With the AquaTrax F-12 and F-12X, a pair of machines that are smooth, powerful, and efficient, Honda hopes to make a big splash in the personal watercraft market.
By Jim Brightly
I was watching TV a few months ago when a commercial that flashed across the screen caught my attention. “Hey, Hon, take a look at this,” I called to my wife. Before my eyes was an advertisement for a new personal watercraft (PWC) called the AquaTrax. And it was made by Honda.
I am familiar with Honda’s motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, but I had no idea that the company had ventured into the PWC market. Since I had already arranged to road test a Four Winds Fun Mover motorhome, I thought a pair of these crafts might be the perfect toys to illustrate the Fun Mover’s full range of capabilities. So we loaded up the motorhome, picked up the PWCs, and headed off to the boating paradise of Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border.
Said to be the first four-stroke PWC, Honda’s AquaTrax models — the F-12 and the turbocharged F-12X — provide clean, quiet, and economical operation for up to three riders and are ideally suited for a day of exhilarating fun or laid-back cruising. For those who are unfamiliar with PWCs, a four-stroke engine means no more mixing fuel and oil (or making sure the oil injector reservoir is full), as well as better fuel economy, no fouled spark plugs, and less exhaust pollution.
Honda’s all-new marine-duty, liquid-cooled, inline four-cylinder engine delivers an amazing power curve across a broad rpm range. In addition, the four-stroke design consumes less fuel than a comparable two-stroke engine, and, according to Honda, meets the 2004 California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the 2006 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards.
During the evaluation, the test team — my three grown children, their spouses, and I — added about four to six hours each day to the engines’ hour meters. These runs included everything from slow-speed cruising (through the canal to view Lake Havasu’s London Bridge from water level) to “cove carving” (high-speed runs parallel to the shorelines of many of the lake’s coves) and exploring the Topoc Gorge (the canyon cut by the Colorado River emptying into Lake Havasu). Typically, each of the models used about half a tank of premium fuel per day.
Initially — and through most of the weekend — I was more comfortable on the normally aspirated F-12. Its finger-squeezed throttle was more easily controlled, and the boat didn’t have the blazing acceleration of the turbocharged model. That’s not to say that the F-12X was hard to control; it wasn’t. After a few more days in the saddle, I might have enjoyed the turbo more. But, personally, I was more comfortable riding the more sedate model. My sons — in their early 30s — and my 40-year-old son-in-law preferred the extremely quick F-12X.
Evidence of Honda’s extensive research into what PWC owners want was immediately apparent the first time I climbed aboard the AquaTrax. I’ve enjoyed many hours in the saddles of PWCs — even though I hadn’t ridden one in years — so I was pleasantly surprised by the AquaTrax’s stability. On my first time up, I jumped as high as I could in waist-deep water, scrambled over the gunwale, and got seated as quickly as possible to avoid a rollover. Sitting there catching my breath, I realized that it didn’t seem necessary to climb aboard that quickly. With that in mind, I stood up and allowed my entire weight to rest on my left foot, always ready to straddle the seat again if necessary. It wasn’t. Then I stood with both feet on the left gunwale while holding the handlebars. The side slipped beneath the waves enough to become awash, but that was it. This proved to me that these watercrafts are extremely stable.
In fact, during the entire weekend, only one rider fell off, and that was as he attempted some very sharp and quick “S” curves while testing the mettle of the boat. He hit an unexpected high wake from a bad angle and was pitched overboard headfirst. PWC riders are required by the Coast Guard to wear personal flotation devices, and the rider was slightly embarrassed, but hardly discouraged. He jumped right back aboard, slid the lanyard for the engine cut-off switch into place on his wrist, and roared off into more “S” curves.
The AquaTrax has two nice safety features that should be mentioned. Honda has included a programmable speed-limit mode in its computer-controlled ignition that provides a lower top-speed setting that can be password-protected, which is ideal for beginning and inexperienced riders. The electronic keyless ignition system also can be password-protected with up to 999 possible identification numbers to effectively deter unauthorized use. It should also be noted that Honda recommends operators be 16 years of age or older.
AquaTrax offers three-up capability, which allows for an observer and a water skier (there must be room for all three aboard). The watercraft’s jet drive is equipped with a reverse bucket. The AquaTrax has two onboard sealed storage compartments (one just forward of the operator and the other in the bow) and a complete array of electronic LCD gauges.
The hulls and decks are made from strong, lightweight fiberglass-reinforced plastic and are joined and sealed at the gunwale. The engine and 155-millimeter jet drive combination is mounted as low as possible in the hull, contributing to the boat’s stability.
After a long weekend of testing the Honda AquaTrax F-12 and F-12X, I’m of the opinion that these PWCs measure up to Honda’s long-standing reputation for performance and reliability. They appear to be assembled with care and should give their owners hundreds of fun-filled hours.
For 2003, Honda is adding the AquaTrax R-12X to its lineup. The R-12X is a two-passenger watercraft with a 1235-cc turbocharged engine.
Prices, availability, and brochures are available from American Honda Motor Company Inc., P.O. Box 3976, Gardena, CA 90247; www.hondamotorcycle.com.
Dry weight: F-12 — 688 pounds; F-12X — 721 pounds
Length: 125.9 inches
Width: 49.0 inches
Height: 41.7 inches
Weight capacity: 524 pounds
Hull type: modified V
Hull material: fiberglass-reinforced plastic
Steering: non-adjustable with OTS
Bilge system: automatic siphon
Storage: 23.1-gallon bow tub;
2.5-gallon glove compartment
Lanyard: standard, wristband
Engine: 1,235cc DOHC I-4 with electronic fuel injection
Compression ratio: F-12 — 11:1; F-12X — 8.5:1
Horsepower: F-12 — 125 bhp @ 7,000 rpm; F-12X — 165 bhp @ 6,100 rpm
Battery: 12-volt, 18 amp-hour
Gauges: Fuel, oil pressure, speedometer with odometer, tachometer, hour meter, clock, trip meter and trip timer
Fuel: premium unleaded (91 octane)
Fuel capacity: 16.6 gallons
Lubrication: dry sump with oil tank
Oil capacity: F-12 — 1.32 gallons; F-12X — 1.4 gallons
Warranty: transferable one-year limited
Suggested retail price: F-12 — $8,999; F-12X — $9,999