Sea-Doo raised a lot of eyebrows this summer when it announced its all-new Sea-Doo Switch pontoon boat. The company that brought the world's first personal watercraft to market way back in 1968 has always been known for innovation, so when news of Sea-Doo's new pontoon broke, we only had one thought - how do we take this thing for a ride?
The Sea-Doo Switch definitely sounds different from any other pontoon made, with its Polytec tri-hull design, handlebar steering controls, and modular deck design that allows furniture to be repositioned on the fly as desired. But what's it like to drive a pontoon that's based on a big personal watercraft drivetrain?
I had the opportunity to find out in late August, joining Sea-Doo on the Ottawa River a day or two before they presented the new boats to their dealer network. With a small group of other journalists, we got to experience the Switch first-hand and all I can say is wow, talk about a thrill ride!
The Sea-Doo Switch isn't one model, but many. The boat comes in three basic trim levels - Base, Sport and Cruise - with each of those offered in different lengths and with different engine options, representing up to 25 possible configurations in all.
Sea-Doo doesn't like using the term "base model" for its standard Switch, and that's understandable because there's nothing basic about it. The standard Switch comes in a choice of 13-foot, 16-foot and 19-foot lengths, with the two shorter hulls powered by either 100-horsepower Rotax 1630 ACE 100 jet pump and the largest Switch getting a 170-horsepower Rotax 1630 ACE170 ECT. All share handlebar steering, clear side panels, and a LinQ tile floor that allows owners to reposition seats, tables and other furnishings on the fly to configure the boat exactly as they wish for a morning's fishing, an afternoon of watersports, or an evening cruise with the grandparents.
Moreover, all Switch models come with Sea-Doo's iBR intelligent brake and reverse feature, which makes docking a cinch in even gusty winds. There's a retractable boarding ladder, of course, and plenty of under-seat and under-deck storage for gear.
Toggling a keypad on the left side of the handlebars allows riders to select between Eco and Sport driving modes. There's also a cruise control feature, so you don't have to hold the throttle down on long rides, and a trim function, which can make a big difference in planing performance - especially when you have a couple of passengers up front. Trim setting is indicated by a simple bar gauge on the dashboard LCD display.
With two passengers up front and the rest of our crew evenly spaced through the cockpit, the big Switch with the 170-horsepower engine planes easily with a bit of negative trim. Further adjustment at full throttle gave us a top speed of 36 mph, which is right in line with similarly sized three-log pontoon boats with comparable horsepower.
The Sporty Type
Families who enjoy watersports, whether that's wakeboarding, kneeboarding or pulling the kids around on a tube will appreciate the additional power and features available on Sea-Doo's mid-level Switch Sport, which comes in lengths of 13, 18 and 21 feet. The compact 13-foot model gets the 170-horsepower naturally aspirated engine, while the two larger Sport models come with a supercharged 230-horsepower Rotax.
Built for watersports, the Sea-Doo Switch Sport comes with a stern swim platform, a large rear-view helm mirror, a Bimini top, a Garmin touch-screen GPS and a dedicated Ski Mode to provide precision starts and towing speeds for riders of all abilities.
The ability to move furniture around as one likes is particularly useful in the Sport, allowing more seats to face aft in order to spot riders and just enjoy the action. Parents will appreciate the boat's lack of an exposed propeller, providing an added measure of safety and comfort when the kids are in the water.
The other big plus with the Sport is the tube holder that comes on the swim platform as standard equipment. This little device allows wet tubes to be carried on the platform when not in use, freeing up seating space in the boat.
But the name Sport doesn't just reference this boat's watersports capabilities - it also notes how much fun it is to drive. With its engine upgrades and that precise handlebar steering, driving the Sea-Doo Switch Sport feels a lot more like driving a traditional Sea-Doo than a pontoon boat. Planing is easy with a touch of negative trim, while the lowered front skirting on the Sport model enhances the driver's view and provides anyone seated up front with an extra thrill. Bury the throttle and you'll quickly find yourself well over 40 mph, which is guaranteed to elicit smiles from all aboard.
One great thing about the handlebar steering is how easy it make it to zig-zag, fishtail and have all kinds of other fun underway. In fact, the Sport is so much fun to drive it seems a shame to travel in a straight line anywhere.
The top-of-the-line Sea-Doo Switch Cruise is considered the luxury model and offered in 18-foot and 21-foot lengths. Cruise trim adds goodies like extra seating, soft-mat floor tiles for added passenger comfort, a Bimini top, a stereo, a Garmin touchscreen GPS and four corner tables. It also offers some interesting options, including a full camper top.
But make no mistake, all that added luxury doesn't dampen the ride one bit. The Switch Cruise is still every bit a Sea-Doo, and that means you're going to have a lot of fun with it.
Engine options for the Sea-Doo Switch Cruise include the 100-, 170- and 230-horsepower engines, with most buyers going to opt for the supercharged 230. With its performance hull and that kind of power under the hood, the 21-foot Switch accelerates like a rocket and hits a top speed of around 45 mph with ease. Our test boat came with a full camper top installed, yet still felt just like a PWC with its powerful acceleration and nimble handling.
Like all Sea-Doo Switch models, the Cruise comes as a package with boat, motor and trailer, and will be priced to compete against similarly-sized pontoons equipped with similar power. What its competitors can't offer is its ability to reconfigure the furniture on the fly, or the jet pump propulsion and no exposed propeller, which will clearly give the Switch Cruise extra family appeal.