2011 Kawasaki Jet Ski 800 SX-R Review

Fun, Agile Standup Back For One Final Year

Story by Jeff Hemmel, Nov. 23, 2010
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Say goodbye to the Kawasaki Jet Ski standup. After 37 years of letting the good times roll on the water, the legendary craft is going away, succumbing to the one-two punch of slow sales and a final deadline on its old-school, two-stroke engine.

The good news? That doesn’t mean if you buy a craft now, you won’t be able to ride it. On the contrary, current machines will be grandfathered in.

And if you needed any more incentive to buy one of the most fun, athletic rides on the water, consider this. Kawasaki is sending out the current 800 SX-R in style, breaking from recent color and graphic schemes to unveil a flashy, tribal-inspired model…that still rides like the best Jet Ski standup ever made.

2011 Kawasaki Jet Ski 800 SX-R

In Your Face

The look is younger and bolder, with red and black the primary accent colors on a white hull, and a tribal-inspired, tattoo-like graphic as the highlight.

“Since we want the last year of the 800SX-R to be very successful sales for our dealers, but we just don't have enough volume to offer multiple colors, we made the decision to ‘go bold’ with the red and black colors with a tribal graphic,” explains Kawasaki Product Manager Croft Long. “This new look should attract some customers who maybe didn't look at our model in the last couple of years, and we hope buyers who really prefer the green will be able to find non-current units to purchase.”

2011 Kawasaki Jet Ski 800 SX-RThe company’s nod to the craft’s significance is subtle. A small badge on the handlepole reads “Tribute to 37 Years of Jet Skis.”

Below the flashy looks, however, remains the tried-and-true Kawasaki hull. Several years back Kawasaki tweaked the design and created a unique mix; the craft became more aggressive in turns for experienced pilots, and yet at the same time easier and more stable for beginners to learn on.

Much of the change came from hullsides that flared outward toward the bow, and slimmed slightly aft. The change was akin to bolting on aftermarket sponsons that had become popular at the time, giving the boat more wetted surface where it counts and positioning the bow higher in the water. Stability also improved, but turning really advanced. The 800 SX-R can lock into a slalom course and carve it up with the precision of a chef at a Japanese steak house. At the same time it porpoises less under acceleration and handles more solidly in rough water.

2011 Kawasaki Jet Ski 800 SX-R

And best of all, the craft retains its familiar, intuitive inside lean, allowing the rider to flow with the boat, and never be required to work against it. If there’s a downside it’s that the boat sometimes feels almost too locked in. If you’re the type who likes a little spin and slide you’ll have to work at it. But for those who love to carve, there’s never been a better Jet Ski.

Old-School Power

The engine that’s in part causing the boat’s demise is still pretty darn good. A 781cc twin-cylinder, two-stroke, it pushes the boat to around 48 mph for those that have the skill to hold on, and features enough low-end punch to leap the boat out of the hole and accelerate strong. It’s also reliable and simple to maintain; many owners can forget trying to work on or troubleshoot today’s more complex four-stroke engines. A two-stroke, however, is much more simple for those with a little mechanical knowledge. Basic daily maintenance is aided by a convenient freshwater flush fitting.

1973 Kawasaki Jet Ski 400
2011 Kawasaki Jet Ski 800 SX-R

It’s also surprisingly easy — with a little practice — to control that power. Slimmer gunwales create a wider rider’s tray than earlier models, allowing riders to better maintain their balance (as well as haul themselves aboard easier when the craft bucks them off). Familiar comfort touches include a padded handlepole, padded tray and gunwales, and spring-loading of that handlepole to lessen the strain on a rider’s back. Beyond that, however, a standup is elegant in its simplicity. There’s no speedo, no info display, no trim or reverse. You just ride it like a bicycle or slalom water ski.

My lone real disappointment for the 2011 model? It’s received a $600 price hike, boosting the price to $7,899. But remember, this is your last chance to get in on the fun, price increase or not. Federal mandates mean that this really is the final year of a legend…that also happens to be one heck of a fun boat.

“Those of us that learned to Jet Ski on a standup, and still love the challenge and excitement of riding one, aren't happy about the situation,” says Kawasaki’s Long, “but the facts are simple. As we told our dealers at the Las Vegas Dealer meeting... ‘Due to emissions regulations the Jet Ski 800SX-R cannot be manufactured after the 2011 model year. There is no replacement model planned. So.... this is it.”

Get ’em while they’re hot.

2011 Kawasaki 800 SX-R Specs
Length 90.6 inches
Beam 28.7 inches
Curb Weight 396.9 lbs
Engine Two-cylinder two-stroke w/crankcase reed valve induction
Displacement 781 cc
Bore and Stroke 82mm x 74mm
Compression Ratio 7.2:1
Rated Horsepower N/A
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal.
Combined Stowage Capacity N/A
Colors Jet White/Ebony
Price $7,899