Who Invented Jet Skis and Sea-Doos? History of PWCs [Video]

Home/News/Who Invented Jet Skis and Sea-Doos? History of PWCs [Video]

Personal watercraft (PWC) have become increasingly popular over the years. In fact,Yamaha WaveRunners, Sea-Doos and Jet Skis have been around for decades.

But which was the first personal watercraft brand on the market? And who invented Jet Skis and Sea-Doos?

We at JetDrift have compiled the most interesting facts about PWC history and their inventors as well!

Who Invented Jet Skis and Sea-Doos?

American-born Clayton Jacobson II invented the Jet Ski as well as Sea-Doo PWCs. The first personal watercraft on the market was a sit-down type Sea-Doo, released by Bombardier in 1968.

But who is Clayton Jacobson II?

Jacobson and his family moved to the U.S. West Coast in the early 1930s, moving away from Northfield, Minnesota, where they first settled when leaving Norway.

Sarah Fauntelle Shrock gave birth to Clayton Junior Jacobson on born Oct. 12, 1933, in Portland, Oregon. During the mid-1940s, Clayton Jacobson Sr. and the family moved to South California – what they called the Promised Land.

Jacobson attended Manual Arts High School and Los Angeles City College, where he studied both engineering and physics. He spent a plethora of his time street racing, bodybuilding and working in an auto body shop.

A love for airplanes and flying led him to join the Marine Corps Reserve (Air Corps), where he also worked on jets at the Los Alamitos Army Airfield. Here, he also studied jet engine technology and drafting.

Jacobson became an avid motorcycle racer in the 1960s, which found him riding by himself in the Mojave Desert. Although dangerous, it was a way to overcome the heat and have some psychological advantage, riding without any sleeves or a padded leather jumper.

After suffering a minor accident at the racetrack, Jacobson was talking with a friend in an irrigation ditch, picking gravel from his wounds and declaring there had to be a way to enjoy the excitement motorcycles can bring without the danger of high-speed falls.

It was that night Jacobson came up with the motorcycle for the water sketch, which looked like a powered water ski!

Coming Up With The Jet Skis and Sea-Doos


In the 1960s, Jacobson quit working in finance to chase his dream of creating a PWC full-time. His first prototype was developed by 1965. It was a fixed hand pole, stand-up design made out of aluminum, with its power coming from the West Bend two-stroke engine to power the jet pump.

 

In 1966, he came up with a second prototype, which captured Bombardier Recreational Products’ attention. This led to the licensing of Jacobson’s patents to get a sit-down version of the jet-propelled PWC that would eventually be dubbed Sea-Doo. 

 

For this design, a 320 cc Rotax engine was used, which needed a bigger planning surface and an applicable amount of induction for air cooling. Jacobson came up with a totally new sit-down model, which he applied to have patented in February 1968. 

 

Thus, the first personal watercraft to hit the market was the Sea-Doo, which was manufactured from 1968 to 1970.

 

Even when his license agreement with Bombardier ended, Jacobson II still worked on his stand-up PWC with Kawasaki, a Japanese company. It was Kawasaki that came out with the first commercially successful PWC in 1972 – the first stand-up Jet Ski. And, for over a decade, it was the only company to manufacture PWCs. 

 

Jacobson began working with Yamaha Motor Company in 1986, where he entered into a 10-year contract, signing on as a consultant to the water vehicle division. Later that year, Yamaha got involved with the PWC market.


In 1988, Bombardier re-introduced its Sea-Doo line and the Sea-Doo vs. WaveRunner vs. Jet Ski competition began!

 

Were There Other PWC Manufacturers?

During the 1990s, the popularity in PWCs grew, which means other companies began to manufacture their own PWC to market to the world.

These companies were Arctic Cat, Honda, Mastercraft and Polaris. However, none of these companies have continued with their PWC line production.

It’s easy to become confused by the brand names, generic names and manufacturers, which is why JetDrift came up with a small summary table that includes the primary manufacturers with their brand names:

StartedEndedBrand nameManufacturer
1968-Sea-DooBombardier (BRP)
1972-Jet SkiKawasaki
19781992WetBikeArctic Cat
19851993Wet JetKoronis Part Inc. (Sold to MasterCraft)
1986-WaveRunnerYamaha
19922004SeaLionPolaris
19931999TigersharkArctic Cat
19941997Wet JetMasterCraft
20022009AquaTraxHonda
20042006HydrospaceHydrospace (sold to Benelli)
2006 -BurrascaBelassi
2008 -KrashKrash Industries
2018 -Narke ElectrojetNarke
2018 -OrcaTaiga

Current PWC Manufacturers

There are currently four PWC manufacturers on the market – Kawasaki, BPR (Sea-Doo) Yamaha and Krash Industries.

While Krash has been offering aftermarket hulls for years, it’s just now getting into the PWC market. If you want to purchase a personal watercraft for yourself, it’s always a good idea to do some research to see what models are currently manufactured.

Check out our PWC comparison tool or look through the various models each brand offers:

Conclusion

What are some important dates you need to be aware of?

  • Clayton Jacobson II invented the first PWC in the 1960s.
  • First sit-down PWC was marketed under the name Sea-Doo by BRP in 1968.
  • BRP quit PWC manufacturing in 1970.
  • Kawasaki introduces its Jet Ski in 1972 after licensing with Bombardier ends.
  • Kawasaki is the only manufacturer of PWCs until 1986.
  • Yamaha begins its production of WaveRunner models in 1986.
  • BPR introduced a new line of Sea-Doo PWCs in 1988.
  • Honda introduced its four-stroke, turbocharged PWC in 2002.
  • Krash Industries got involved with the PWC industry in 2008 by becoming an aftermarket hull manufacturer.

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