How innovation is paying for itself

Posted on Written by Chris Landry

Honda Marine Design Concept Engine

In just two years Yellowfin Yachts has sold more than 100 of its lightweight 24-foot bay boats, which are built with carbon fiber and Kevlar.

“Innovation takes time, effort and financial commitment, but it allows you to stay on the edge and be successful,” says Heath Daughtry, vice president of the Bradenton, Fla., boatbuilder.

Yellowfin uses a laminate matrix of Kevlar, carbon fiber and e-glass in a vinylester resin infusion process to build the 24 Bay CE (Carbon Elite). The builder this spring was nearing completion of a Carbon Elite version of its 42-foot center console, which will be 20 percent lighter (a savings of roughly 2,500 pounds) than the company’s conventional 42-footer.

Yellowfin’s development of these high-tech hulls is just one example of the type of innovation that’s going on across the marine industry. Builders of production boats — from about 17 to 90-plus feet — are using lighter, stronger materials, and more are employing advanced building methods.

“More builders have moved to resin infusion,” says Ginger Gardiner, senior editor of CompositesWorld magazine. “There is enough money in newer-model boats for these companies to feel comfortable in making that switch because they have customers willing to pay for the increased speed and performance it achieves.”

The use of alternative materials such as carbon fiber, Innegra and Kevlar is not only on the rise, but also is regularly used in custom boat laminates, says Jordan Haar, southeast regional sales manager for Vectorply, which makes more than 500 knit reinforcement fabrics for many industries, including marine.

“If you asked me five years ago how much carbon fiber was being sold in the Southeast I would say next to none,” says Haar. “It’s a different story today. The advances in propulsion have led companies to find ways to build stronger but lighter boats.”

Vectorply works with an ever-growing list of boat companies that use resin infusion, including Viking, Hatteras, Hell’s Bay, Yellowfin, Regal, Cruisers, Marquis, MTI, EdgeWater, Scout and Maverick. Others are poised to make the switch, he says.

“When a manufacturer wants to make the switch to infusion I always make sure they know ‘why’ they are moving to infusion,” says Haar. “The ‘why’ can be different for each manufacturer. It could be weight, consistency, quality, cost, lower emissions, better working conditions or cycle time. Many times it’s a combination of a few of these, but Vectorply tailors each laminate to our customers’ ‘why.’ ”

MasterCraft’s Dock Star gives the driver much more control when in reverse; the design of the Honda concept engine was inspired by the Acura NSX Supercar.

MasterCraft’s Dock Star gives the driver much more control when in reverse; the design of the Honda concept engine was inspired by the Acura NSX Supercar.

The nerve center

Electronics stand out every year as a leading segment of innovation for the marine industry, and the multifunction display is just one of many products that have been developing rapidly. They’re larger, easier to operate and viewable under virtually all conditions and at all angles.

“[The MFDs] have really become the nerve center of the boat,” says NMEA president and executive director Mark Reedenauer. “We see more and more [manufacturers] of products — such as water makers and air conditioning — wanting that ability to tap into that nerve system.”

Trickle-down technology continues to improve electronics while pushing prices down. High-definition touch screens, side- and forward-viewing sonar and radar interface are just some of the features now found in less expensive units.

“Must-have features that were the stars of the boat show last season on the top-tier chart plotters are showing up a year later on products that are on the other end of the price sheet,” says Dave Laska, owner of L&L Electronics, a dealer and installer in Branford, Conn. “I’m in the business, and it still amazes me how fast technology moves.”

Most of the major electronics manufacturers (Furuno, Simrad and Garmin) have radar with Doppler technology with the capability to track moving targets and alert the user when targets get too close and become potential collision hazards. Each manufacturer has a different name for this function: Garmin MotionScope, Simrad VelocityTrack and Furuno Target Analyzer.

Another growth area in electronics is remote monitoring of a boat’s systems for maintenance purposes, says Reedenauer. Indeed, one of Navico’s top goals for 2017 is to increase the “connectivity” of Navico products, systems and usage data with the boat owner and service providers. (Navico owns the Simrad, Lowrance and B&G brands.) “By connecting the vessel, the boat itself can have 24/7 coverage so that when there are time-critical [maintenance] issues, they can be addressed quickly,” says Phil Gaynor, product manager for Navico’s connected vessel program.

The marine safety segment has made great strides, too, with the introduction of better man-overboard technologies, adds Reedenauer, who cites the Fell Marine MOB+ Wireless Kill Switch as a product he has been impressed with.

Torqeedo’s Cruise FP (fixed-pod) System brings electric power to a wider range of sailboats. Below: Scout‘s articulating rocket launcher pivots down so a cockpit shade can be deployed.

Torqeedo’s Cruise FP (fixed-pod) System brings electric power to a wider range of sailboats. Below: Scout‘s articulating rocket launcher pivots down so a cockpit shade can be deployed.

Easier boating

Innovation has always been critical to the marine industry’s success, says Anne Dunbar, director of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference. “All it takes is one bad experience out on the water for a boat owner to throw in the towel and look for another leisure activity that’s easier to do,” she says. “The positive impact of innovation on boating is significant — and has long-term effects. Boating can be challenging, but the industry has been making significant strides to make it easier every year. That will be evident at the next IBEX [Sept. 19-21 in Tampa, Fla.] for sure.”

Easier boating often translates to more comfortable boating. More companies are designing their boats with the space and engineering to accept stabilization technology. Marine stabilization company Seakeeper says it had a record year in 2016, selling 1,000 gyros for the first time. Last November it introduced the Seakeeper 3, a gyroscope that can be installed in boats from 30 to 39 feet. “Our goal has always been to make boating more enjoyable and more accessible to people all over the world,” sales and marketing vice president Andrew Semprevivo says in a recent statement.

Gyros help control the rock and roll of a boat at sea, and new GPS-enabled station-keeping systems are controlling the orientation of the boat and even how it drifts. Four companies — Yamaha, Mercury, SeaStar Solutions and ZF Marine — this year debuted boat-control systems that are enhancements of their current joystick technology (see Page 32).

Boat companies also are coming up with ways to increase vessel control, with builders of tow-sport boats leading the way. The popularity of wake surfing and other tow sports has prompted the arrival of new wave-shaping systems.

Sea Ray’s SLX-W 230 is an inboard-powered boat built with trim tabs, fins and ballast tanks that control the wake. “Two thousand pounds of ballast are integrated into the hull liner; the ballast and the hull’s wake-shaping gear can be controlled with three touches of the helm’s Dynamic Display digital home screen,” says Shelby Kirby, Sea Ray’s director of marketing. “Boaters can select from presets to shape the wake to their comfort level and activity, whether left- or right-footed, novice or pro, wakeboarding, wake surfing, tubing or cruising.”

The SLX-W 230 also has Mercury’s new Joystick Piloting for Inboards that uses the main engine and the thrusters to control the boat. The system is designed to operate with the 320-hp and 370-hp inboard/V-drive tow sports derivatives of Mercury’s new purpose-built gasoline 4.5L V6 and 6.2L V8 engines.

MasterCraft’s Dockstar Handling System allows for easier driving in reverse, reducing skipper stress when docking or in crowded marinas. A pair of low-profile, flanking rudders enable port-side reverse control, which was previously unattainable with inboard towboats, says MasterCraft. “The Dockstar Handling System … removes any last entry barriers to buying an inboard towboat for owners who typically have preferred the handling and maneuverability of a traditional outboard or sterndrive configuration,” company president and CEO Terry McNew says in a statement. “MasterCraft and its progression are about making time on the water easier.”

The Raymarine Axiom MFD works with its Quantum radar, CHIRP Sonar, FLIR thermal cameras and Evolution autopilot.

The Raymarine Axiom MFD works with its Quantum radar, CHIRP Sonar, FLIR thermal cameras and Evolution autopilot.

Outboard technology

We’re well into the second generation of 4-stroke outboards, which tout better power-to-weight ratios and even greater reliability. The new Yamaha F90 weighs 13 pounds less than its predecessor, for instance.

Honda Marine brought a concept outboard to the Miami International Boat Show. With its winged blade and aerodynamic cowling design, the full-size model drew a lot of attention, but Honda was tight-lipped about whether it would be coming out with a bigger outboard. There was no horsepower label on the concept engine, but it was similar in size to some of the 300-plus-hp outboards on the market today. (The BF250 is its highest-horsepower model.)

We saw some movement in the electric propulsion segment in the past 12 months as Greenline emerged under new ownership — SVP Yachts of Slovenia — to revive its diesel/electric yachts.

Torqeedo’s Cruise pod drives have collected several marine industry awards. An alternative to inboard diesels, they use lithium batteries and work with new electronic throttle levers, specifically designed for sailboats. The system can be charged by shore power, solar power and with a generator. It can also generate energy through hydro-generation while under sail.

Better boats

Boat companies are also working on more advanced, smarter deck and superstructure designs. Seating has become more versatile. T-tops are lighter and stronger — using alternative materials such as carbon fiber — and deck components play multiple roles.

Sea Ray generated a lot of oohs and aahs at the Miami International Boat Show with its SLX 400, “The Entertainer.” The manufacturer has taken the open cockpit layout to the next level, with a starboard quarter design that integrates a foldout wing that functions as an additional swim platform.

“Space allocation is remarkable, thanks to thoughtful design and engineering that make use of the entire hull and deck,” says Kirby. “From cockpit to bow, everything is on one level, providing a natural flow throughout.”

Sea Ray captured an innovation award at the Miami show for the SLX 400. Its Sea Ray Sundancer 320 was also impressive, combining the strength of a traditional express cruiser’s cabin accommodations and the layout of a bowrider.

Scout Boats’ self-articulating rocket launcher rod holder won an innovation award, too. The row of hardtop-mounted rod holders pivots down and aft, allowing a SureShade awning to extend over the cockpit. Scout also showcased another new deck component that makes better use of space for greater diversity (and more fun on the water). The leaning post on the 380 LXF converts from a two-person, aft-facing settee (with footrest) to a summer kitchen at the touch of a button. Scout president Steve Potts demonstrated the new component at the show. “At Scout, we strive to create what doesn’t exist,” he says.

Boston Whaler also showcased its multitasking leaning post on the 230 Outrage (another innovation winner). You flip down the helm bench seat’s back to reveal a workstation for prepping lines, tackle or snacks. In its “up” position the leaning post gives anglers a supported aft-facing leaning area. The backrest rotates 90 degrees to form an aft-facing seat, all while preserving space for a 54-quart cooler. There’s a lot going on here, but Whaler makes it all work seamlessly.

Boaters are willing to pay for innovation if it makes their time on the water better.

The base price of the Yellowfin 42 Offshore with triple 350s is $456,903. The Carbon Elite version adds $58,000 to the price. “It takes the right customer to want this type of innovation, but they’re out there,” says Daughtry.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.

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