By Craig Ritchie
The Best of Both Worlds
The author at the helm having a blast driving a gang in the new 2022 Sea-Doo Switch.
Sea-Doo’s all-new Switch marries the performance of a personal watercraft with the versatility of a pontoon boat to create what might just be the perfect entry-level watercraft for young families.
If there’s one thing that’s been a constant throughout BRP’s colourful history, it’s a penchant for stepping outside the box and coming up with what turn out to be ground-breaking innovations. The company that was created around the invention of the snowmobile – and furthered by the invention of the jet-propelled personal watercraft – has never been afraid to adopt revolutionary approaches to what it sees as new opportunities. And they’re doing it again, this time with an eye on the growing number of young buyers entering the boat market.
Combining the sporty performance of a personal watercraft with the versatility of a pontoon boat, Sea-Doo’s all-new Switch is a boat quite unlike anything that’s gone before it. That’s especially evident in its Rotax jet power and PWC-like handlebar steering, its synthetic tri-hull and a boatload of innovative new features that give the Switch completely unique capabilities.
The Sea-Doo Switch isn’t a single model, but a family of boats available in three different lengths, and each with multiple engine choices. All ride on a scratch-resistant Polytec hull design that, from below, looks much like a 12-foot or 14-foot cartopper with a sponson added to each side. The tri-hull design sits deeper in the centre than it does on the sides, giving Switch the stability of a pontoon boat while retaining the ability to dig in on turns and handle very much like a traditional V-hull – or a PWC.
Seats can be easily repositioned as desired
Overhead, a fully flat deck composed of multiple LinQ quick-attach tiles allows owners to move the seats about as they wish by simply releasing a small, brightly coloured locking positioned tab in the seat base. In just a few seconds, Switch owners can configure the vessel as they wish for morning fishing, afternoon wakeboard sessions or evening cruises with the whole family by moving seats, adding additional seats, or shifting table locations to where they work best. BRP notes that while the helm console and seat always remain stationary, everything else onboard is fair game, allowing owners to achieve more than 100 possible configurations in all. How’s that for versatility?
All Sea-Doo Switch models also share revolutionary, clear side body panels, which provide excellent, unimpeded visibility of the water. It’s a novel approach that adds to the experience when underway and represents what Sea-Doo calls a “clear advantage” when docking, monitoring swimmers or spotting wakeboarders.
Extruded gunnel tops provide an opportunity to mount a range of LinQ accessories atop the fencing, including things like drink holders, waterproof storage bags for gear, and some neatly designed Switch fenders which clip to the outer gunnels when not required – keeping wet fenders out of the boat while stowing them securely until they’re needed again.
Wake boarding behind the Sea-Doo Switch with passengers onboard.
All Switch models feature three driving modes (Eco, Standard and Sport) allowing users to customize the ride to suit their individual taste. BRP’s Intelligent Brake and Reverse feature also comes as standard equipment on all Switch models, providing greater confidence when docking or at the launch ramp, as well as allowing drivers to have some fun underway by side-slipping and spinning the boat around in its own length.
We’re not done yet – Switch also comes with a dedicated anchor storage locker in the bow, cruise control, a retractable stern boarding ladder, a ski tow eye and even a painted trailer. Depending on the specific model, some Switch packages include trailer brakes, or further amenities like stereos and Bimini tops.
Available options for all models include a full-enclosure camper top, a wide variety of extra seating and furniture options, and a corner-mounted JL Audio premium sound system complete with four speakers, an amp, a subwoofer and LED accent lighting.
One For All
The trailer makes weekend travel and boating an affordable and attractive plan.
Keeping versatility front-of-mind, Sea-Doo will offer three different models of Switch, with Base, Sport, and Cruise variants. This is where it gets a little confusing, since each of the three core models can be ordered in different lengths and with different power options.
The base model Sea-Doo Switch comes in lengths of 13 feet or 16 feet with a 100 horsepower Rotax 1630 ACE engine, as well as an 18-footer with a 170 horsepower engine. Standard features include a 4.5-inch digital helm display, an adjustable table, a glove box with dual USB ports, a 12-volt outlet, and a huge under-deck storage compartment. Designed with the sensibilities of young families in mind, the basic Switch comes in with a retail price starting at $22,499 Canadian, which is awfully appealing for a full package of boat, motor and trailer. All base model Switch boats come in white with a bright blue nose accent.
Instead of a steering wheel, the Sea-Doo handle bars make sense functionally and give a clear link to the Sea-Doo heritage for owners moving up.
The more upscale Switch Sport lineup, available in white with a blue, red or yellow accent, starts with a 13-foot model with a 170 horsepower naturally-aspirated Rotax engine, and continues with 18-foot and 21-foot floorplans each powered by a supercharged 230 horsepower engine. Standard features include a seven-inch Garmin GPS, an inflatable tube holder on the swim platform that keeps wet towables secure without eating into interior space, a rear-view mirror for watersports and a dedicated Ski Mode. There’s also an upgraded driver’s seat with an integrated bolster, a Bimini top, a glove box with dual USB ports, LED courtesy lighting, two corner tables, the aforementioned aft swim platform and a stern lounge seat. The 18-foot and 21-foot models also come with a watertight BRP Bluetooth audio system.
Sea-Doo’s top-of-the-line Switch Cruise model is also offered in a choice of blue, red or yellow accent colour, lengths of 18 feet or 21 feet, and a choice of 100 horsepower, 170 horsepower and 230 horsepower power options. Standard features in the Cruise include a seven-inch Garmin GPS with a free regional map token, a BRP sound system, a Bimini top, a swim platform, deck mats, a stern lounge, four corner tables with drink holders, a glove box with twin USB ports, LED courtesy lighting, under seat storage, corner table storage, an under-deck storage compartment, additional seating and storage, and an upgraded helm seat with bolster.
Prices for the Switch Sport and Cruise models range up to $46,000 Canadian depending on options, keeping even the most expensive configurations still in line with comparable aluminum pontoons while delivering what the company notes is greater versatility, power and performance.
Fun Comes Standard
It doesn’t really matter which Switch you opt for, because fun comes standard in every model.
BRP had all three versions of its new jet pontoon available for test rides at a media event held in the days following its official announcement. Although I’m not the target market at all, I’ll readily admit – it’s a load of fun to drive.
The innovative interior flooring and LinQ system gives the Sea-Doo Switch amazing versatility.
My first experience at the helm came aboard a 21-foot Switch Cruise model decked out with a full camper top and pretty well every available option – including the 230 horsepower supercharged Rotax engine. In spite of this being the largest and heaviest Switch variant, underway it still felt a lot more like a Sea-Doo PWC than any pontoon boat I’ve ever driven before. The handlebar steering and handgrip throttle do admittedly take a bit of getting used to, but it doesn’t take long before you begin to appreciate the design and agree with the decision that this is the right set-up for the highly responsive Switch.
Acceleration – whether from a dead stop or from halfway through the powerband – is virtually instantaneous, with the power coming on immediately, yet in a measured, controlled way. After a few minutes to get the feel of the boat and its unique hull structure, you quickly develop confidence and feel right at home adopting increasingly sharper turns. Yet in spite of its power, the Switch Cruise simply goes where you point it – and gets there pretty quickly as well.
In-floor storage is another smart design feature.
The mid-range Switch Sport that BRP had available for test rides also had the 230-horsepower supercharged Rotax, and in the shorter and lighter 18-foot hull, the responsive throttle was even more fun. Unlike the bigger Cruise model, the front deck in the Sport was configured with the bow set up as a big sunpad, complete with two forward-facing backrests. Hands-down that’s the most enjoyable seat in the house when the boat is underway, in spite of the revealing view of the water through the clear side panels. The sight of oncoming boat wakes does look a bit alarming being so low to the water, but the floating Polytec hull always managed to rise to the challenge and keep the water out of the boat.
Although the least powerful variant with its 170 horsepower naturally-aspirated engine, the 13-foot base Switch – named the Compact in a nod to its trim dimensions – was arguably the most fun of all. The responsive throttle and short hull length make it a genuine blast to drive, especially if you try fishtailing it back and forth PWC-style.
More than any other, this model really makes the most of BRP’s standard Intelligent Brake and Reverse feature, allowing you to – with a bit of practice – literally turn the boat 360 degrees in pretty much its own length. Not much larger than a three-seat Sea-Doo, the Compact is far more personal watercraft than pontoon boat – even if it does require a bit of trim to get it up on plane when you have all your passengers seated in the stern.
The Future of Boating
With its bold look, innovative features and distinctive design, Switch is very much designed and built with younger buyers in mind. In fact, BRP invested heavily in extensive market research in order to ensure Switch speaks directly to the young, first-time buyers that Sea-Doo sees as the future of boating. “We saw a gap in the market for smaller-sized pontoon boats, and an opportunity where we could really shake things up and disrupt the markets,” says Annick Lauzon, director, global marketing for Sea-Doo and Ski-Doo. “We did a lot of customer research to make sure that what we were developing was truly answering the needs of those customers. Two of the key features that we knew we had to address were ease of use, and ease of docking. This is where the decision of having a handlebar-driven console came in early on in the design process, because it’s simply a more intuitive type of riding. Anyone who ever rode a bicycle is immediately comfortable with it.”
Lauzon adds that adaptability also ranked highly among Switch’s initial design parameters. “A family’s needs are always changing, not just from one year to the next, but even over the course of a single day,” she says. “They want to go fishing, then later in the day the kids want to go tubing, or maybe everyone wants to go for ice cream and a boat ride after dinner. That’s hard to accommodate in a single boat, and our research confirmed that the ability for Switch to switch things up and adapt as needed was critically important.”
Clearly, the company’s market research was right on target, with Sea-Doo’s Twitter posts about the Switch launch going viral worldwide and YouTube reviews attracting over a quarter-million views within days of the initial announcement. Initial response from dealers has been overwhelmingly positive, says the company.
Built in the US at BRP’s Sturtevant, Wisconsin plant, the Sea-Doo Switch should arrive in dealerships across North America in the coming weeks, with a global rollout to follow.
Different? You bet. But with its bold combination of pontoon boat amenities and personal watercraft performance, the Sea-Doo Switch really does represent the best of both worlds – and in an eye-catching package that’s loaded with innovation and fresh new ideas. With an enormous cohort of young families now entering the boating market, this is one boat that we’re all going to be seeing a lot in the seasons ahead.