The jet boat has grown up. Once a rowdy, raucous puppy chasing around the lake, nipping at the heels of "real" boats, the jet-powered runabout has matured into a well-mannered craft. In fact, with this boat, the time has come to drop the qualifier. It's a runabout. One that not only holds its own among the reigning stern drives but, in many ways, betters them.
We've thought highly of the 23' Yamaha since it debuted in 2003, but the all-new version rolled out for 2007 blew us-and you-away, becoming the flat-out best-seller in its class. For 2008, the tower-equipped AR230 High Output is priced at about $40,000. That's a whopping $20,000 less than most of the popular runabouts in the ultra-competitive 22'-to-24' range. And though its low price makes it an attractive value for boating families, what sold us-and you-is the boat's innovative design and fresh thinking.
What hits you right off is the boat's transom. Yamaha designers watched how we use runabouts and saw that when not underway, we congregate in the stern. So why not make the aft platform area the center of activity?
The low profile of the Yamaha engines made it possible to design a 4'-deep platform that's arranged on two levels to create a comfortable lounging area. The latest version features curved and padded vertical surfaces for backrests and horizontal surfaces covered in soft HydroTurf material that's easy on the feet and knees. A wide hatch in the upper level of the platform covers a wet-stowage compartment that can handle lines and fenders, swim fins, and other gear. The lower level has a pedestal socket for a table, and a new optional extension for the standard Bimini top provides shade. There's even a remote for the stereo.
It's a design that can't be duplicated on a stern drive-powered boat, which has a much taller engine sitting right up against the transom.
There's also the feeling of safety offered by the jet drives, which are tucked far under the stern of the boat-away from the feet of young swimmers. Those drives give this boat its shallow draft and make it easy to beach. But they come with disadvantages as well. At no-wake speeds this keelless boat wanders in a cross wind and can be tricky to maneuver around a dock, and top speed is slightly limited due to the lack of drive trim. But the self-draining engines and drives are easy to maintain, and the acceleration and midrange handling rival those of an inboard skiboat. Or even a waterbike.
Yamaha has been building jet-powered boats at its Vonore, Tennessee, plant since it introduced the weird little Exciter 220 in 1996. We've watched the quality steadily improve, and today fit-and-finish is first rate. Yamaha has worked hard to learn the boatbuilding business. For 2008, it will offer a more luxurious version of the 230 platform with the 232 Limited, along with the standard SX230 and the AR230.
And the future looks bright, too. There's a new 1.8-liter supercharged engine in the Yamaha FX SHO waterbike this year that makes about 250 hp. Sounds like the perfect powertrain for a new generation of Yamaha boats. We can't wait.