Rolling on the river: Jet boat venture speeds into second season

Barb Bowman, left, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, and Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing and public relations coordinator with the VCB, join Joe Keys, owner of Jet Boat Colorado, in his jet boat during an event at the Grand Junction Visitor Center. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Barb Bowman, left, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, and Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing and public relations coordinator with the VCB, join Joe Keys, owner of Jet Boat Colorado, in his jet boat during an event at the Grand Junction Visitor Center. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

 While the inaugural season for his jet boat business exceeded his expectations, Joe Keys has even higher hopes for the second season.

If everything goes as Keys plans, more than 2,500 people will join in tours on the Colorado River this summer that offer either an adrenalin-inducing experience billed as a combination of boating, auto racing and rodeo or comparatively leisurely cruise affording views of the Western Colorado scenary and wildlife.

Keys attributes the success of Jet Boat Colorado in part to a monopoly on the attraction. His venture is one of just four in the United States and the only operation of its kind in this state.

But Keys also says he’s taking advantage of a proverbial rising tide lifting all boats, jet and otherwise. And that’s a growing tourism and outdoor recreation industry that’s becoming a noticeably more valuable component of the regional economy. “There’s a real recognition that recreation is here and it’s here to stay.”

Keys launched Jet Boat Colorado in 2016, offering Colorado River tours starting and ending at a boat ramp in De Beque. The jet boat in Jet Boat Colorado is the Wild Mustang, a 20-foot long craft with theater-style seating for up to 11 passengers.

For those who feel the need for speed, the boat delivers. A 6.2-liter, fuel-injected engine produces 420 horsepower. Instead of a traditional propeller, the boat features a jet unit that draws in water, accelerates it and forces it through a nozzle in the stern. The boat is built not only for maneuverability, but also to ply shallow waters where other boats can’t go.

During the adventure tour, passengers power sliders, fishtails, speed runs and a maneuver dubbed the “cowboy spin.”

For those who prefer a slower — and drier — ride, Jet Boat Colorado offers a scenic tour offering views of the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa as well as wildlife. Stories will relate information about the natural and human history of the region and and lore of the Colorado River.

Jet Boat Colorado conducts five of its adventure tours daily, while offering the scenic tour one a day starting at 5 p.m.

Keys says about 1,400 people took tours during the inaugural season for Jet Boat Colorado, a total that topped his expectations. Those people came from nearly every state and four different countries, he says. That makes marketing to a targeted demographic more difficult, but also offers a broad base upon which to build business. “It’s a great problem to have.”

Keys hopes to take more than 2,500 people on tours this season even as awareness of his operation and demand for the experience also increase.

Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, says Jet Boat Colorado has already become a popular attraction and an important answer to a question she frequently hears: What’s new? “It’s been very positive. This is a big one.”

The location for the operation in De Beque has worked out well, Keys says, with easy access from Interstate Highway 70 as well as a stretch of the Colorado River with few other users. “That’s nice for us.”

Keys brings to his venture decades of experience as a river guide. He says he was inspired to bring a jet boat business to Western Colorado after seeing jet boating in New Zealand and what’s considered an iconic experience there for visitors.

It’s taken a long time, a lot of hard work and a substantial investment in a jet boat Keys says costs more than his first house to realize his dream. But he says he’s excited for his business to be a part of the growing tourism and outdoor recreation business in Western Colorado.

In region where energy exploration and production cycles through ups and downs, recreation offers a more stable and increasingly valuable contribution to the economy, he says. “Recreation has always been there.”

Jet boating on the Colorado River, on the other hand, is brand new. But Keys has high hopes for a growing business that exceeded his expectations its first season and could do so again its second season.

For more information about Jet Boat Colorado or booking a tour, visit the website located at www.jetboatcolorado.com.