Boat Review by: Craig Ritchie
With its unique Polytec tri-hull design, handlebar steering controls, and modular deck design that allows furniture to be repositioned on the fly, Sea-Doo’s Switch is unlike any pontoon boat that’s ever come before. Things get even funkier with the Switch Sport model, which adds watersports capability to a pocket pontoon that’s clearly built for fun.
Like all Switch models, Switch Sport rides on a tough Polytec tri-hull with a deep centre section and shallow side sponsons - an arrangement that gives the boat true PWC-like handling including the ability to carve super-tight turns then blast away with explosive acceleration. And as with the base Switch, the Sport comes in three different sizes stretching 13, 18 and 21 feet, respectively.
But that’s where Switch Sport begins to step out on its own, beginning with more powerful engines that give it an impressive power-to-weight ratio. For example, the 13-foot long Sport comes equipped with a Rotax 1630 ACE engine churning out 170 horsepower, which rips the little pontoon along at speeds of around 45 mph.
The larger Sport models get even more juice under the hood in the form of the Rotax 1630 ACE 230 ECT – a supercharged, upgraded version of the already powerful pusher that in this case unleashes a full 230 horsepower. That’s more than enough oomph to blast the 21-footer along at near 45 mph and rocket the lighter-weight 18-foot Sport even higher.
Because Sea-Doo knows better than anyone that power is nothing without control, the Switch Sport gets a few additional goodies at the helm. Being designed with watersports in mind, the helm comes with a dedicated Ski Mode that’s easily activated right on the handlebars to provide precise speed control when towing skiers, wakeboarders or kids on a tube.
Wait – handlebars?
You bet – if you’ve not been paying attention, all Sea-Doo Switch models come with handlebar steering rather than a traditional wheel. This integrates steering and throttle controls into a comfortable single unit that really fits well with the Sport’s playful personality. Sea-Doo’s iBR intelligent braking and reverse function comes as standard equipment, of course, along with a power trim adjustment for the jet drive.
The Sport handlebar also includes touchpad controls to select between driving modes – Eco, Sport, Ski, and Cruise Control, which allows the driver to rest their right hand by not holding the throttle continuously. The Sport model further adds a seven inch Garmin touch-screen GPS with a free regional map token, a BRP audio system, and a nice Bimini top overhead.
So how does it all work? Shockingly well, as I found out first-hand during a Sea-Doo media preview in Quebec this summer. The Ski Mode feature is particularly impressive, digitally controlling the throttle to provide the driver with precise, repeatable launches that lift a wakeboarder or give the kids’ tube ride a comfortable and predictable start. Activating Ski Mode is easy – just toggle through the modes on the left handlebar’s thumb pad till you see SKI displayed on the digital dash display, then click the OK button on the right handlebar. From there, you can select the ramp speed that gets the rider moving by toggling up and down on the right grip, then hit OK and set the maximum tow speed. The digital display shows SKI READY and you’re all set to go. You can reset the ramp and tow speeds as you go, of course, making it a cinch to accommodate different riders in quick succession.
After trying the system on my Sport test ride and comparing indicated speeds to those recorded on my phone’s GPS, I can say the Sport was bang-on every single time. Switch Sport has a couple more tricks up its sleeve when it comes to watersports enjoyment - starting with a big rear-view mirror at the helm which comes as standard equipment. There’s also a comfortable flip-up bolster for the helm seat, to make it even easier to keep watch while towing someone.
The ability to move furniture around further contributes to the boat’s prowess on the watersports front. Like all Switch models, the entire floor features LinQ tiles that allow seats and tables to be moved anywhere, making it a breeze to set up a full-width aft-facing lounger, for example, so that everyone can keep tabs on the action out back.
The other trick piece of standard equipment that comes on the Sport model is the rear swim platform. Not only does this make a perfect jumping-off spot for a swim or taking a turn on the kneeboard, the platform adds a lot of extra utility to the boat overall. Integrated LinQ attachment points allow the platform to carry an optional snap-on cooler if desired, which frees up interior space while still keeping cold drinks within reach. Or take advantage of the built-in tube holder and mount inflatables on the platform when not in use – once again freeing up a pile of interior space and helping keep the seats dry. Got a big wakeboard? An optional side rack keeps it safely stowed till needed.
Anyone getting into the water will appreciate the Switch Sport’s lack of an exposed propeller, thanks to the Sea-Doo’s internal jet pump system. Like the clear-view side panels that offer exceptional 360-degree vision of what’s happening in the water alongside the boat, it’s one of those little things that all watersports-loving families will definitely appreciate.
But even if watersports aren’t in your family’s DNA, there are still plenty of reasons to love the Sea-Doo Switch Sport, starting with its bow lounge. It is a simple but brilliant design that consists of an extensive sun pad with back rests that fit into the deck to provide the ultimate in comfortable full-flop seating. There are even movable arm rests with drink holders that mount between the cushions for even greater comfort. Eliminating the coloured fairing that sits atop the bow fencing on the Sport model provides much better forward visibility for passengers riding up front, while further making the boat easier to step in and out of at dockside.
Those bow loungers, by the way, are by far the best seats in the house when going for a ride, as I found out on my sea trial. Surrendering the helm to another journalist, I took a seat up front and got comfy as my companion put the boat through its paces, trying a series of spirited acceleration runs, fun slaloms and a couple of attempts to jump the wake of a passing cruiser.
I have to admit – I was honestly surprised at how much fun I was having. I mean, there’s no real seat – you’re sitting on the floor here. That said, the thick sun pad did eat up the bumps far more effectively than I expected, and the truth is with my unhindered, clear view of the water rushing by through the clear side panels and the lowered front fencing, the experience was a lot more like riding on a toboggan than riding in a boat. Meaning – if Sea-Doo’s Switch Sport won’t put a smile on your face, then I’m sorry, but there’s no hope for you at all.
Behind the helm, that broad smile quickly turns into a full-fledged grin as the raw power and instant throttle response of the big Rotax – accented by the precise, handlebar steering – feel far more like driving a Sea-Doo than a pontoon boat. With the Sport’s extra power, planing is easy with a touch of negative trim, while the lowered front skirting really does enhance the driver’s view and provide an extra thrill.
The Sea-Doo Switch Sport is an easy-going, carefree pontoon boat that’s built with young families in mind and new boaters looking for fresh ideas. As a 59 year-old, grey-haired guy who’s been around boats most of my life, I’m about as far from Sea-Doo’s target market as it gets. Yet I had a real blast in the Switch Sport. Even if you’re not the buyer they had in mind, it’s hard to not enjoy this grand little boat. With its spirited performance and playful attitude, this one leads the pack in pure smiles per mile.
|Dry weight:||2,508 lbs||1,140 kg|
|Fuel Capacity:||29 US gal||109.7 L|
|Base Engine / Drive:||1630 ACE 230 ECT|