Alas, the biggest change we saved for last: a 100-percent, all-new FX WaveRunner lineup. “As the flagship of the line, we really put some thought into how to update the FX series to create unbelievable experiences on the water for our customers,” said Watkins. 

Ergonomically, the FX is also improved, with self-draining footwells that are wider, and more shallow than before. Rubberized perforated siphons feed tubes that run down the hull’s length into pump.

Perched ahead of the 5-point tilt-steering (equipped with Yamaha’s RiDE dual-throttle brake/reverse system) is the industry’s first full-color, touchscreen instrumentation panel. The FX’s 4.3-inch multi-color LCD touchscreen system is called “Connext” and offers “all vital system information, customized features and includes a new Drive Control technology for personalizing riding experiences.” 

The final big feature new to the FX is the RAM Multi-Mount System. Yamaha partnered with RAM Mounts for a modular accessory system that allows for riders to personalize their watercraft through a range of accessories (including RAM mounts). These accessories include the portable ECOXGEAR waterproof wireless Bluetooth speakers and a Garmin Striker GPS fish finder and transducer. 

And there you have it: a complete breakdown of the 2019 Yamaha WaveRunner lineup.