It’s a "great rush" for some, a simple family outing for others. Either way, there are plenty of places in Arizona to use a personal watercraft — and more and more people are doing it.
More commonly known by the trade name Jet Ski or Waverunner, personal watercrafts are the equivalent of motorcycles on water. With just a short lesson, most anyone can hop on a machine and have an exhilarating spin around a body of water.
"It’s an adrenaline rush," said Sam Gillesepie of Mesa, who spent last weekend riding his personal watercraft on Apache Lake. "It’s like surging out of the air and into the water. It’s just a great rush."
Gillesepie, 19, likes to go as fast as he can and do tricks. You don’t have to be a daredevil, though, to enjoy a personal watercraft outing. In fact, Tim Chapman, who runs Mesa’s Water Trix Jet Ski and ATV Rentals, said quite the opposite is true.
"We mostly rent to families and adults," said Chapman, "and then kids when they get out of school. We get a big variety."
Personal watercraft originated in the early 1960s on the concept of a powered water ski. They were introduced commercially in the late ’60s with limited success by a snowmobile manufacturer. In the 1970s, the sport took off when Kawasaki Motors Corp. came out with Jet Ski watercraft.
Less than 16 feet in length, personal watercraft are powered by either a 2-stroke engine (which is found in most outboard motors) or a by 4-stroke engine, the same engine used in automobiles. Basically, the engine drives a jet pump that draws water into an impeller. The water is pressurized and forced out a nozzle at the rear of the craft. The jet of pressurized water propels the craft and gives it steering power.
Those first personal watercraft were built for one rider, who had to stand up to operate it. Today the most popular sellers are multi-person Waverunners, which allow for multiple riders, all of whom can sit on the personal watercraft.
It has been estimated there are 1.5 million personal watercraft in the United States and that some 20 million Americans enjoy them annually. The average cost of a craft is just more than $9,000.
Spacious Lake Powell is the most popular place to use personal watercraft in Arizona, but you don’t have to drive far to enjoy the sport. You can use personal watercraft in all of the area lakes such as Lake Pleasant and Saguaro Lake.
The sport is not without controversy. Machines (and sometimes riders) are loud and create quite a wake. Far too often, people on personal watercraft
have conflicts with boaters and fishermen.
"There is an etiquette that has to be followed," said Chapman, who rents personal watercrafts for $125 per day. "A few out there give Jet Skiers a bad name. It doesn’t have to be that way."