Life is full of "truths" that are false. Wait an hour after you eat before swimming or you'll drown. Don't go outside with wet hair or you'll catch a cold. You'll go blind if you…well, you get the picture. There's a lot of well-intentioned information out there that's just plain wrong. Yet, we still believe it. As boaters, we see this all the time: Stainless steel doesn't rust (it does); you can trust NOAA weather (you can't); and outboards need to be winterized (they don't). But the one boating mistruth that is most off-target is that waterbikes are the worst environmental offenders on the water. They are eco-nasty disasters with an obnoxious exhaust tone, ooze pollution, harass wildlife, encourage irresponsible behavior, and generally reduce the quality of life. I'm sure you've heard it before.
But the truth is just the opposite. The modern waterbike is the cleanest, quietest, most eco-friendly choice on the water. We love 'em. They're the best there is for getting out and exploring the wilds of nature. Here's why, and how. Waterbikes have gotten a bad rap. One environmental group compared their exhaust emissions to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. A Minnesota legislator tried to pass off a chainsaw as a recording of their exhaust, and national parks across the country have closed their gates to them. Talk about an image problem. The reality, however, is far less scandalous. Once these very same opponents are forced to objectively consider the modern waterbike, most reluctantly admit that they are actually eco-friendly. Their emissions are now classified as "ultra low" by the strictest government agencies. Their exhaust noise is equal to, if not less than, that of some of the quietest vessels on the water. And, thanks to that enclosed jet pump, waterbikes do little of the underwater damage that their prop-spinning counterparts are capable of. Want proof? Here it is.
Consider the most touted slap against the waterbike, its so-called "dirty" emissions. Today, few if any are still being built with the dirty two-strokes of legend.
According to data provided by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the stricter California Air Resources Board (carb), waterbike engine emissions have been reduced as much as 90 percent compared to similar machines produced less than a decade earlier. According to carb representatives, 30 percent of the 2007 model-year waterbike line has achieved carb's vaunted Three Star "Ultra Low Emissions" certification, a degree of cleanliness not required until 2008. In fact, the engine that powers both Kawasaki's STX-12 and 15F reached that milestone way back in 2003. Of the remaining models, every four-stroke meets or exceeds carb's current Two Star designation. Manufacturers have even discovered ways to clean up the few remaining two-stroke models, such as Yamaha's powerful GP1300R, with a combination of fuel injection and a catalytic converter. "Generally, the industry has complied with the regulation on schedule, both by switching to four-strokes and by using cleaner two-stroke engines," explains Karen Caesar, information officer for carb. "Four-stroke waterbike engines are as clean as outboard and inboard/stern drive engines with similar engine sizes."
That's one myth demolished.
Sound of Silence
The modern-day waterbike has also undergone a similar reduction in noise. We'll all agree, the first bikes were irritating, which led to that chainsaw-called-a-waterbike recording by Minnesota representative Kris Hasskamp (a gimmick that many political insiders cite as the nail in her career's coffin). But the modern waterbike has been muffled to an almost cat-like purr. Industry representatives note an up to 70 percent reduction in engine sound-pressure levels has been achieved over the last 10 years by lowering not only the exhaust's volume but its high-pitched tone as well. Using such features as multi-chambered and baffled resonators on the air intakes, noise-absorbing materials between the liner and hull, rubber padding to dampen driveline noise, and thicker crankcase walls, manufacturers have dramatically lessened noise. Modern hull designs, which now favor a larger, heavier three-passenger craft, have also contributed to the hush factor, keeping the boats in the water, not airborne, and lessening the sound of waves resonating against the hull.