25 Trends Are Making Boating Better

The evolution of boats and the way we use them has led to some interesting common themes that are improving the boater experience.

The more things change, the more they, well … change. I spend a lot of time on different kinds of boats, and I’ve noticed that my boat-test reports are showing quite a few commonalities. With a bit of creativity, it’s possible to group them into six categories that are definitely impacting the way we boat … or, is it that the way we boat is actually driving these changes in design as well as in the industry?

Outdoor Living

Presumably we own a boat because we like to spend time outdoors, but roughing it is not on the agenda for most of us. We expect to be comfortable, so the list of “necessary” amenities has exploded.

01/Beautiful Bows

Bow areas have become the new social gathering spots. Sunpads — some with lifting head cushions — are pretty much a given. Concepts have filtered down from large yachts, including popup cabanas that shelter the upper portion of the sunpad and entire step-down lounges with integrated settees and tables, such as the Horizon V80. Beneteau’s Monte Carlo 6 even has a chaise that electrically raises out of the teak-slatted foredeck.

02/Aft Platforms

On the other end, giant submersible hydraulic swim platforms, such as the one on the Galeon 445, do double and triple duty. They serve as fantastic teak beaches to play or relax on. They’re also a good way to carry a tender, since they can submerge and lift a dinghy or guide a jet tender (also getting more popular) into the dinghy garage. The platforms elongate the boat and sometimes make it more expensive to dock, but they are a nice addition. With many builders, they are still optional, although Azimut offers its hydraulic platform as standard equipment on the 60.

These platforms have also enhanced living and entertaining aboard. Take the transom of the Beneteau Gran Turismo 40 for example. A grill and wet bar integrated into the composite structure let onboard chefs stand on the platform and prepare a meal while chatting with people in the cockpit. It’s an entertaining scenario that expands the outdoor living space. Furthermore, platforms also serve as entry points into transom-based crew quarters (more on that later).

03/Terrific Tops

Flybridges are getting a facelift, too. No longer just a place to sit and drive, today’s flybridges have gained wet bars, grills, refrigerators, ice-makers, showers and sophisticated sound systems. Now, the crew can spend more time up top, and I don’t mean just for the view.

04/Let There Be…

Finally, no discussion of outdoor aesthetics and ambiance would be complete without a nod to underwater lighting. The question buyers used to ask, according to Lumishore’s Susan James, was “How big will the hole in the boat be.” Now, the question is “How many should I put in?”

Underwater lighting has become more powerful, slightly less expensive and definitely more imaginative. Today’s lights flash, strobe, dim, change color and even pair with sound so they “dance” to the music coming from the stereo. With better power draw/output ratios and enhanced durability and longevity, lights have moved from nice-to-have accessories to must-have equipment. You can even pimp your tender or pontoon boat with fancy lighting.


Indoor Ingenuity

Nowhere is the effect of superyacht trickle-down more evident than in the impressive interiors of modern motor­yachts. A dozen examples of evolving equipment come to mind when describing how our inside environs are making us more comfortable.

05/Chef’s Choice

Let’s start with the galley. Gone are top-loading iceboxes that effectively rendered that stick of butter at the bottom unreachable. Nifty refrigerator drawers are easy to access and can fit under most counters to take up less space than a stand-up unit. In addition, contemporary galleys can hide the essentials, so the stove, oven, sink or refrigerator can be hidden behind cabinetry. Unlike the giant SubZero appliances we freely display in our homes, the trend aboard is to hide everything for a cleaner, uncluttered appearance.

06/Owner Retreats

Full-beam masters have become ubiquitous, and they now benefit from enormous windows. Add to that full beam heads that separate the cabin from the machinery space for better sound attenuation.

Other custom features that are popping up in master staterooms are small offices or breakfast nooks, such as on the Riviera 6000 Sport Yacht and Johnson 65, so owners can enjoy the privacy of their cabin for things other than sleeping.

07/Fit for Crew

Separation and privacy have driven many recent layout configurations. Take for example the Prestige 550, which provides a dedicated stairwell to the entirely separate and opulent master stateroom. Owners today want some distance between them and their guests or crew, so segregated crew quarters are becoming standard. Usually equipped with a bed and a head, some crew quarters, such as those on the Outer Reef 88, can get quite posh.

For most transom-based crew cabins, it’s a tradeoff with the dinghy garage. Even owner/operators are opting for these extra cabins to house teenagers and grandkids who get a kick out of the isolated staterooms.

08/Bright Idea

With the advent of stronger materials and better leak-proof bonding, windows and fixed skylights have gotten larger in salons and galleys. Hulls, too, have benefitted from bigger windows, allowing light into buried masters. A very popular feature has been the giant sunroof that makes any boat feel like a convertible. The Galeon 560 Skydeck even figured out how to add a salon sunroof to a model that has a flybridge above.

09/On the (Same) Level

The concept of single-level living has come on strong, too. Minimizing steps and level changes both on deck and inside has become very popular. Salons tend to flow from the helm station all the way back to the cockpit without interruption. Not only is this visually pleasing, it’s easier on the knees as the boating population ages. Check out the Maritimo S58 for an easy, open floor plan.

10/Center of the Action

Galleys are no longer buried below, and they’ve switched places over time. Aft galleys have become popular because the chef can serve guests in both the salon and the cockpit. In fact, the galley has become the focal point for melding the indoors with the outdoors, as on the Cruisers Cantius 45 where an opening window and some stools create a nice bar area that erases the line between what is in and what is out.

11/Superior Interior

Boaters today have neither the patience nor the taste for utilitarian interiors. Hard surfaces, poor joinery and a lack of pizzazz are out. Luxurious touches such as leather-padded and fabric-wrapped bulkheads, leather drawer and cabinet pulls, designer stitching on soft surfaces and high-contrast colors are de rigueur. A boat must be aesthetically striking, like a high-end boutique hotel. Rich finishes, exotic woods and intermingled shapes and textures are added for dramatic effect, inviting both a visual and tactile experience. Builders are increasingly employing designers and decorators — from both the superyacht or home-based worlds — to get a leg up on the competition.

12/No-Spill Frills

Finally, let’s not forget about cupholders, which have multiplied in recent years. The 36-foot Everglades 360 LXC has 14. Yes, cupholders can be pooh-poohed — until you don’t have one within reach. So laugh if you like, but they’ve become essential.


Total Technification

Following the concept of a smart home, today’s smart boat is rife with technification — my descriptive new term that has yet to make it into Webster’s.

13/One Screen Does All

The workhorse of onboard information consolidation is the multifunction display (MFD), which gathers and presents everything, including navigation information, engine diagnostics, camera feeds, lighting, weather and entertainment. Today’s interface has fewer menus, and information collapses down to the essentials in a way that mirrors the mobile apps we use every day. Multitouch, complete with pinch-to-zoom capability and large screens, makes information easy to use.

However, executives from Raymarine, Navico and Garmin agree that the MFD is becoming crowded real estate as boaters demand more information at their fingertips. This may be one reason why the glass bridge has become popular. Large, crystal-clear screens such as units from Simrad and Garmin make the cockpit look like the dash of the SS Enterprise and provide a less cluttered space for all the data.

“Boaters have no tolerance today for an interface that is confusing or difficult to use,” said Ken Cirillo of Jeppesen.

14/Stay Connected

Boats are becoming highly networked. As at home, Wi-Fi aboard is a given, and connectivity is everything, whether you’re working while cruising, need to keep in touch with family or just don’t want to miss the big game on TV.

Internet comes aboard via various equipment, including Wi-Fi and cellular boosters and satellite antennas such as those from KVH and Intellian. Having benefited from substantial gains in sophistication as well as a decrease in plan and hardware pricing, satellite connectivity today is more common, as is shown by the proliferation of the telltale domes on cabin tops.

15/Switching has Switched

Digital switching, such as C-Zone (or the Swedish version used by Raymarine called EmpriBus) is basically replacing the electrical panel. Meanwhile, rocker switches and independent gauges are giving way to the touchscreen interface on the MFD. With joysticks, track balls and color displays, the helm station has turned into the all-digital all-the-time command pod, and that has changed helm aesthetics significantly.

16/What’s App-ening?

One thing is for sure, the gold standard of connectivity is apps. The marine industry is watching the mobile (smartphone and tablet) and PC industries to see what’s next.

“Smart devices have molded some high expectations on both functionality and usability,” said Jim McGowan, marketing manager at Raymarine.

Wireless remotes and app interfaces now control things such as stereos from Fusion and underwater lighting from Lumitec. Expect to see more app-like functionality for just about everything aboard.

17/Ports over Plugs

Oh, and as an aside, the 12v outlet has become an endangered species on boats (and in cars) as USB ports have proliferated.

18/Past Plastics

“Just one word, my boy: Composites.” OK, so the line from “The Graduate” actually used the word “plastics,” but the world has changed. Although the evolution in boat construction processes and materials could fill a whole article in itself, we must acknowledge here that the techie trend also includes lighter, stronger and better finished construction of hulls, decks and component parts.

The use of more durable coring materials, fiber-reinforced polyesters and vinylesters, and of course, carbon fiber construction, makes bigger boats stronger and lighter. That translates to the need for smaller engines and fuel tanks, so there is more room for amenities and stowage.


Power Punch

So what’s powering all these luxurious vessels and how difficult is it to drive them?

19/Pod Plusses

Pod drives have set the world of marine propulsion on its ear. These power systems eliminate shafts, struts and rudders and instead use directional thrust with the combination of a transmission, an articulating outdrive and a propeller.

The Volvo Penta IPS drive faces the propellers forward, while Cummins MerCruiser Zeus and ZF Marine angle theirs aft. The angle of the shaft is eliminated, so pod driven boats enjoy 15 to 30 percent greater fuel efficiency. Pods are also more hydrodynamic, so smaller, lighter engines can do the work of larger ones. More hulls are being designed from scratch to accommodate pod drives as builders recognize that simply converting an existing hull shape to pods is sub-optimizing the results.

Another benefit of pod drives is the placement of the engines farther aft, which opens up interior space and makes room for those great master staterooms. The designers at Maritimo took advantage of pod drives to fashion a full-beam master on the M50, a 50-footer that wouldn’t have otherwise accommodated such an owner’s retreat.

But by far the biggest attraction of pod-driven boats is their maneuverability. With the help of joystick control, owners can dock with confidence, which might get them out of the slip more often. (Joystick control systems are available on straight-shaft and sterndrive boats, too.) Wireless joystick remote units such as the one from Yacht Controller allow operators to walk around the vessel while docking, so they can manage docklines themselves and potentially single-hand.

20/The Outs

Outboards haven’t been left out in the latest march toward innovation. More powerful engines such as Seven Marine’s 627 hp beast can send boats to the moon. Today’s outboards have a smaller footprint, lighter construction and enhanced serviceability, which is helping sell more units per boat, so it’s not unusual to see four 300 hp outboards hanging off a center console Yellowfin fishing boat. Even pontoon boats now carry twins and triples.

Outboards are no strangers to joystick control thanks to products such as Yamaha’s Helm Master. Other major outboard manufacturers, Mercury for example, have their own versions, so if you have twins, doubles or quads, you can drive with a joystick and look like a pro.

21/Alternatives

Finally, hybrid and electric propulsion systems are gaining ground. Electric power systems from Elco have been installed on power- and sailboats, and German engine builder Steyr, has developed a line of marine engines that has many industry people intrigued.

Greenline Yachts has launched two hybrid-powered boats (33- and 40-footers), with a 48-foot flagship on the horizon. In the quest to be leaner, meaner and greener, propulsion has made headway and more innovation is coming.


Industry Paths

Boater tastes and patterns are having an effect on vessel design specifically, and on the industry as a whole.

22/Volumetric

The average boat has gained both length and beam to the point that marinas are being rebuilt with completely different slip configurations. There may be much talk about living in micro-houses, but aboard a boat, we still like our space, and many of the larger powerboats now have more square footage than the average condo.

23/Surging Segments

Not just for SUVs and hatchbacks, the crossover game is present in boats of all sizes. A center console fishing boat such as the Scout 420 LXF must be able to take a crew fishing for the day but it should also clean up well to host a cocktail cruise in the evening. Builders are designing more comprehensive models that are broadly accepted by all members of the family. Not only does such versatility sell more boats, it gets them used more days per year.

Another segment that’s booming is power catamarans. Having had the path cut for them by sailing catamarans, power cats are viewed as less weird and newfangled. Their benefits are immediately appreciated, especially by sailors transitioning to power: better livability, good system redundancy, better fuel economy and high cruising speeds. One good example of a power cat with a completely different approach is the Aquila 44, where the master stateroom straddles both hulls and the center deck, and where additional flybridge access is via steps up from the bow. What’s not to like?

24/Flattery?

Copycats abound. Builders are watching each other closely and, in some cases, shamelessly copying one another’s difficult-to-patent elements. In the process, one-upmanship is improving innovative ideas and boats are clearly becoming better.

25/Smaller Sandbox

Of course this similarity is contributing to industry consolidation, as builders gobble up one another to increase economies of scale in production and materials purchasing. Understanding the need for personalized marketing, many builders are capitalizing on the similarities but still maintaining and supporting individual brands. The executives of Groupe Beneteau for example, know that two of their models can share 80 percent of the same design elements and equipment but the differentiation, and the customer’s focus, comes in the last 20 percent of the overall build, and the models can be marketed as two completely different boats.

Consolidation can spell trouble for the consumer, but fear not. There are still many builders and hundreds of models on the market, so it’s unlikely that consolidation will lead to a monopoly or even fewer real choices for the boater.

More than two dozen common themes are explored here, grouped into six major categories. Does that mean boaters are getting squeezed into a mold, or does it mean our tastes and preferences are creating the convergence? Does it matter?

Overall, boats are getting better, easier to use and much more comfortable, not to mention that many of them have more designer touches than my house. We’ve gained a lot over the past decade — let the evolution continue.

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