In presenting a Watercraft of The Year award to an Original Equipment (OE) manufacturer, The Watercraft Journal acknowledges achievements in innovation, design, overall execution and the model’s lasting affect on the marketplace and/or industry. Contenders were culled from the near two-dozen personal watercraft individually reviewed over the 2019 model year. No entries were eligible that The Watercraft Journal’s staff didn’t personally review. Maintaining abject objectivity is key. In many cases, certain watercraft that were personal favorites of the WCJ staff (like the ’19 Yamaha EXR, a favorite for this author) didn’t make the cut. Others that hadn’t been considered came away with irrefutably high scores.
And that leads us to The Watercraft Journal’s Watercraft of The Year award scoring, or IDEA score. Each of the aforementioned four categories (innovation, design, execution, affect) account for a maximum of 10 points each, totaling a combined 40 possible points. This year, we thought it prudent to list each model’s accumulated score, as it’ll show the narrow margin that some models were within of its next contender. Again, judging a potential winner is not merely a matter of subjectivity, but weighing several key factors, comparing notes, weighing public opinion, reviewing a year’s worth of service claims, etc.
Finally, as we did for last year’s Watercraft of The Year award, we’re including the video review of each respective model that earned its place on the dais. The Watercraft Journal is the only personal watercraft magazine that religiously publishes full-length reviews of the newest PWC and produces a video to accompany each feature, giving the enthusiasts (and first-time buyers) the best, most comprehensive data to make an informed purchase. Each of the machines in this article are worthy of the top honor in certain key segments, as every PWC excelled in one category over the other. Although awarding one machine the highest honor inevitably garners grumbles from the opposition, it is important to know just how close these three watercraft came within the margin of earning the overall award.
2019 Watercraft of The Year 2nd Runner-Up: 2019 Yamaha FX SVHO WaveRunner
Innovation: 9; Design: 9; Execution: 8; Affect: 8; Total: 34 points
What if we told you that the only two-time Watercraft of The Year winner and the winningest runabout in the past decade would be nearly completely replaced by a full-sized three-seater? Well in 2019, that’s exactly what happened. Yamaha radically redesigned its FX SVHO WaveRunner for 2019, and the result was a full-sized runabout that behaved like a machine half its size. The 2019 FX SVHO wowed performance enthusiasts with its light weight (818-pounds versus the previous model’s 833-pounds) despite being marginally larger (140.9-inches long vs. 140.4-inches; 48.4-inches tall vs. 48-inches; and 50-inches wide vs. 48-inches); it’s sporty inside lean when put through a tight chicane; and most notably, it’s rough water prowess.
These three factors elevated the ’19 FX SVHO in to race-worthy status. Racers looking for a runabout that could soak up the bumps, jostles and bangs of open ocean racing almost unanimously gravitated from their stripped-down, bare bones GP1800R raceboats toward the FX SVHO. By the end of the season, lineups at AquaX events were almost all FX Yamahas. This pattern was no more prevalent than at the 2019 IJSBA World Finals, where the Pro Stock Class lineup was entirely Yamahas, the majority being FX’s. Although somewhat slower on the top end, the GP-inspired FX hull proved itself as being predictable even in brutal conditions. The craft’s steadiness at speed, intuitive handling and natural cornering gave it an irrefutable edge.
Moreover, the newly minted FX featured innovation that pushed the PWC industry further: namely, the advent of the industry’s first full-color, digital touchscreen dashboard, footwell drains and innovative RAM multi-mount accessory system. Other additions included a radical increase in storage capacity (44-gal. vs. 33.2-gal.), a one-touch electric-assisted engine starter, and a truly watertight glove box. The ConNext digital dashboard is of special note as it helped raise the bar for onboard PWC instrumentation. Its 4.6-inch screen is compact, yes, but is easy-to-read while at speed, customizable and best of all, easy-to-operate. All of this combined to make the ’19 FX SVHO a truly remarkable watercraft.
2019 Watercraft of The Year 1st Runner-Up: 2019 Sea-Doo Fish Pro
Innovation: 10; Design: 10; Execution: 8; Affect: 7; Total: 35 points
It almost goes without saying that what Sea-Doo achieved with the 2019 Sea-Doo Fish Pro is nothing short of extraordinary. Not only did the industry leader specifically address one of the fastest-growing sub-segments of the personal watercraft industry (ie. PWC fishing), but radically demonstrated the modularity of its ST3 platform. With the introduction of the Fish Pro came a veritable avalanche of new features, accessories and components that Sea-Doo owners across the board suddenly “had to have.” Today, hundreds (if not thousands) of Sea-Doos have been upgraded with items first revealed on the Fish Pro. Sea-Doo wisely capitalized on this, even going so far to make color variants of key accessories available through its Parts & Accessories division.
Fishing enthusiasts have been adapting PWC for angling use for decades now, but Sea-Doo raised the stakes by equipping the Fish Pro with the very best the industry could offer. Foremost is the Fish Pro’s Garmin ECHOMAP Plus 62cv Fish Finder and in-hull transducer. The 6-inch, full-color screen displays pages of charts, depth and seafloor mapping, all using CHIRP technology producing high definition live imaging. An 11-inch deck extension adds to the Fish Pro’s overall length, providing ample room for a second set of LinQ mounts and it’s massive 13.5-gallon LinQ cooler (that can be easily plumbed to become a live well tank) replete with a cutting board integrated into the lid, a cargo net for tools, and multi-place rod holder system.
Additional touches included the angled footwell guards; a thicker, flat-topped bench seat makes maneuverability around the Fish Pro a little easier; the new iTC (Intelligent Throttle Control) feature “Trolling Mode,” permitting fishermen to toggle through low speed presets, from 2mph to 9mph; and of course, the 18.5-gallon fuel tank. By no fault of its own, the 2019 Sea-Doo Fish Pro’s sales were hindered by it’s limited market segment. The Sea-Doo sold strongest where PWC fishing was already popular, as one might expect; but the true test was where newfound interest was kindled. The 2019 Fish Pro didn’t just fill a hole in the marketplace, but introduced the uninitiated with a product that could do what a population didn’t previously consider. And that in itself is praiseworthy.
2019 Watercraft of The Year Winner: 2019 Yamaha VX Cruiser HO WaveRunner
Innovation: 7; Design: 9; Execution: 10; Affect: 10; Total: 36 points
The poet John Lydgate famously cautioned, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” And while some will cry that there’s nothing particularly unique about the 2019 Yamaha VX Cruiser HO WaveRunner, it manages to perform Lydgate’s final act surprisingly well…so much so that this WaveRunner has outsold every single other PWC on the market for the second consecutive year in a row. That, and its deceptively simple-yet-masterfully balanced package has fatefully earned it The Watercraft Journal’s 2019 Watercraft of The Year award!
Its popularity is an even greater feat when you realize that this $11,499 mid-sized runabout outsold Rec-Lite watercraft for half the cost – particularly among first time buyers. So what makes the VX Cruiser HO so successful? As any salesmen will tell you, it’s about quality and value. Despite being more expensive, customers were more likely to spent a little extra for the 767-pound, 3-seater as long as it checked all the right boxes – storage (24.6-gallons), fuel capacity (18.5-gallons) and consumption (an estimated 13.5-gallons per hour at WOT), and ease of use (cruising, touring, towing, reboarding, etc.) – and the 2019 VX Cruiser HO certainly does.
Yet, nearly as important as all of these attributes was mechanical dependability, and the 1,812cc High Output 4-stroke four-cylinder is easily one of the best. Producing a naturally-aspirated 180-horsepower, almost every VX Cruiser HO owner we talked to parroted similar feelings: “I wanted something dependable,” “I didn’t want a [PWC] that needed a lot of upkeep,” “It had to be reliable,” and the comments go on.
It’s hard to argue with the overwhelming majority, and thousands have voted with their wallets in favor of the VX Cruiser HO. Maxing out at a tad over 62mph @ 7,500rpm, the VX won’t set the world on fire, but being the fastest PWC on the water is not the goal here. Yamaha created a machine that strikes the perfect balance for the widest audience – effectively pleasing all of the people all of the time, and for that earns this year’s Watercraft of The Year award.