By SCOT MAGNISH
There are two types of cottage people: Those who love personal watercraft, and those who despise them.
Whether you call it a Jet Ski, a Wave Runner, a Sea-Doo or just plain annoying, all personal watercraft made to date have been powered by two-stroke engines that run loud and dirty.
That’s about to change. Honda announced last fall that they intend to enter the personal watercraft market with a four-stroke machine that promises to be quiet, clean and environmentally friendly.
"With personal watercraft, we’re entering a market that has seen a lot of ups and downs ... a certain amount of volatility," said Honda V-P Ray Blank.
"Our watercraft will appeal to the family-oriented customer, combining Honda’s legendary performance, quality and reliability. And because it’s a four-stroke, it’s a responsible answer to environmental issues."
The machines will be a godsend to cottagers fed up with the constant buzz of personal watercraft; four-stroke engines rev lower and run much quieter than their two-stroke cousins.
They also run cleaner. Environmentalists claim one personal watercraft powered by a two-stroke engine operating for one hour creates more pollution than a car creates in ten years of driving.
It’s because two-strokes run on a mixture of gas and oil and spew unburned fossil fuels out into the atmosphere when they’re running. Four strokes are designed to run on gas alone and can be equipped with catalytic converters to reduce their relatively low emissions even further.
Honda claims their machine will meet the 2006 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emission standards when production begins this fall - and their claim has pushed other manufacturers to follow suit.
Bombardier, Kawasaki and Polaris have all adapted direct fuel-injection technology to two-stroke engines in several models in a bid to reduce their machine’s emission levels. Meanwhile, Yamaha is reportedly looking at four-stroke engines for their Waverunners in a bid to keep up with Honda.
Yamaha executives confirmed they are studying the technology but declined to comment on rumours that a model could be unveiled this year.
Overall, Honda’s entry into the personal watercraft market has been welcomed by other industry players, who have suffered from a steady decline in recent years.
Annual sales of personal watercraft in the U.S. have dropped from 200,000 units to 100,000 units in the last five years.
"Overall, it’s really great that Honda is doing this," Yamaha’s Scott Watkins told the enthusiast press last fall. "We’re glad to see Honda enter the business. It could help boost the image of the sport."
According to Blank, that’s exactly what Honda wants to do.
"As a leader in the promotion of both responsible use and the safe operation of our products, Honda will be a strong advocate for the proper operation of our watercraft," Blank summed up.
Which is all good news for cottagers who cringe at the thought of seeing a Jet Ski, a Wave Runner or a Sea Doo tied to their neighbor’s dock.
It’s also good news for those who have all three in the boathouse already: If Honda can do the same thing for personal watercraft that they’ve done for boat motors, the sport really could be in for kinder, gentler revival.