Anytime a company provides a vehicle designed to get more people on the water for less money, and do so safely, we view it as a win for everyone. Such is the case with the Sea-Doo SPARK. With a base price of only $5,299 it’s affordable for anyone who has even thought about how nice a day on the water would be. Options exist that add to the ownership experience but we’d only add one item if the goal was to keep the price as low as possible, iBR or Intelligent Braking and Reverse (the HO power option must first be selected). It makes for an easier ride and, in our opinion, a safer one. Either way, this fun ride meets the goal of making fun on the water into a reality… an affordable one. Sea-Doo refers to its design goals with the acronym C.A.F.E. which stands for Clean, Affordable, Fun and Easy. Check, check, check and check.
The Jet Drive
To understand how the Sea-Doo SPARK operates we first have to understand the concept of the jet drive. Unlike a typical boat with the propeller exposed, here the “propeller” is internal, well protected and well clear of coming in contact with anyone or anything. Water is taken in from intake opening under the hull and sent through a protective intake grate feeding the rapidly spinning impeller, compressed and blasted out the rear of the propulsion nozzle. Much like a jet engine, this provides incredible thrust and with such a small vehicle the result is a thrilling ride.
Steering a jet boat or personal watercraft is very basic. It simply requires redirecting the thrust. When the wheel -- or handlebars in this case -- are turned, the exhaust duct is pivoted to redirect the thrust in the chosen direction.
The proper method of operation in this case is to keep the power on and turn away from the rock. Sea-Doo’s (and everyone else’s for that matter) watercrafts maintain a slight bit of thrust to provide a measure of "off throttle steering" but is usually minimal at best.
There is no shifting a jet drive watercraft into reverse. The impeller is always spinning and does so in one direction only. For that reason, some measure of thrust is always coming out of the exhaust nozzle. The throttle controls the volume, and therefore the power, of that thrust. To effectively reverse the vehicle, a bucket is dropped in place that redirects the exhaust forward and the vehicle reverses. In most instances, pulling a lever located in the area of the knees manually operates this reverse bucket. This is the case with the Sea-Doo SPARK, but there is an option for adding an electronic component to this that we will discuss later.
Off Throttle Assisted Steering
This is an important feature that we are especially happy to see. Steering a jet drive is accomplished by directing thrust in different directions. Turn the handlebars to the left, the thrust pushes out the left and the vessel turns left. More thrust equals more steering so a lower thrust setting will have a lesser response to the steering. Previously, when releasing the trigger, steering would be eliminated completely. Imagine speeding along and seeing a submerged rock, releasing the trigger and turning hard, only the PWC keeps right on going straight ahead. But with Off Throttle Assisted Steering (OTAS), when turning the handlebars hard left or right, a measure of thrust is still maintained so that there is steering, even when the throttle trigger is released. This is a huge safety improvement and one that Sea-Doo is understandably proud of.
The Sea-Doo SPARK is a light vehicle, but also strong. It is made from a material called Polytec. Sea-Doo tells us that it is a recyclable, low-density and high-impact composite material that includes polypropylene and long glass fiber reinforcements.Sea-Doo uses it for its hull and deck applications as it maintains the structural integrity of the watercraft under stress while at the same time providing light yet durable parts.
Laws in all 50 states
, and abroad, require that the operator wear a safety lanyard. One end of the safety lanyard plugs into a ball and socket type arrangement at the handlebars. Without the lanyard being engaged, the SPARK will not start. The other end of the lanyard connects to the operator. The typical method of connecting this is with an eye affixed to the flotation jacket, another required item.Everyone who rides a personal watercraft such as this is required to wear a flotation vest. The orange lifejackets that boaters wear will not do, as a vest not only provides better flotation, it is much safer in the event of getting ejected from the vehicle. Now that term, "ejected from the vehicle", sounds worse than it is. But the simple fact is it's actually kind of fun when that happens. Choppy conditions can help with this. With that said, keep in mind that buzzing around behind the large yacht generating a huge wake is illegal, unsafe, and grounds for negligent operation.
A Smart Beginner’s Feature.
Finally, Sea-Doo offers a “learning key fob” that replaces the standard lanyard. This key fob interacts with the electronic throttle and reduces the performance level of the engine to give a new rider the chance to slowly get acclimated to the handling characteristics of the vessel. It’s a better way to give the keys to someone who’s never been on one before and let them “try it out”.
When PWCs were first introduced several decades ago they had a reputation for annoying the residents of homes along the shoreline where they operated. But over the years, two things have occurred to pretty much eliminate this potential problem. First, responsible PWC operators are generally much more considerate of waterfront occupants than they once were, and, two, the PWC industry has taken steps to quiet their vehicles. Sea-Doo’s D-Sea-Bel System combines a series of resonators and vibration absorbing components to reduce noise, and in our opinion it works. While standing on the beach watching the SPARK being delivered for our evaluation, our first comment was “wow its sure quiet!”
When walking up to the Sea-Doo SPARK, the first thing we noticed was its “open architecture.” The front of the vehicle is open and this minimalist architecture keeps only the essential structural parts in the bow. A major benefit of this, of course, is weight reduction. At only 405 lbs. (184 kg), the SPARK ranks among the lightest vehicles on the water. This alone makes it an attractive watercraft for mounting it on a boat’s swim platform. But it also adds to sporty handling with less power. A front storage compartment is an option.
The exoskeleton hull
design of the SPARK also has an added benefit of being less expensive to maintain. Should a piece of the SPARK become damaged, it's easy to simply remove that piece and replace it, rather than have to repair or replace the entire vehicle. This system is pretty much what is used today in the auto industry, where body shops simply order a new fender, get overnight delivery, and bolt on the new part, minimizing labor expenses.
Closed Loop Cooling System
With a closed cooling system, there's the benefit of no saltwater touching the engine. Much like a car's radiator, coolant is used to keep the engine running at an ideal temperature and internal components free from salt water and debris. But instead of air traveling over a radiator to keep that temperature, Sea-Doo utilizes a heat exchanger system.
Dual Purpose Structure.
Metal plates run down both sides of the hull to transfer the temperature of the water to the engine coolant. These heat exchanger plates also serve as reinforced mounting points for the engine. In this manner the engines are mounted to a solid piece of metal rather than the Polytec material of the hull.
Accessing maintenance points are easy to reach. A side panel to the left exposes the battery, fuses and coolant reservoir. To the right is a cover over the oil dipstick and fill. That’s it.
While the battery, fuses, coolant, dip stick, and oil fill are accessible, the engine itself is not. Why not? Again, Sea-Doo is recognizing the reality of the new world as lead by the auto industry. Who, today, tinkers with their new-car engine? Who would want to? The fact is virtually all new cars are engineered and built to keep the operators hands out from under the hood, except to add oil, coolant, and wiper fluid.
Simply put, this is a beginner’s machine and Sea-Doo thinks the best way to keep Joe Weekender from messing with the components is to limit access. Again, like the auto industry, Sea-Doo thinks that SPARK owners will have a more satisfying ownership experience by leaving more involved maintenance to qualified Sea-Doo techs. To aid peace of mind, the SPARK has a one-year warranty. (For those who simply must get at the engine, it can be done by taking a screw gun, back out the fastenings, and separate the deck from the hull, thus exposing the engine.)
Comfort Griping Pads.
The handlebars are pretty straightforward. Sea-Doo adds a bit of comfort with palm rests to each grip. This allows the rider to rest his or her palm on the handgrip and not expend the finger muscles to keep the hands in position. We find this a welcome feature, because the simple fact is that it gets tiring holding one’s hands in position by constantly maintaining a grip. Resting them in position makes for a surprisingly comfortable ride and goes a long way towards eliminating rider fatigue. Trust us, the difference was noticeable. The fact that this feature is even on the most entry-level offering wasn’t lost on us either.
Digital Information Center
The central gauge is digital and offers selectable information. Upon activating the ignition, the display defaults to the speedometer and the speed information is generated by GPS. Fuel level bars are located to the right hand side of the gauge, while any engine alarms that come up will be displayed to the left. Pushing the button at the bottom allows the operator to cycle the display through a tachometer readout and hour meter.
Sport Mode/Touring Mode
With the larger HO engine, there is also the opportunity to switch between sport mode, with its more "aggressive" behaviors (as aggressive as we can get with a 90-hp motor anyway) and touring mode with this more benign performance envelope. With the touring mode, squeezing the trigger all the way will only result in a gradual acceleration to top speed. In sport mode, it's more of a "launch".
The SPARK can also be used as a tow vehicle, but to remain compliant with state laws this will require the three-person version. A tow eye at the rear can be used for towing the kids on a tube and an aft facing observer can remain secure with the handgrips surrounding the rear of the seat.
There’s just no talking about the Sea-Doo SPARK ride without using the word “fun.” It's just a flat-out fun machine to be on. While it has a good power-to-weight ratio, its got relatively low power, industry-wide speaking of course, so it's a bit difficult to get into trouble short of driving it straight into a dock. It corners like a motorcycle and cranks around turns with great agility and even its best acceleration, while feeling exhilarating, is relatively tame compared to high-performance machines. We actually found ourselves adding to the aggressiveness by standing during most maneuvers and forcing the Sea-Doo SPARK to lean into the turns a little bit more. By cranking it on its side and adding power into the turn, the SPARK will kick around a little bit faster, straightening out, and launch in the next direction.
This is a vehicle that will rarely be used in cruising mode but will simply be getting itself wrung out with hard figure eights and doughnuts or jumping over chop. It's these characteristics that make it such an easy decision for the first-time buyer as well as someone looking to add a toy to the yacht.
But We’re Not An Entry-Level Operator!
Why did BoatTEST send a test captain, with a lifetime’s experience on the water, most of it on a professional level in large yachts and commercial vessels, to evaluate the SPARK? He was decidedly not the SPARK’s target audience. But with a world of experience on hundreds of different watercraft of all sizes and types, he could put the SPARK in context, not only compared to other PWCs but also to any vessel.
The Beginner Test.
Nevertheless, we needed a true beginner, entry-level operator to give us an opinion. So we took the unprecedented step of fetching a 16-year-old with no experience on the water and convincing him (not a hard job) to take it for a spin. After a safety brief, we sent him off. The learning curve was practically non-existent and he took to the SPARK like… well, a duck takes to water. He had no problem maneuvering around and was able to handle the SPARK with ease and with no discomfort while operating in close proximity to our camera chase boat. It also seemed like there was no middle ground between idle and full throttle. Top speed was comfortable enough to head right to it without hesitation.
So while our opinion of the ease of operation rings true, a definitive entry-level operator now validates it. …So there.
How to Buy and Make it Your Own
Part of the fun of owning any vehicle is personalizing it. This is a big part of the purchase experience with the Sea-Doo SPARK. The first decision one has to make is to choose between five colors. Sea-Doo offers the SPARK in Chili Pepper, Blueberry, Key Lime, Vanilla and Pineapple.
Then we choose how it is going to be powered. There are only two choices: the base Rotax 900 ACE 60-hp engine, or the 900 HO ACE 90-hp engine ($600). Both are among the most fuel-efficient engines on the market and are clean burning (ACE... Advanced Combustion Efficiency). The 900 will bring the SPARK into the area of around 40 mph. The high output version will provide better acceleration and bring the top speed up higher.Frankly, several options require the larger engine. So to our eye, the larger engine choice seems to be a "might as well get it" type of thing.This is an 899cc 4-stroke engine, with three cylinders and four valves per cylinder. Sea-Doo claims that it is the most compact and lightweight engine on the market. Without a doubt it delivers excellent power-to-weight ratio. And it runs on 87-octane gas.
Then we decide whether we’re going to utilize the SPARK for two people or three ($700 + $500 engine upgrade). With three people, there is a different seat configuration and it will also need the higher engine power of the 900 HO. The vehicle itself is also extended to provide more flotation to accommodate a third person. The hull is extended from 110” (279 cm) to 120” (305 cm). Dry weight will increase from 405 lbs. (184 kg) to 421 lbs. (191 kg).
Next we can choose up to 60 different color packages for the SPARK. Choices are offered for panel kits ($409.99) as well as graphic kits that, depending on complexity, range from $100-$450. Sea-Doo calls these “Attitude Graphics”, and with good reason.
Now we add comfort items. As we stated at the beginning of this report, the first thing that we would add is iBR, Intelligent Breaking and Reverse ($1,600 with engine upgrade and the Convenience Package. Plus that includes the front storage bin and the reboarding step). This is a clever feature that we would absolutely add to the SPARK.
on the left-hand side of the handlebar brakes and puts the SPARK into reverse mode, but to be clear it actually is an intelligent reverse. When operating at full cruise speed, we can squeeze this trigger and the SPARK will stop in the shortest distance possible, while maintaining control of the vehicle and not ejecting the rider over the handlebars.
The intelligent aspect
comes into play as the trigger is squeezed and the power is slightly dropped while the reverse bucket drops into place. This allows the vehicle to be stopped in a timely manner, but not so fast that control is lost. There's still enough thrust where effective steering is still maintained.iBR is also effective for operating around the dock. It's much easier to maneuver the SPARK into position against the dock by simply shifting it into and out of reverse while controlling the approach to the dock.
Keeping with operations Sea-Doo offers a variable trim system ($209.99) that allows for changing the running attitude of the SPARK on the fly. Buttons added to the left handlebar will vary the angle of the thrust nozzle and thus increase or decrease the riding angle of the SPARK as it runs across the water. This is a good feature to have, especially when there will be others riding on board.
Among the electrical components we can add are a bilge pump ($129.99), a depth finder ($309.99) and a 12V accessory plug ($49.99) that will not only allow for charging items like cell phones but also will provide a place to plug in an inflator for water toys.
Since the SPARK is not intended to spend its life on a trailer we may want to consider adding snap-in fenders ($94.99), perhaps a sandbag anchor ($29.99) to keep it from drifting off the beach and the Sea-Doo speed tie system ($199.99) that adds retractable dock lines mounted directly to the SPARK. Lastly, we would add a cover ($199.99) to keep it protected from the elements when not in use.
The SPARK doesn't come with a trailer, simply because not everyone wants one. Trailers are offered as an option ranging from $774.99 for a painted version to $837.99 for a galvanized version. Wider trailers to transport two at a time are also available from $1,199.99 for a painted model to $1,299.99 for a galvanized model.
With the Sea-Doo SPARK rigged "our way", the retail price hovers around $7,533. This still represents a bargain for something that will allow families so much fun on the water for so long. For the price of a here-today-gone-tomorrow weekend away, the family can stay at home, still enjoy their time together, and do it again and again and again.This is the whole point of the Sea-Doo SPARK. It gets more people on the water and having more fun for less money. It's a simple statement, and one that gets played out so well with this entry-level watercraft. Furthermore, buyers can take comfort in the fact that the company will be standing behind the product with a one-year warranty. And one will look at it, because we see the SPARKs all over the place – on yachts, being towed in tandem down the highway, and in rivers, lakes and in the ICW. It is about as forgiving as a PWC can be made and it is already responsible for getting thousands of new enthusiasts into the boating sport.
Standard and Optional Features
Full Warranty Information on this brand coming soon!