Snowmobile on Water (Watercross): All You Want to Know

Believe it or not, there is a way to drive a snowmobile on water. This is called watercross, and it’s a pretty amazing sight to see. 

You don’t need to have any special equipment to sled on water. You just need to be going fast enough not to sink. 

I’ve been a snowmobiler for most of my life, and I spend the winter months on my sled as often as I can. I love everything about the sport, and I always pay attention to the latest developments and news surrounding the world of snowmobiles. 

Snowmobilers are constantly pushing their limits and innovating. Many of us are daredevils to some degree, and that’s how I imagine watercross coming into creation. I haven’t tried this myself, but maybe I will after doing all of the research for this post. 

Time to get out your floatation devices and get started. 

What is Snowmobiling on Water Called? 

Snowmobiling on the water is typically called watercross. This name comes from many other types of similar vehicle sports such as motocross, snowmobile cross, and even boardercross. It’s not an official name but is what most people call it. 

Riding on the water with a snowmobile is also known as skipping, snowmobile skipping, water skimming, snowmobile watercross, and snowmobile skimming. There isn’t much difference between these terms, and they all refer to operating a snowmobile on water. 

Depending on where you are in the world, you will hear watercross called different things. Like the multiple names for snowmobiles (sleds, snow machines, etc.), there are numerous names for this version of the sport. 

Can You Snowmobile on Water?

It might sound crazy, but you can snowmobile on water. But before you drive your sled straight into a lake or river, you need to understand more about how this is possible and the limitations involved with using your sled in this way.

You can’t operate a snowmobile on water endlessly, and you can’t maneuver as easily as you can on the snow. You also need to go fast enough and keep your nose up so you don’t sink your sled and need to fish it out.   

Are Snowmobiles Waterproof?

Some parts of your snowmobile are waterproof, and some aren’t. Most of the machine is designed to operate in the snow, so in that sense, much of it is built to be waterproof. The plastic and body parts can get wet, no problem. 

But the engine of your sled is not waterproof. It can get wet from the snow or rain, but if it gets fully submerged, you aren’t going to be able to start it without performing some maintenance and drying it off.

If you get your engine wet (like when it sinks while trying to watercross), you’ll need to make sure all of the water is out of it before running again. You’ll need to dry out the carbs, spark plugs, and exhaust system. You will also need to replace all the fuel. 

So the honest answer to this question is yes and no. Many parts of a snowmobile are waterproof, but the most important ones that keep the engine running are not entirely waterproof at all.   

How Do Snowmobiles Work on Water? 

Snowmobiles work on water similarly to how they work on the snow. The tracks push water out of the way, which propels the machine across the surface of an open body of liquid. You don’t need a special snowmobile to work on water. 

The big difference between how a snowmobile operates on water and how it does on snow is that you need enough speed to stay afloat. You can’t slow down or stop while you are on the water, or the machine will sink. 

Riders also need to keep their nose up to help stay on top of the water. This is similar to how you ride in powder, so if you have experience riding in deep snow, that will translate well into riding on water. 

So you’ll need enough speed before you hit the water to stay afloat, and you’ll need to keep your hand on the throttle to maintain that speed while the sled takes to the water. From there, you need to sit back and keep the nose up to prevent sinking. 

Snowmobile Racing on Water

Snowmobile racing on water has a longer history than you might imagine. There has been a World Championship Snowmobile Watercross event held every year for almost 50 years! The first one was in 1977 in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. 

This event started by seeing who could go the furthest distance on the water on their snowmobile. Some riders could make it across the entire designated length of around 300 feet, while others couldn’t go as far and would sink. 

Snowmobiles have gotten a lot more powerful since the early years, which means they are more capable on water. Modern races involve drag races and even tracks like a race you would see off the water. 

Two different racing circuits exist today. The International Watercross Association (IWA) holds races in the midwest of the US, and the Eastern Watercross Association has races in the northeastern part of the country.  

Is it Safe to Take a Snowmobile on a Lake?

While professional watercross racing is generally pretty safe, you shouldn’t take your snowmobile out onto a lake if you don’t know what you are doing. Without the proper skills and experience, you can ruin your machine and get yourself in trouble. 

If you don’t know how to swim, I would not take a snowmobile on a lake at all. You don’t want to risk drowning if your start to sink or your engine fails. Even if you can swim, I would still wear a life vest as a safety precaution. 

Also, you never want to try watercross alone. It’s always a good idea to have a spotter to help get you or your sled out of the water if you go down. You don’t want to end up in a bad situation, and that’s easy to avoid if you have other people with you.

Riders have died trying to watercross, so it’s always important to keep safety in mind when you want to take your snowmobile on a lake. It’s not the most dangerous activity in the world, but there are definitely risks involved.    

How Fast Do You Need To Go to Water Skip a Snowmobile

The basic equation for figuring out how fast you need to go to water skip on a snowmobile is 5 miles per hour for every 150 pounds of weight. This can also be listed as 12 kilometers per hour for every 100 kilograms of weight. This weight is related to the machine and the rider in total. 

That formula can help you figure out the basics, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy answer. Let’s say you have a snowmobile that weighs 650 pounds, and you weigh 185 pounds with an additional 5-10 pounds of clothing and equipment on. 

That brings the total weight to 840-845 pounds. Next, take this number and divide it by 150 to get 5.63. Then times that by 5 to end up with 28.16. That means 845 pounds of sled and rider would need to go 28.16 mph to water skip without sinking. 

The general rule of thumb is that you need to go at least 30 to 40 mph to skip across the water. Faster will always be better because this ensures you have enough momentum to skip.   

How Far Can a Snowmobile Travel on Water?

In the early days of watercross, snowmobiles could only travel a few hundred meters on water. Today, riders can go a lot further than that, with the record attempts being over 100 miles! On average, I still think most people only skim for a mile or less. 

Races that occur today can see distances of anywhere from a few hundred meters to a few dozen miles, depending on the skills of the riders and the type of water body they are skipping across. 

The distance you can travel on the water really comes down to your skills as a watercross rider, what your machine is capable of, and the body of water you are riding on. People are always pushing the limit, so I think this distance will continue to rise in the coming years.  

How Do You Get a Snowmobile Out of Water?

The easy answer to this question is by any means necessary! If you happen to sink one, there isn’t a wrong way to get a snowmobile out of the water. It’s essential to act quickly if this happens, so your sled doesn’t get damaged beyond repair. 

I’ve seen people get their snowmobiles out of the water in several ways. The easiest is to use a winch on a boat. You’ll need to dive down underwater to attach a cable to the sled, which means you also might need diving gear if it’s really deep. 

When the cable gets attached to the sled, the winch can drag it up onto the boat’s deck. Or it can also drag it behind the boat until it is closer to shore and can be drug out by hand there. 

I’ve also seen people use a winch from the shore, like the one you might have on your truck. This is also effective, but you need to hope that your sled is in an area that is accessible by the amount of cable on the winch.  

What’s the Snowmobile on Water Record?

The current world record for the distance traveled on a snowmobile on water is 155.8 miles or 250.8 kilometers. This was done by Aki Pesonen in Finland back in 2017. It’s an impressive record, to say the least, and I can’t even imagine water skipping for that far!

This record was set using a 2016 Ski-Doo Summit 800 E-Tec machine. It took Pesonen just over four hours, and he had extra fuel attached to the tunnel of his sled to make sure he had enough gas to complete to record.  


About Chaz Wyland
I’m a snowmobile fanatic. I live for riding and am out on the trails or backcountry as often as possible during the winter months. I was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains and have snowmobiled in dozens of North American locations. When the snow is falling, you’ll find me on a sled.

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