Owning and operating a vessel has become easier and more accessible for a wider variety of people.
Sophisticated and modern boats are opening up vessel ownership to a greater swath of the public. Whether you’re new to boating and apprehensive, or you’re an avid boater who wants the challenge of a larger vessel that goes farther and cruises longer, there’s no need to be intimidated by the complexities of the lifestyle and its equipment. Maybe you have young children and are worried about their safety, have mobility challenges that make boating difficult, or are older and have less energy but want to stay in boating longer. Regardless of age or experience, new developments in design, technology and mindset are making boating more accessible. New boats and systems stretch our comfort zone even as they make us more comfortable.
“We see a range of people coming to or staying longer in boating now,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Studies have shown that 68 percent of baby boomers and 83 percent of millennials have a propensity for boating. We’re seeing older people going boating to spend time with grandkids and young people looking to boats for a better work/life balance.”
Boaters have changed, so boats have changed, and here are just a few examples of how the evolution is helping people get on or stay on the water.
Boating is fin but docking is tough. Yeah, that may be written in jest, but there’s some truth to it. That’s why joysticks completely redefined boat handling — possibly the toughest hurdle in boating — within the last few years.
With joystick control, owners can dock confidently, keep station while waiting for bridges to open or just keep the boat steady as the crew picks up a mooring. Close-quarters maneuvering gets easier with a joystick, and that fact may get more families and boats out of the slip more often. Today, joystick control systems are available with pod drives, straight shafts, sterndrives and outboards, and they make child’s play of wind, waves and current. Wireless joystick remote units such as from Yacht Controller let a captain walk around the vessel while docking. Owners can manage lines and singlehand more easily.
Additionally, pod drives have set marine propulsion on its ear. These power systems eliminate shafts, struts and rudders and instead use directional thrust for better control and efficiency with the use of smaller and lighter engines. Not only can buyers become proficient with a boat more quickly, they’ll also save money with new fuel-sipping propulsion systems.
Marine electronics and navigation software constitute a visible and dramatic leap in onboard technology. This may be due to the fact that it’s all consolidated on the multifunction display (MFD) staring up from every helm. Nothing today even resembles how we navigated a decade ago.
Operators now interface with large, crystal clear multitouch screens complete with pinch-to-zoom capability and swipe technology that mirror the apps people use on phones and tablets every day. Detailed cartography from C-MAP and Navionics with 3-D imaging and radar, weather and photographic overlays has become nearly ho-hum (but not quite). We have more information at our fingertips than ever, and some boaters can’t even remember the days of paper charts much less celestial navigation (though paper charts are still the best failsafe).
Raymarine, Simrad, Furuno and Garmin have all upped the ante in computing power that brings lightning fast chart redraw, unprecedented levels of detail, and the ability to update software and cartography right from the boat via Wi-Fi. From yacht-style glass helms to nine-inch standalone units for small fishing craft, MFDs have proliferated at every level of boating as they combine navigation with systems monitoring, communications and entertainment.
Always with an eye toward usability, electronics manufacturers have worked to make these systems clearer, more readable, more intuitive and less cluttered, so new boaters with no experience and old salts with challenged eyes can get where they’re going.
Mal de Mer keeps lots of people at the dock, and when guests are green around the gills, nobody’s having fun. But vessel stabilization such as active fins and gyroscopes used to be expensive, large and difficult to install. Not to mention such systems were the domain of mostly large yachts. Not so anymore.
Seakeeper, manufacturer of sophisticated gyro technology, has developed products for boats down to 30 feet. Its M3 unit can be used on center console fishing boats, is just under $27,000 and weighs only 550 pounds. Even its larger systems have seen a 12 percent reduction in price with a 30 percent increase in performance, which purportedly reduces roll by up to 90 percent.
Stabilizers such as active fins have seen stable pricing but vast improvements in performance for the same money. Traditionally, fins have needed large gensets and hydraulics to run, and they’ve been excellent at speed but challenged to perform at rest. But this too is changing. For example, Humphree has eliminated hydraulics and the need for an AC genset since its units use 24v DC power with brushless electric servo units. Meanwhile, Side-Power’s Vector fin has a unique curved shape, designed to minimize energy loss from any swaying movement. The foil improves roll reduction by 50 percent at rest and 30 percent underway, while also reducing undesired yaw, which saves on fuel.
A steadier boat is safer for crew and cargo. The boat works less, so things break less, and when the inefficiencies of excess movement are reduced, so is fuel consumption. On a steady boat, people are less fatigued, and rested crew are nicer and make better decisions. So for boat owners who venture farther and anchor often with seasick friends and family, stabilization becomes essential rather than optional, and now it’s within reach on a variety of vessels.
Boats aren’t yet as advanced as houses with their voice-activated personal assistants. But digital switching systems by C-Zone and EmpirBus are coming close to creating this environment as they replace the traditional electrical panel and integrate systems, including lighting, alarms, and networked electrics, and offer a single-screen comprehensive interface. Being able to come aboard and simply ask the boat to turn on lights, start the genset and A/C, and fi re up the engines is not too far off. Digital switching lowers the bar on just how much boaters need to know about everything that is belowdecks.
Additionally, boat equipment has been made better and more reliable. It used to be a contest to name the boat system that was most notorious for failure. Top choices included refrigeration, autopilots, water-makers and outboards. But that has changed with more robust and easierto- use systems, including nifty refrigeration drawers, bulletproof self-steering and four-stroke outboards that start with one pull. Moreover, many systems are now powered by smaller, more efficient gensets and longer-lasting banks of AGM or lithium batteries. It’s simpler to keep everything working and powered up.
These advances have made it easier for different kinds of people — newcomers, people who may not be technically savvy and existing boaters who are gun shy about stepping up from a 30-foot center console to a 50-foot cruising yacht and its greater complexity — to engage.
Perhaps even more of a hurdle than seasickness is the unwillingness of most people to unplug. If “getting away” doesn’t include losing touch with the office, or the kids can’t imagine a day without Instagram, then connectivity, or lack of it, will be a major detractor from boating. But take heart, because that’s all changing too.
Boaters are looking for the same experience at sea as at home. People expect to be able to surf the internet, engage in social media, and send email and texts freely, regardless of their geography. Satellite providers such as KVH and Intellian are making this possible even far offshore with greater bandwidth and cheaper satellite (hardware and airtime) costs.
Closer in, the internet now comes aboard via Wi-Fi and cellular booster antennas and then connects to everything else, sometimes via apps. Raymarine was the first to offer a Wi-Fi connection between the MFD and smartphones and tablets, effectively turning personal devices into repeaters that captain, crew and passengers carry around on deck. Furuno, Garmin, Simrad, B&G and Lowrance followed suit, so now one can control a Fusion stereo or Lumitec underwater lights from the chartplotter or a phone.
6. Onboard Environment
Roughing it is not for everyone, so if boating feels like camping, fewer people will engage. Maybe that’s why boats are increasingly becoming a reflection of how we live at home. Not only has boat décor followed home styles but more thought and technology have been put into comfort. Engines are now farther from living spaces and heads have been squeezed between master staterooms and machinery rooms to dampen sound and facilitate better sleep. Advanced materials proliferate throughout the boat to minimize noise and vibration, which will reduce fatigue.
Thanks to stronger and better materials, leak-proof windows and opening sunroofs that are larger than ever work to minimize claustrophobia and queasiness. More thoughtful layouts and separation of cabins, such as on the Prestige line of powerboats, provide greater privacy. And retractable seating — check out the Beneteau GT 46 or Azimut 50 — changes the boundaries between the indoors and outdoors and enhances flexibility.
Sun protection has come into sharp focus as people, both young and old, worry about UV exposure, so retractable shade options are popping up on vessels of all sizes, especially clever systems from SureShade. Even flybridges have changed with the advent of modular outdoor galleys that mimic the way we entertain at home and advanced canvas materials that keep us boating nearly year round.
The proliferation of swim platforms has helped senior folks step aboard easily from a dock or dinghy. Also, people with decreased mobility can be lifted out of the water after swimming via a hydraulic platform normally used to carry the tender — no need to use ladders. Side gates, like the one on the Azimut Verve 40, allow wheelchair access onto an outboard-powered vessel that may not have an option for a swim platform. And singlelevel living from the cockpit through the salon and into the pilothouse means fewer steps to challenge unsteady toddlers or folks with older knees.
In a way, safety is an amalgam of everything already mentioned plus a few other features. If people are afraid, they won’t attempt much less enjoy an activity, so generating greater peace of mind is key. For example, being able to communicate with others, especially with rescue services if needed, provides a bit of comfort. Worries have been eased by VHF radios with digital selective calling (DSC), affordable position tracking devices such as SPOT and inReach, wearable personal locator beacons (PLBs) and advanced emergency position indicating radio beacons with built-in GPS (GEPIRBs) from ACR and others. Affordable satellite phone services from Iridium and Globalstar bring the comfort of keeping in touch far out at sea. Even personal flotation devices have become more comfortable and less intrusive with the introduction of lightweight inflatable harnesses for both kids and fashionable adults.
Another element of safety is keeping the vessel in good running order with timely maintenance that lessens fears of an on-the-water breakdown. Technology has made this easier. For example, VesselVanguard offers cloud-based maintenance management that keeps a repository of searchable digital manuals, spare parts, maintenance schedules and vendor contacts (e.g., your mechanic). This keeps the boat shipshape, since no chore goes overlooked.
Finally, for owners worried about the safety of their unattended boat, numerous vessel security products now keep tabs at all times. GOST and Yacht Protector are just two companies that provide packages of sensors and controllers to help monitor high water in the bilge, smoke and fire, low voltage, loss of shore power, temperatures in bait and food freezers, boarding and intrusion, and even vessel movement.
Whether the worry is personal safety or vessel upkeep and security, there’s really little to keep us land bound these days.
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