Years ago, waterbike pundits proclaimed if a company could build an inexpensive four-stroke, the customers would come. It happened. Now so-called "entry-level" machines account for the majority of the top-sellers, featuring price tags around $8,500 and fuel consumption stats that promise to squeeze every last ounce from your budget. Even so, these boats do it while offering surprising performance and amenities. Which offers the most for your money?
KAWASAKI STX 15F
Dry weight (lbs.) 845
Engine 1,498cc, four-cylinder
Fuel capacity (gal.) 16.4
Combined stowage (gal.) 23.5
Fuel capacity and stowage top the class, the latter provided by a large front tub under a pneumatically dampened lid. There's also a small glovebox and a compartment under the aft portion of the seat. A magnetic key disables the engine for theft protection, and a beginner-friendly, programmable speed governor can be activated through a switch on the instrument display. Collision avoidance maneuvers are enhanced by Smart Steering, a system that increases thrust when it senses a collision-avoidance move at the handlebars. The boarding platform is about a foot deep and features a flip-down boarding step for assistance.
This hull was originally designed for the racecourse. As you might expect, the handling is aggressive. Yet it always remains stable and predictable, with a forgiving ride in rough conditions. It also has the most solid-feeling ride of the three, a testament to Kawasaki's fit and finish. A low-slung driver position works in concert with the craft's performance attitude, but may occasionally cramp larger riders. A sculpted, bolstered seat, however, provides more support for longer rides. The reverse lever is located on the starboard side of the console, preventing the driver from comfortably working both reverse and throttle to help maneuver in tight quarters.
It has the largest displacement and highest horsepower combo here, edging others by 30 to 50 hp. Both acceleration and top speeds are best in class. Expect to reach 61 to 62 mph and 0-to-30-mph acceleration times of less than two seconds. This may initially make the boat feel intimidating to novices, but it also promises to avoid the situation where the rider's skills ultimately outgrow a boat's performance capability. The 15F features surprisingly good fuel economy given its horsepower, burning only 5.4 gph at 35 mph.
HIGHS & LOWS
HIGHS Highest horsepower and largest displacement engine stacks the deck; tops in both speed and acceleration. Race-derived hull design. Best stowage and fuel capacity. Handy split-seat stowage aft. Spacious boarding deck and flip-down step combo.
LOWS Starboard reverse handle is awkward. Ergonomics may cramp taller drivers. Old-school looks need refreshing. A lot of engine crammed into a tight compartment.