Innovation Awards: lots of ‘cool new stuff’ - Trade Only Today

Innovation Awards: lots of ‘cool new stuff’

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More entries that focused on electronics and safety impressed the judges in Miami

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Entries in the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s annual Miami Innovation Awards competition doubled from last year, with electronics and safety categories leading the way.

“In this current economic climate it was surprising how many entries there were,” says judge Lenny Rudow, boat review editor for Boats.com. “We were afraid there was going to be a much thinner selection of entries, but we ended up with a lot of good products and cool new stuff. Marine electronics was just great. There were probably four different products that in any given year probably could have won. They were all that cool, that new and that interesting.”

Thirteen Innovation Awards and two Honorable Mentions were presented in 13 categories: Applications and Mobile Software: Beneteau Toucan Dealer App by Jester Communications Runabout and Fishing Craft to 24 feet: Pro Skiff Series by Mako Cruisers (25' to 60' including fishing craft): SLX 250 by Sea Ray PWC & Jet Boats: Sea Doo RXP-X 260 by Bombardier Sailboats: Oceanis Series 48 by Beneteau Docking and Fendering Equipment: V-Lift by Sunstream Boat Lifts Honorable Mention: Eel Shore Power Cord by Marinco Consumer Electronics and Software: InReach by Delorme Honorable Mention: MS-AV700 Audio and Video Entertainment Package by Fusion Electronics Consumer Installed Non-Electronic Hardware: Scuba Donning Assistance System by Dive Mate Water Sports & Equipment: Battle Saddle by Release Marine Outboard Engines: DF300 AP by Suzuki Marine: Consumer Safety Equipment: AIS Watchmate Vision by Vesper Pontoon & Deckboats: Ambassador by Avalon Environmental Award: Propane Outboard by Lehr

Rudow’s favorite? The DeLorme inReach 2-Way Satellite Communicator. “What they’ve done is figure out a way to take the emergency utility of satellite texting and broaden it into a real full-blown piece of communications equipment,” says Rudow, who was one of six judges. “Everything you can do with a [satellite] phone you can do with this, except you’re talking with your fingers instead of your mouth.”

The $249.95 inReach is the first consumer-affordable satellite communicator with two-way SOS and personal text messaging, delivery confirmation, remote GPS tracking and worldwide coverage via the Iridium network, according to the company. “One of the criteria we judge is: Will the product have an impact on the marine industry, on the boating community?” says Rudow, who also is the electronics editor for BoatUS and Marlin magazines. “When I see something like this for $250 the first thing I think is, Wow, even I can afford this. Now that’s impact.”

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In addition to price and industry/consumer benefit, the judges determine a product’s practicality and whether the entry has innovative distinction from other products being made, says Innovation Awards judge chairwoman Zuzana Prochazka.

Choosing among 68 products

The NMMA organizes the competition and Boating Writers International members judge the products. Sixty-eight products were entered this year — up from 33 last year, says Prochazka, president of the BWI board of directors. “Electronics always has the most entries. It’s always the most innovative category and it’s always the most difficult to judge,” she says.

The safety category continues to strengthen, too, she says. “You could argue that one or two products in electronics could have gone into the safety category,” says Prochazka, editor of TalkoftheDock.com and technical editor of Latitudes & Attitudes. “It depends on which category the company chooses for their product.” The judges have the authority to transfer a product to another category, but they’ll only do that if the product is going to win in that category, she says.

The AIS Watchmate Vision by Vesper took home the top prize in the Consumer Safety Equipment category. The Watchmate is a dedicated AIS display that combines a touch screen, Wi-Fi and NMEA 2000 capability in a compact unit, with iPad and iPhone apps for added functionality. “Eliminating the clutter enhances this product’s usability,” says judge Elaine Lembo, Cruising World deputy editor. “You can instantly see targets around you and who’s headed your way on a clear color screen.”

Adds Rudow: “It’s the most user-friendly AIS I have encountered by a long shot.”

Ed Sherman was impressed most with the Suzuki outboard with the “switchable propeller rotation feature,” he says. “This is a true breakthrough that will save dealers and customers considerable time and money with dual-engine setups.”

Suzuki’s DF300 AP Selective Rotation combines standard and counter-rotation operation into the same outboard by switching an electronic circuit. This eliminates the need to buy a dedicated counter-rotation outboard, says Larry Vandiver, Suzuki’s marketing director. “For the first time that I am aware of, an outboard … can be a counter-rotation or a regular-rotation [engine] with a change of an electronic device,” he says. “This means that dealers don’t have to look at heavy stocks of inventory or inventory that becomes mismatched. It controls inventory and inventory control is a major factor right now.”

Another outboard — Lehr’s propane-powered engine — won the Environmental Award. Propane from a 16-ounce “camping bottle” and/or a remote 5-gallon barbecue powers its 2.5- and 5-hp outboards. “You take your propane bottle off of your camping stove, screw it into your outboard and away you go,” Rudow says. “Super-nifty. [Lehr representatives] were running it in the convention center hall.” They could safely do that because the engines have zero evaporative emissions.

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The Lehr outboard was also one of three products to win West Marine’s Green Product of the Year honors. The others were Entropy’s Super Sap epoxy and Torqeedo’s Travel 1003 electric outboard.

The Lehr and Torqeedo engines make boating a cleaner experience, and a new construction technique allows Sea Ray to build a quieter boat. The Sea Ray 250 SLX bowrider won for most innovative boat in the Cruisers category. It’s engineered and built with Sea Ray’s Quiet Ride — a proprietary combination of acoustical forensic, engineering and sound-attenuation materials that the builder has worked on for four years, says Rob Noyes, Sea Ray vice president of sales and marketing.

Rudow likes the innovation because it will make boating more enjoyable. “That is something we need to do in the industry if we want people to become and remain boaters — make the experience more pleasant, not a source of headaches,” he says. “[Quiet Ride is] a knock-your-socks-off innovation. I hope they put this into their whole line of boats.”

No sea trials

The judges were unable to sea-trial the boats, but they did talk to marine journalists who had been aboard the Sea Ray with Quiet Ride. “Some editors had measured sound levels and had solid numbers to compare to,” Rudow says. “And the difference was significant. They gave it a big thumbs-up.”

In some cases, the judges had already tested a product entry — for example, the Mako Pro Skiff series. The Mako’s innovative hull shape delivers stability, good rough-water handling and a greater load-carrying capacity, according to judge Alan Jones, executive editor of Boating World magazine. “And it’s an affordable package of boat, engine and trailer that lowers the barrier to entry for anyone thinking of getting into boating,” Jones says.

Mako sees the Pro Skiff series, which includes two 17-footers and a 16-footer, as a boat-motor-trailer package that’ll lure anglers off the pier or beach and onto the water, says John Bower, manager of saltwater products for the Tracker Marine Group, Mako’s parent company. “Skiffs haven’t historically been an innovative market and skiffs have some faults that we felt if we did our homework we could avoid and come up with a better product,” Bower says. “And, from a cost standpoint, our philosophy focuses on consumer value and trying to get as many people out on the water as economically possible.

“We’ve come up with a boat-motor-trailer package that can be towed with a Class I hitch by virtually any vehicle and at the same time can be operated as economically as possible,” he says. “If you look at gas prices today, economy is never a bad thing.”

The 2012 Mako 16 Pro Skiff CC is $12,395 with a 25-hp Mercury 4-stroke and a trailer. The Pro 17 Skiff CC is $13,595 with a 30-hp Mercury 4-stroke and a trailer. The Pro 17 Skiff Tiller is $10,395 with a 25-hp Mercury 4-stroke and a trailer.

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The center console models come with a forward seat with an 8-gallon aerated bait well and molded-in grab handles, and a cushioned helm seat with a built-in 85-quart cooler. The tiller model standard equipment list includes two bench seats (aft and amidships), a cranking battery with tray, and a portable fuel tank with a hold-down strap.

With a 60-hp 4-stroke, the Pro 17 Skiff CC tops out at 33 mph and gets nearly 7 mpg; at 20 mph it gets 8.9 mpg, according to data Mako supplied. The hull design — called the Advance Inverted V — contributes to the efficiency by using vents outboard of the centerline to funnel aerated water away from the propeller, Bower says. The result: The engine has cleaner water to chew through for greater speed and better tracking and handling, he says. The bow also incorporates a spray deflector for a drier ride.

Despite being value boats, the finish quality is high, Bower says. “We don’t have any rough fiberglass,” he says. “It’s all molded gelcoat surfaces for easy cleanup.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue.

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