Once upon a time there was a revolution in jet boats. Everybody was building at least one, and a lot of the power was supplied by Mercury. When Merc left the market, independent jet builders lost their source of power. Then, only motor-sports companies like Yamaha and Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) remained in the fray, and in it, they made plenty of hay — it was, and is again, the fastest growing category of boats in the marketplace. Then BRP stepped out, dismantling its Sea-Doo boat production to focus on performance watercraft.
Now the award-winning builder Chaparral roars onto the scene with a series of jet boats that are more than equal to the very finest prop-drive boats for which it is known. And, since BRP left the boatbuilding marketplace, it made its engines available to any builder — like Chaparral, who was quick to capitalize on the availability of these proven power plants.
The advantages of jet power are many. There’s no expensive gear case to maintain, and with all the propulsion equipment above the keel there is less risk of damaging it by running aground. Jet impellers are enclosed in the hull and power nozzles are tucked safely under the swim platform, eliminating the drag created by outboard and sterndrive gearcases, and reducing strike damage potential. And for the shallow coastal waters where jet boats are already most popular, the advantages of shallow draft mean less to fear when approaching the sandbar or accessing home port at low tide or low lake levels.
All those operational advantages aside, up until recent models, jet boats had a personal watercraftlike feel to them that appealed to fewer boaters.
Yamaha’s 242 Limited S is the latest in a generation of jets that set aside the watercraft culture, offering solid construction and a feel when underway that’s similar to that of a prop-drive boat.
That was the target Chaparral had to aim at if it would be successful in this endeavor. Considered by most to be in the top five of luxury runabout builders, Chaparral’s designers knew they had to steer clear of a jet boat feel or they would alienate their owners. So they focused the formidable hull-building talent and skill long employed in the production of their prop-drive boats and added Sea-Doo’s turbocharged Rotax jet-pump engines.
Jets are famous for acceleration, and the twin 250 hp 1.5-liter Rotax engines powering the Chaparral 243 VRX we tested pushed us back in our seats, throttling onto plane in three seconds. Part of the credit goes to the horsepower and part goes to the unique advantage of straight-line thrust afforded by the jet-pump nozzles in perfect parallel alignment with the keel. Speed comes from high rpm that generate high horsepower. Reduced drag achieved by eliminating gear cases and props dragging through the water also contributes to speed and acceleration. Another benefit is the high-speed maneuverability we enjoyed while whipping equally agile hard-over turns from left to right without dumping any speed.
A sharp keel enhances tracking without robbing the jets of the highly maneuverable thrust for which they are known. Turbochargers kick on instantly to drive the boat up on plane in less than three seconds and accelerate to 30 mph so fast it’s hard to start and stop the stopwatch.
Speed control for water sports can be trickier in jets, but Chaparral answered that objection too. All the power as well as stereo and onboard systems are controllable through the option al Medallion color LCD touch-screen display we became familiar with during our test or standard indiviual switches. These allow the selection of tow profiles for riders’ preferences for speed and acceleration. Once programmed, a single touch ensures a great tow no matter the rider.
The color schemes speak of water sports too, bearing yellow, red, blue, grey, lime green and and aqua graphics already popular in direct and V-drive water-sports boats. There are six of these VRX Color graphics packages available. They are standard, and the choice of color is yours.
The cockpit layout capitalizes on the low-profile jet power and provides an aft cockpit that’s much more expansive and open than what you would find aboard a sterndrive-powered sport boat of the same size. Seating is hand-designed, -built and -upholstered, avoiding the “molded seat” feel of some watercraft. A nonskid sole that drains to the bilge can be softened with snap-in carpet. Crisp lines to this rakish, aggressive design give it performance-boat appeal.
All this speaks well for the water-sport capabilities built in that include an easily foldable wakeboard arch, standard on VRX models, and massive real estate on the SeaDek-covered swim platform. Aft seats provide comfort at the cove.
Inside, the cockpit embodies everything for which Chaparral’s luxury brand name is known. Families will embrace the generously sized enclosed head. Full wraparound seating makes the vessel a group entertainer. The helm companion bench’s seat back flips forward, creating a full-cockpit wraparound lounge. (The 243 is National Marine Manufacturers Association-rated for 12.) A walk-through transom makes access to the platform easy, and aft transom seats make a great spot to hang out to watch the kids, the sunset or both while at anchor.
There’s very little that’s optional on this luxury performer — another reason the 243 VRX will be a big hit.