The Power Ski, pictured here, was an important link in the evolution of personal watercraft. A unique craft in its own right, it provided a transition between the aquaplane of the 20th century and the Kawasaki Jet Ski.
Aquaplaning was a major sport, reaching its peak in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. A 1938 news clip on YouTube shows 30 international participants competing for a world championship off the coast of Southern California. Riding on their rectangular aquaplanes, they’re towed by motorboats along a 44-mile racecourse from Catalina Island to Hermosa Beach on the mainland. Frank Roediger was declared the winner, with an average speed of around 26 knots.
The Power Ski, created in 1960 by Fort Lauderdale marina owner Fred Guiliano, represented a progression of the sport, where the tow boat would be eliminated to give full freedom to the rider aboard a self-propelled device. The flat board found on the aquaplane was replaced by two pontoons. There was an outboard on the stern and a gas tank near the bow, as shown in the photo above. This image shows Guiliano’s wife, Anna, near the Oakland Park Boulevard Bridge, steering with the handle “bar.” Guiliano formed the Oakland Marine Company to build and sell his machines, but problems with components stifled sales.
In 1973, the Jet Ski came along. Clayton Jacobson II was tired of crashing his motorcycle, so after recuperating from one such incident, the engineer from Southern California came up with the idea of a motorcycle for the water. This was a radical departure from the aquaplane and Power Ski. The 1965 prototype was driven like a motorcycle, in a stand-up position, and steered with handlebars (one doubled as a throttle). The machine was jet-driven and eliminated the bulky outboard and prop. The fuel tank was hidden within the body of the craft.
The rest is history, as the Jet Ski eventually found a sizable audience. The National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates there are now 1.1 million PWCs in the U.S. Current models with a 300-hp engine can carry four passengers at 60 knots. That’s a far cry from the Power Ski.
This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue.