The latest developments keep pushing the boundaries of boat building in favor of buyers.
So how do boat trends get started? Often, a manufacturer comes up with a clever idea and another builder will decide it wants something similar but may find a way to improve the original concept. Then, that new iteration might spark another designer’s imagination and voila, we have version 3.0. Some might call it copying — courts sometimes agree — but often this is how the needle gets moved in the marine industry. And guess who benefits: boat buyers everywhere!
1. Fiberglass Pontoons
One of the hottest current trends is the use of fiberglass on pontoon boats. Ironically, the company that started the trend no longer makes pontoons. There may have been earlier models but the first I ever saw, in 2014, was the Larson Escape, which had fiberglass panels in all four corners. Since then, many builders have embraced this design element for a few simple reasons:
• It’s much easier to create unique, complex designs out of fiberglass than out of aluminum.
• It creates a fresh, more runabout-like appearance.
• Fiberglass has a higher gloss factor that lends itself to dazzling paint jobs.
It is more costly to integrate fiberglass into the design, so most companies currently reserve this trend for their flagship models.
Some models, including the Sylvan M-Series and Princecraft’s Vogue Series, take a hybrid approach and use sculpted fiberglass corners with rail-free aluminum sides to create a clean, integrated look. Models such as the Manitou Legacy LT and Explode XT, the Bennington QX Series and the Harris Crowne Series, use full fiberglass exteriors.
Several low-production boat builders have produced fiberglass logs, mainly for salt water use on tour and dive boats, but Campion takes the concept all the way on its new Biltmore brand, which features fiberglass “logs” that are actually shaped like mini boat hulls and all-fiberglass uppers. Look for more builders to jump on the ’glasswagon in 2020.
2. More Sophisticated Electronics
Just a few years ago it would have been unheard of to see a 12-inch multifunction display on a 20-footer, but thanks to falling prices, such displays are now commonplace. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s not so much the size of the display as what it displays that’s the game-changer.
The latest craze, which we’ll be seeing more of, are integrated systems that deploy a drone. Yep, you read that right. Raymarine’s Axiom UAV app might be the first to fully integrate the use of a DJI Mavic Pro drone, but it won’t be the last, because anglers can use it to scan weed lines for signs of fish and also shoot fantastic video of the catch. When the action is done, the drone automatically lands on the boat’s foredeck thanks to a return-home feature that can hit a moving target.
For locating fish, an advance such as CHIRP sonar, which sends multiple sonar frequency signals instead of a single frequency, has given anglers a far crisper image. And not only can today’s sonar see what’s below, but it also looks out front thanks to technology such as Garmin’s Panoptix Forward and Simrad’s ForwardScan. And particularly useful to anglers is Humminbird’s MEGA Side Imaging, Raymarine’s SideVision and Garmin’s SideVü, which allow them to check out docks and jetties to see if anyone’s home. Some anglers have trouble interpreting the Nike-like swooshes that represent fish on most fishfinders, but a Garmin screen using Panoptix LiveScope leaves no doubt what they are seeing. It shows the real-time silhouette of a fish — movement and all — and anglers can clearly see the different sizes well enough to know when a trophy is there for the taking.
3. Bigger Pontoon Tubes
While the standard pontoon tube diameter remains 25 inches, many companies are using larger diameter tubes to improve a pontoon’s carrying capacity, rough-water handling, cornering ability, top speed and fuel economy. Currently, the Goliath of all pontoon tubes is Premier’s 42-inch PTX center tube, which we tested on the Mississippi River aboard a 12-foot-wide, 31-foot-long Dodici. That giant tube, with a flattish bottom that provides incredible lift, gives this pontoon a passenger capacity of 26 people and allows it to be powered with up to 900 hp. With triple Evinrude G2 300 hp outboards, it hit 30 mph in just 3.6 seconds and reached a top speed of nearly 64 mph.
Manitou pioneered the use of a 27-inch center tube with its Sport Handling Package (SHP) but took it a step further by mounting it five and a half inches lower than its 25-inch neighbors. Most recently, we tested a 25 Legacy LT with the SHP package; not only did it achieve great performance but it also used that lower oversized center tube as a pivot point, so when I threw it into a hard turn, it leaned in like a deep-V runabout and carved an unbelievably tight turn.
Sanpan by Godfrey Marine takes a different approach to the big-tube trend with its GTP 27-inch Triple Tube Package. Pontoons that are two inches larger don’t sound like much, but I tested the builder’s 2500 ELW, and it was floating so high in the water when I approached it on the dock that it looked like a four-wheel-drive truck with oversized tires. The package delivers better seakeeping ability in choppy water and allows this sub-27-footer to carry up to 16 passengers.
4. High Tech Upholstery
Boat upholstery has gotten cool … literally. In the past, most vinyl was shiny and stiff, and stains seemed to form a molecular bond with the surface (possibly explaining the popularity of white wine among boaters). And even white vinyl could get hot in the sun, so boat builders eschewed any vinyl darker than the lightest of grays or tans. The notion of using black was reserved for boaters who operate in places like the Pacific Northwest.
Builders may have used black upholstery as accents in the past, but it virtually always turned out to be a mistake. Ski boat companies, in particular, like to go to the extreme with interior customization, but only in the last few years has virtually every builder gone high tech when using darker vinyl.
Syntec is the pioneer in this space, and its CoolTouch black vinyl stays up to 10 degrees cooler than light-colored older-generation vinyl. CoolTouch is used by boat builders such as Tigé, Malibu and Stingray, to name a few. Supra has just jumped on the bandwagon with its Chill Tech vinyl, and recently MasterCraft added its Cool Feel technology to the lower-priced NXT models, so all of its boats now offer Cool Feel upholstery. All of these technologies rely on special pigments with a high reflective quality to be effective. Qwest Pontoons takes a different approach with Comfort Touch, a linen-textured vinyl that uses its cloth-like surface to diffuse light, keeping it cool and comfortable to the skin.
5. The No-Carpet Revolution
A walk around a boat showroom these days reveals something that’s missing: carpet. I’m not sure who was the first to experience the forehead-slapping revelation that carpet, while nice and soft on passengers’ feet, is kind of a pain to maintain, and when it gets wet the dark, splotchy patches make it look funny. But a decade or so ago, the only other option was vinyl that resembled the linoleum in a decades-ago kitchen.
The genesis of this mass exodus from carpet was rooted in the development of woven vinyl as a substitute. Although early efforts tended to be slippery and could get hot, today’s products offer good grip and they stay cool. And choices abound. The Harris Grand Mariner 250 has a dozen options for vinyl flooring.
Woven vinyl isn’t the only game in town for alt-carpet flooring. Faux teak in all different shades gives boats a nautical feel and, like its woven counterparts, is easy to maintain. SeaDek, a rubberized deck treatment, was first seen mainly on swim platforms but has morphed into full-deck usage and is even used as coaming pads. What makes it unique is the many patterns and graphics that can be used, giving boat builders and even individuals a blast of customization.
An interesting new flooring mat called DECKadence is made of thick woven strands of soft PVC vinyl. It’s a good fit for watersports boats, since water passes easily through it and keeps it dry.
6. Bar Boats
It’s no secret many people use their boat for entertaining, so there’s a great need for working surfaces that can display snack and beverage options and that passengers can sit next to. Most builders traditionally offered an entertainment center, which was usually just a countertop with cupholders, but in the last few years this concept has morphed into full-blown bars with stools. I remember a Premier Grand Entertainer at the Miami Boat Show — surrounded by million-dollar yachts — that created a huge buzz with a professional-style bar that included an area in the middle for a mixologist, bar stools and a Cabana roof with holders for stemmed glasses.
Since then, bars’ popularity has exploded. Almost every pontoon builder now makes a bar boat, and they come in all sizes and shapes. The Bennington R25 Fastback Bar has a multilevel bar whose working area can hold a gas grill, seriously ramping up the entertainment wow factor. Princecraft’s 29 Vogue takes a different approach; its large stern bar is flanked by captain’s chairs, not barstools. The Aqua Patio 259 WBD dedicates the rear third of the boat to one giant entertainment area with a bar, seats with backrests and seven — count ’em, seven — working surfaces that could easily host a hotel smorgasbord. The Qwest 825 Executive Lanai DS Bar takes a different approach. Instead of having one bar that dominates the floorplan, it has two smaller ones surrounded by captain’s chairs.
7. Nontraditional Surf Boats
It’s no secret wakesurfing is the hottest watersport, and it’s even less surprising the big players in the ski-boat industry, including MasterCraft, Tigé, Malibu and Nautique, all produce boats that can plow up an endless surf wave. What caught many observers by surprise, however, was the explosion of boats on the market from builders not normally associated with wakesurfing. The big hurdle for sterndrive boats was the too-close proximity of a surfer to the exposed prop. But Volvo Penta detoured that roadblock with its Forward Drive system, which features twin forward-facing props tucked under the hull for safety. Forward Drive opened the door for everyone to jump into the surfing game.
Suddenly, since it no longer costs six figures to do it, even smaller boats such as Regal’s 19 Surf are plowing up surfable wakes. Larger boats such as the Starcraft 231 SCX Surf Series have tons of seating and use triple ballast tanks with nearly 1,400 pounds of jump juice and surf tabs to produce a rider friendly wave. Glastron added versatility by becoming the first builder to add fishing into the activity rotation with its GTDW 225 Surf & Fish.
Yamaha exploited the fact its boats don’t even have props. The 212X and 242X use a technology called SurfPoint that redirects the jet flow of a boat’s two engines to form a surfable wake. This year the waves got even bigger and cleaner with the introduction of WakeBooster, a surf-enhancing device that attaches to existing hardware and can be used on model year 2015 and newer boats to take their wave to its full potential.
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