Rivers around the South Island will be home to the world’s best river racing competitors this week.

The World Jet Boat Marathon started on Monday on the Dart River.

The marathon is a weeklong event, and races are held across several South Island rivers.

Every year one country’s national championships become the world marathon, hosting rights being rotated between the United States, Mexico, Canada and New Zealand.

River Racing New Zealand spokesman Paul Mullan said the New Zealand event was the height of river racing worldwide.

‘‘The world marathon is effectively the pinnacle of river racing.’’

New Zealand’s rivers required more skill to navigate quickly, Mullan said.

‘‘You need a lot more skill . . . You’ve got to know how to drive.

‘‘Most of the overseas guys would consider that this is the holy grail of river-boat racing.’’

New Zealand racers tended to be able to read the conditions of a river better, as they were used to New Zealand’s fast-changing rivers rather than North America’s wide rivers.

‘‘It is a real endurance test of both the boat and the drivers.’’

Start your engines . . . Candian jetboater navigator Randy Tinant (left) and driver Dale Whiteside will be one of 32 boats racing in the marathon this week. PHOTO: RUBY SHAW

Canadian racer Dale Whiteside shipped his jet boat from Canada for this week’s marathon.

He spent a lot of time on rivers similar to New Zealand’s in preparation.

‘‘You’re just spending time on the water trying to get your decisions to become a reflex,’’ Whiteside said.

Whiteside built his boat in Canada, but still had to finish putting the final touches on it before the competition.

River racing was a rewarding sport and created a ‘‘very tight-knit’’ community, he said.

‘‘There’s not many people that can do it and not many people that would put themselves through it.’’

He had competed against fellow racers all around the world, and made many close friends through the sport, he said.

Defending New Zealand champion Roger Preston agreed, saying there was a strong sense of camaraderie among racers.

‘‘If somebody needs something, someone will put a hand up to help them out to keep the boats going.’’

The most important thing was everybody coming home safely, he said.