New products and a new spirit

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Brunswick Boat Group president Andy Graves introduces Sea Ray's L-Class line of luxury motoryachts at the Yacht & Brokerage Show.

Brunswick Boat Group president Andy Graves introduces Sea Ray’s L-Class line of luxury motoryachts at the Yacht & Brokerage Show.

On the docks with Chris Landry

The Miami International Boat Show and the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach were the busiest, most upbeat shows post-recession, in my view. You could feel the momentum building as the new boats rolled out.

And there were lots of new boats — from such builders as Riviera, Contender, Regulator, Chris-Craft, Viking, Boston Whaler and Sea Ray. In fact, Sea Ray announced a new series, the L-Class, and Whaler said it will produce a 42-footer this year.

New-engine news was in short supply, but electronics have increased substantially and that development includes marine engines. Cooperative efforts among manufacturers of boats, electronics and engines have picked up steam: Volvo/Garmin; Simrad/Mercury; Garmin/Scout/Mastervolt/Yamaha. Seems like every other word out of executives and public relations folks these days is “integration.”

The onslaught of new boats, engines and electronics started even before the doors opened. On the day before the show opened, I had an opportunity to look at new offerings from three big names — Bayliner, Raymarine and Yamaha.

Yamaha, Scout

First was a sea trial of the new Yamaha F115 4-stroke, hung from a Scout 195 Sportfish center console bay boat. Great little engine and a great little boat. The F115 weighs 24 pounds less than its predecessor. The original F115 hit the market 15 years ago. The new engine weighs less than the first F115, but actually uses an engine with a larger displacement, so you get a better power-to-weight ratio.

I went out with Yamaha’s David Meeler, who explained to me that the engine works well with Yamaha’s custom propeller, the Talon. And the F115 makes use of Yamaha’s Shift Dampener System.

I found that the engine does indeed shift more smoothly than the old F115, which I had tested many times over the years. No clunking in and out of gear. As with most of today’s second-generation engines, the F115 displayed better mid-range acceleration and better fuel economy. Get this: You can travel almost 6 miles to the gallon at 25 mph on this Yamaha-powered Scout. That’s just as good as my 1997 Ford F-150 pickup.

The boat topped out at about 39 mph. The Scout, a high-end bay boat, and the new F115 work well together. The F115 20-inch and 25-inch shaft versions are $11,455 and $11,525, respectively.

MarineMax Vacations president Lex Raas speaks of the division's growing power catamaran charter fleet.

MarineMax Vacations president Lex Raas speaks of the division’s growing power catamaran charter fleet.

Raymarine

I tested the F115 at Sea Isle Marina in Miami. Raymarine had a boat ready with its latest and greatest, only a few slips away from the Yamaha boat. Raymarine marketing manager Jim McGowan and Ian Matt, global product manager for Raymarine autopilots and system integration, took me out in a SeaVee 34 with twin Yamaha F300s. They showed me the latest development with Raymarine’s Evolution Autopilot — an add-on technology called Hydrobalance. “It’s a software release available to every customer with an Evolution Autopilot and is fitted to a hydraulically steered boat, hence the name Hydrobalance,” says Matt, who works out of the company‘s U.K. office.

Hydrobalance uses a mathematical model to compensate for the inaccuracies of an autopilot system tied into the hydraulic steering system of an outboard boat, Matt says.

It fights off prop waking and the “snaking” that occurs at slow speeds with some outboard boats (especially single-screw setups).

I engaged and disengaged the autopilot a couple of times to put these claims to the test. The boat without the autopilot on started to turn to starboard, but regained its heading when the autopilot was put back into operation. Ferries launched big wakes at us, which we charged through without a degree of course change.

The EV-100 retails for $1,599. Raymarine has focused on the small-boat market in the past two years or so, according to McGowan. “It is an area we did not play in for a while,“ he says. “We primarily stayed in that over-35-foot market, but with some of our new products, like the aSeries [MFDs] and Dragonfly [sonar/GPS], we are rapidly expanding into smaller boats and even into the freshwater market, where we didn’t play much at all.”

Bayliner

In the late afternoon, Bayliner held a low-profile press event to announce two new boats: the Element XL and the Bayliner 642.

“The initial mission when we launched the Element [14-footer] about a year ago was to produce an affordable day boat, but as we got into the first year’s success, some customers said they would like to see a bigger platform with a bit more horsepower, which has led to the creation of the XL,” Bayliner president Keith Yunger tells me.

The 18-foot XL, with a 90-hp Mercury 4-stroke and trailer, retails for $16,999. It can also take a 115-hp engine. The 14-foot Element carries a retail price of $12,599 with a 60-hp Mercury 4-stroke and trailer. Both feature padded seating from bow to stern and a design aimed to bring more stability at all speeds.

Affordable boats were clearly marked at the convention center.

Affordable boats were clearly marked at the convention center.

Regulator

Joan and Owen Maxwell debuted their 23 center console with single F300 Yamaha. Longer and beamier than its predecessor, the new 23 uses an engine bracket to extend the LOA and improve the ride. The outboard on the original 23 was mounted on the transom. “We took back the transom,” Owen Maxwell tells me.

Boston Whaler

Boston Whaler’s Charlie Foss says the new 42 center console is more cruising-oriented than other “fishy” center consoles. The 420 Outrage will have innovative seating throughout and a two-step-up foredeck, with a surprise design beneath the deck.

“You’re looking at what will be the largest Boston Whaler ever produced,” says Jeff Vaughn, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service. “It all began by asking, ‘How can we push beyond the limits of what’s possible in a center console boat?’ We’ve found our answer in the 420 Outrage. There is literally nothing else like it on the marketplace.”

Contender

The Contender 24 will replace the Contender 23 in the Homestead, Fla., builder’s fleet of center console boats. Contender has a clear marketing strategy: Saturate the 24 with standard family-friendly equipment and amenities. “This is what people want — the seating, the accommodations and the comfort,” Contender’s Les Stewart tells me. “It was smart to make it all standard.”

Chris-Craft

Chris-Craft‘s new Launch 35 drew a huge crowd. It was one of the finest-looking boats I saw at the convention center. Powered with twin Volvo Penta V-380s, the boat should be fun to drive. I plan to confirm that during a sea trial this spring in my home waters of Sarasota, Fla., which is also the company’s headquarters.

Scout, Garmin

The new Scout 350LXF is not only a new high-end center console with a dual stepped hull, it’s also the builder’s first boat with an electronics and system management network that incorporates Garmin marine electronics and Mastervolt electrical technologies.

Garmin describes it as a “fully integrated vessel solution for its GPSMAP Glass Helm that teams with Mastervolt’s CZone intelligent technology. CZone incorporates full-vessel integration and automation with the boater’s chart plotter with the ability to monitor and control multiple functions.

Sea Ray

The action continued at the Yacht & Brokerage Show, where Sea Ray introduced not only the L650 Fly, but also an entire line of luxury motoryacht vessels — the L-Class. The L650 Fly is a two-bridge vessel powered with twin diesels mated to a joystick system.

One of Sea Ray’s focuses has been the development of the flybridge on its boats. The flybridge serves not only as a place to pilot the vessel, but also as a social gathering spot for passengers — at anchor or while under way, says Ron Berman, vice president of product development and engineering for Brunswick Corp., Sea Ray’s parent company.

You’ll see three more L-Class yachts at the 2014 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show — the L650 Express and the L580 Fly and Express, Berman says.

The L-Class is “not just about the boat,” says Sea Ray president Tim Schiek. “It’s a new approach to the market that includes product along with a completely unique sale process and post-purchase experience.”

Mercury, Simrad

Kevin Grodzki, engine maker Mercury Marine’s president of global sales and marketing, told journalists about the company’s partnership with Simrad to bring “glass dash” systems to the market. The Simrad-Mercury hookup serves as another example of technology integration within the industry.

“We are very happy to be working with Simrad to deliver a state-of-the-art system that is fully integrated into all of the engine diagnostics,” Grodzki said at a press luncheon commemorating the company’s 75th anniversary.

Mercury’s VesselView 4 and VesselView 7 will work with Simrad multifunction touch-screen systems to deliver such information as sonar, radar and Mercury’s Smart Tow, cruise control and Eco Control functions, Grodzki says.

On the docks with Rich Armstrong

On the Soundings Trade Only team, my itinerary of assignments skewed heavily toward the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach. Regardless, my pedometer told the story of the many miles I walked each day.

I’ve covered the Miami shows for more than 10 years and I’ve seen their highs and lows. 2014 made it clear to me that the industry’s measured recovery continues.

Sure, a snowstorm kept many people stuck in the north (even a boatbuilder executive I was supposed to meet at a press conference), but the docks seemed alive with people walking with purpose — with a confidence I remember clearly lacking during the dark days of 2009 and ’10.

One thing the Trade Only team agreed on was this: There were more new-product introductions than any of us could remember in recent years — more than we could collectively attend.

Sabre Yachts

Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales at Maine-based Sabre Yachts, says Sabre’s commitment to continually introduce new or refreshed product straight through the recession years has been essential to the semicustom builder’s ability to grow in a down market.

“At the end of the day the big question was how long was the recession going to last,” Collins said after addressing the press gathering. “I think companies that kept their foot on the brake for those four or five down years emerged to find their whole line was now stale.”

The focal point among the company’s seven boats at the show — three Sabres and four Back Coves; “every boat either a new or refreshed model” — was the totally redesigned Sabre 54 Salon Express and a new Back Cove 41.

MarineMax

MarineMax’s foray into the charter market continued its momentum as its MarineMax Vacations division introduced two new power catamarans.

The power catamarans are being built by Chinese manufacturer Sino Eagle Group. To maximize their revenue potential, the power cats are being built for chartering under the MarineMax moniker and for private ownership under the Aquila brand.

MarineMax introduced sketches of the 48-footer at Miami in 2012 and the MarineMax 484 debuted in 2013. MarineMax this year showcased the new Aquila 48 and MarineMax 443.

The division’s president, Lex Raas, a chartering pioneer at Beneteau and TUI Marine’s The Moorings, says the charter market is evolving into one with a larger portion of power cats.

Power cats are a small but growing segment of the Caribbean catamaran fleet. “Thirty-seven percent of the Caribbean charter fleet are now catamarans,” Raas says.

The new 44-foot boat was 16 months in development. After the press conference, marketing director Jody Krebs said the MarineMax 443 on display, built for chartering, was purchased by a private customer the day before the boat show opened, so the new model will not debut for chartering until hull No. 2 is built.

Island Boats

On a much smaller scale, while browsing the small vendors in the outdoor area behind the Miami Beach Convention Center, I came across Tim Poppell, president of Island Boats in Vero Beach, Fla., who was showing a couple of his unique retracting-beam pontoon boats, which won an NMMA Innovation Award.

The Island Boats 180 and 220 feature a patent-pending R&E Slide, which enables the owner to shrink the beam from 10 feet to 7 feet, 4 inches, making for easier trailering and storing.

“That’s so cool,” said a potential customer, looking it over.

Poppell later said the response from potential dealers and customers has surpassed expectations.

“We’ve signed up new dealers already from North America, as well as from South America and Australia, with much additional international interest,” he says. “New orders in the pipeline for nearly 50 boats … with production anticipated to ramp up by early May.”

Ferretti

Iconic Italian brand the Ferretti Group has delivered an impressive fleet of boats to recent Yacht & Brokerage shows, and the builder did the same this year, showcasing 25 new boats across the group’s seven brands. The lineup included the Ferretti 750, making its U.S. debut.

“This is our biggest Miami show, and 2013 marked the third consecutive year of double-digit growth for the Ferretti Group in the Americas,” Ferretti Group Americas president and CEO James Henderson said at a press gathering.

The group also used the event to announce a push to grow its brokerage and charter business in the 100-plus-foot market through its Allied Marine division. Veteran industry professional Bruce Schattenburg was tapped in January to be director of luxury yacht charters.

Absolute

Italian sport yacht builder Absolute Yachts was founded in 2002 and entered the U.S. market three years ago. It showcased three boats this year, including the U.S. introduction of its 56 Sport Yacht with twin 600-hp Volvo IPS propulsion drives.

“We believe Absolute offers the perfect blend of Italian design and materials, blended with the practicality demanded by this marketplace,” Absolute North America CEO Cos Constantinou told a press gathering along Collins Avenue during the show. “We continue to work diligently to introduce Absolute to U.S. consumers.”

Company founder and “inspirational leader” Angelo Gobbi said through an interpreter that his company is fueled by a young, passionate team that is “like a big family.”

The small builder has designed, engineered and launched two or three new models annually for the past five years.

FLIR

Being among the first to see the next step in the rapidly evolving marine electronics segment is one of the perks of covering the show.

FLIR Systems hosted about 140 guests on a party boat, including members of the press and, in a twist, representatives of its competitors in the marine electronics market — Furuno, Garmin, GOST, Nobeltec and Simrad.

Under a new agreement, each brand will offer integrated FLIR proprietary infrared technology in their branded products.

“We think that’s a powerful statement on how far we’ve taken this technology in such a short period,” says FLIR vice president of maritime sales Lou Rota.

FLIR showcased its newest product, aimed at furthering its corporate mantra: “Infrared Everywhere.” The FLIR One is the first thermal imager designed for smart phones, and it will hit the market this spring with an MSRP of $349. The product fits on any Apple iPhone 5 or 5s like a protective case. Once mounted, the device displays a live thermal image on the phone’s screen.

FLIR says pre-orders indicate that FLIR One will sell very well.

“FLIR One is all about putting thermal-imaging technology into the hands of hundreds of thousands of high-end consumers, who will then be much more likely to invest in our standalone products,” Rota says.

The company will promote the diverse applications possible with FLIR One, ranging from man-overboard situations and diagnosing engine and systems problems to detecting the onset of fever in a child.

Just two years after introducing its handheld First Mate infrared camera at a consumer-friendly price point of about $2,500, FLIR sees FLIR One as its next game-changer.

“Our mission is to stick to driving down costs by driving up volume,” Rota says.

The heart of FLIR One is its proprietary Lepton thermal-imaging camera core. The company invested three years and $100 million of research and development in the technology.

Rota says making the technology behind the thermal-imaging camera available to other manufacturers will “open up applications nobody has even thought of yet.”

Navionics

Longtime consumer electronics brand Navionics used a press conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center to tout its 30th anniversary as a leader in digital cartography and announce the introduction of a new app and wireless smart phone-to-plotter synching.

The company’s new app, Navionics Boating, is available as a free download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play for Apple and Android mobile devices and the company says it offers the same detail found on GPS chart plotters.

Additional charts and advanced feature upgrades, such as SonarCharts, Nav Module, Autorouting and Advanced Map options, are available for purchase.

Navionics also announced the expansion of its Plotter Sync functionality for use beginning this spring with Raymarine Wi-Fi-enabled multifunction displays. With the Navionics app’s GoFree feature, charts updated on a smart phone can be wirelessly transferred to all Raymarine multifunction displays with Navionics software.

Navionics president Giuseppe Carnevali says the company he founded in 1983 has grown to 500 employees in eight countries and is “creating a connected, seamless ecosystem.”

Navionics also announced expanded compatibility, including Plotter Synch, with Lowrance, Simrad and B&G brand multifunction displays.

On the docks with Jim Flannery

Spot LLC, a maker of satellite communication and tracking devices, is on a roll. Last summer it introduced the Spot Global Phone, a high-speed data and two-way voice satellite phone offering monthly or annual service plans. In the fall it debuted Spot Trace, an anti-theft device you can attach to a boat, car, motorcycle, kayak, personal watercraft or other asset to track the vehicle or vessel online if it is stolen.

In a conversation at the Spot booth at the Miami International Boat Show, Frank Bell, president of global sales and marketing for Globalstar, Spot’s parent company, says to expect another Spot innovation by the summer: Sat-Fi, a small piece of hardware with an antenna that — with Bluetooth and an app installed on your smartphone — will seamlessly switch you from cell to satellite when you lose cellphone coverage.

Bells says it’s designed for fishermen, sailors, RVers, outdoorsmen and others who travel in remote areas outside cellphone range on a vessel or vehicle.

“Install the Sat-Fi device, run the antenna and you’re set to go,” Bell says. “We’d like Sat-Fi to be ubiquitous. …We’re taking what people are used to using [cellular] and taking them beyond that.” findmespot.com/en/

Larson Boat Group president Rob Parmentier showcased Larson's re-entry into the pontoon market with the Escape.

Larson Boat Group president Rob Parmentier showcased Larson’s re-entry into the pontoon market with the Escape.

Larson

Larson Boat Group president and CEO Rob Parmentier says the Little Falls, Minn.-based builder was coming off the blocks in 2014 with two new models at Miami and it expects to introduce another eight new models by the time of the Miami show in 2015.

“What we’re doing is concentrating on what’s selling,” he says. That’s saltwater fishing boats (the Striper line), freshwater fishing boats (its FX series) and pontoons (the Escape).

Larson debuted a Striper Boats 20-foot center console at Miami and showed its Escape 25 luxury pontoon boat, which had debuted two weeks earlier at the Minneapolis Boat Show.

Parmentier says owner Irwin Jacobs has given him the money and go-ahead to charge full-bore into 2014. Besides introducing new models, Larson has added 18 dealers since October.

Parmentier now has 10 pro anglers on the professional circuit, supporting a decision Larson made three years ago to get into fishing in a big way with its FX series. “I’ve made five years’ worth of changes in three months,” he says. “A lot is happening here.”

The 20, which will come in center console, walkaround and dual console configurations, has a deep-vee hull that delivers a soft, dry ride, he says. larsonboats.com

Lehr

Lehr, a maker of propane-powered 4-strokes, introduced its most powerful outboard yet at Miami, a 15-hp model with a 210-amp internal lithium-ion electric start battery — the first outboard to carry its battery inside the cowling.

“We’re the only outboard manufacturer in the world with an internal starting battery,” says Jack Malone, vice president of Lehr’s marine division.

Powered by a cylinder of propane exactly like the one that powers a barbecue grill, the 15 is available with a short or long tiller, remote or internal battery and tiller or remote controls. Lehr also powers its 9.9-hp model with a remote cylinder and now offers a choice of internal or external battery with that model, as well.

Its 2.5- and 5-hp outboards are powered by the remote barbecue-type propane cylinder or by a smaller camp stove cylinder that screws directly into the unit.

Malone says propane emits 97 percent fewer particulates and 96 percent fewer carcinogens than gasoline in its exhaust, and no ozone-depleting hydrocarbons. It also releases no evaporative emissions and costs less than gasoline, he says.

The engine requires no choking, no priming and no winterizing. golehr.com

SlideMoor

The SlideMoor dockside mooring system is one of those ideas you wonder about: Why didn’t I think of that? SlideMoor’s Miami exhibit, which showed how a section of boat slides up and down with waves and tide on a SlideMoor mooring, stopped a lot of people dead in their tracks. It seems so sensible.

The backbone of the system is aluminum I-beams fixed as vertical tracks on two pilings along the dock. An aluminum slide with a nylon cleat and polyvinyl chloride bumper fixed to it slides up and down on each track. The boat is tied up tightly to the cleats on the slides. As waves and tide raise and lower the boat, it moves up and down on the slide, snugged up against the bumpers and securely fixed to the track.

“The key is to tie the boat tight [to the slides] on the one side,” says John D’Orazio, executive partner of Naples, Fla.-based SlideMoor. “There’s no cross-tying. The boat goes up and down. It’s inches away from the dock and won’t slip away because there’s no slack in the lines.”

The boat becomes like a floating dock, he says. SlideMoor systems start at $1,700 for two tracks and slides, not including the piling. D’Orazio says many boats were smashed against docks and sank during Hurricane Katrina or were pulled under by their lines in the big surge, but a boat on a SlideMoor mooring survived intact. slidemoor.com

Malibu

Professional wakeboarder Sean O’Brien, who has competed professionally but has settled down to coaching wakeboarding in Jupiter, Fla., was at the Miami show promoting the Axis 24, Malibu’s “affordable” ski boat, and aiming to get more young people into boats.

Malibu introduced the Axis line in 2009 amid a recessionary economy. “We got rid of the computers and all the bells and whistles,” says Malibu East Coast sales rep Guy Morrison. “You still get a performance ride but for a lot less money.”

The Axis 24 he was showing was available for $69,900 with trailer, and the boat had a tower, board racks, ballast, cruise control and surf gate (for kicking up a wake). The high-end 24 MXZ Wakesetter next to it cost over $30,000 more. Intermarine, Malibu’s Jupiter dealer and O’Brien’s base of operations, will be doing free clinics this year to get people on the water — children and families especially, Morrison says. intermarineboats.com

ACR

ACR showed two new floating ditch bags at Miami — the RapidDitch Bag, which carries 25 pounds of gear, and the RapidDitch Express, with a 15-pound capacity. Each has a waterproof pouch to store a passport, wallet, credit cards and other IDs; an EPIRB pocket on the side so that when the pocket fills with water the EPIRB automatically activates; water-resistant fabric; and a corrosion-resistant zipper. The larger bag also has a shoulder-strap tethering system that unhooks and transforms into two 4-foot safety harnesses designed to clip to survivors’ life jackets to keep everyone connected in the water.

When you’ve got all your emergency gear together in one bag “it helps with better decision-making in those panic situations,” says ACR marketing director Mikele D’Arcangelo.

The big bag retails for $89 and the smaller one for $69. ACR also exhibited its Firefly Pro emergency distress strobe light for the first time. Using wide-light-emission LEDs — a new feature for this line of ACR strobes — the Firefly produces more than 41 candela of light per strobe for as much as 56 hours of use with standard alkaline batteries. Its flash is visible more than 3-1/2 miles away. Cost: $69. acrartex.com

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.

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