Round 2: Handling
From a “seat of the pants” perspective, a jet produces the most thrilling results at speed. The quick reactions provided by a directional nozzle enable a jet boat to turn quicker and tighter, producing a ride guaranteed to leave the kids giggling and the adults lunging for the grab handles. Using a hard turn around a buoy at 30 mph and recording our track with a chart plotter over several runs, we measured the sterndrive-powered Chaparral’s turning circle consistently wider than the jet-drive-powered Sea-Doo’s. While the jet pump bogged slightly powering out of the tightest turns, the boat turned relatively flat and in control. The sterndrive bucked when attempting to keep the turn as tight as possible, performing best when given a wider arc. Still, we were pleased by the handling prowess of the Chaparral. While the Sea-Doo clearly featured the sportiest handling, the Chaparral fared better than most sterndrives I’ve tested over the last two decades.
While conventional wisdom has always been that jets fail to measure up to sterndrives in low-speed maneuverability, our test revealed that a jet can do well if you learn to exploit its unique characteristics.
With a sterndrive, thrust is guided in the same direction as the rudder. Propeller motion can also be stopped for a true neutral, nice if you want to idle and let go of the controls. In contrast, the jet engine is always pumping water. For neutral or reverse, a shaped gate redirects water flow in the appropriate direction. While a boater accustomed to prop propulsion will find the handling suspect at first, with practice, constant thrust can be used to advantage. The key is to employ minimal input to wheel and throttle. (Sea-Doo actually features a mode that reduces rpm). A boat driven by a single jet can be made to spin within its own length, and as such can even be wiggled sideways into a berth not much longer than its overall length. In short order we were able to dock the jet as well as the sterndrive.Assumption squashed.
The “common knowledge” that sterndrives are better for towing held true. While either choice will be fine for casual enthusiasts, better skiers and wakeboarders will quickly note that, with its lack of rudder in the water, a jet can be pulled off its line by a hard tug on the tow line, requiring frequent corrections at the wheel by the skipper. A jet also creates a good amount of turbulence atop the water, which can affect a rider on a short tow line, and its wakes aren’t as solid and predictable as a sterndrive’s for wakeboarding.