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With outboard-powered boats getting bigger every year, where and how to store them is becoming a bigger concern. They’re not easily trailered, and many rack-storage facilities can’t accommodate them. It’s a problem that sometimes keeps a buyer from making a purchase.

“These guys are already worrying about how they’re going to store the boat,” says Dotson Guice, a salesman at MarineMax in Charleston, S.C.

The dealership has a SeaPen in a pond on-site, so when the question of storing a boat comes up, Guice walks the customer out to show him how the SeaPen works. “After you show them, it’s, ‘How soon can we get this done?’ ” Guice says.

SeaPen, a device best described as a portable dry dock, has gained popularity up and down the East Coast since it was introduced in the United States in 2018. A boat sits on a net made of UV-stabilized polypropylene material. The SeaPen eliminates the need for bottom paint and is more user-friendly than a traditional boat lift.

The boat sits on a mesh system made of breathable, marine-grade rope.

The boat sits on a mesh system made of breathable, marine-grade rope.

Aussie Innovation

SeaPen came to the United States courtesy of Craig Freeman, who owned boat dealerships for 17 years in South Carolina. One of his customers was in Australia and saw a SeaPen. He snapped a photo and sent it to Freeman. “He said, ‘I’m not sure what’s going on here, but this boat is dry,’ ” Freeman recalls.

After contacting SeaPen’s managing director, Mark Barber, Freeman flew to Australia to see the products and the factory. Barber’s father, Alan, had invented the SeaPen about 20 years earlier. (The company makes 350 units per year.) Freeman came home with a distribution agreement. He is now the director for the company he co-founded, Solstice Docking Solutions.

What drew Freeman to the product was its simplicity, that the boat sits at water level, and the fact that there’s no need for bottom paint. The SeaPen is made up of a frame of half-inch-thick high-density polyethylene, netting composed of breathable rope that sits above a Teflon-coated membrane, and a control box and water-sensing discharge pumps. When the after end of the pen is lowered, the membrane and net drop below the water surface to set the angle. The boat is then driven in, the back is closed, and the discharge pump is activated.

The membrane conforms to the shape of the boat that is floating on of the net. The automatic pumps turn off when the SeaPen is dry and constantly monitor for water from rain. When an owner wants to go for a ride, he pushes a button, lowers the back of the pen and backs out. The device can be tied up to virtually any dock or slip, so an owner renting a slip in a marina can use a SeaPen. It runs on 110 volts AC, so no special electrical systems are required.

The SeaPen only works with trimmable engines such as outboards and sterndrives, and it is not intended to be used in constant rough-water environments. With that said, SeaPens have weathered hurricanes and seasonal storms.

The SeaPen is available in several sizes for outboard and sterndrive boats to 65 feet.

The SeaPen is available in several sizes for outboard and sterndrive boats to 65 feet.

Design Benefits

“The thing that I loved about it when I first saw it was that it’s a simple process,” Freeman says.

The boat sits at the same height that it would if it were floating, so waterfront homeowners say their view isn’t obstructed the way it would be with a boat lift. Because bottom painting is no longer necessary, there’s a positive environmental impact, with less time and money spent on the paint and prep process. “Customers love it because the boat sits in the water for its entire life without a waterline,” Freeman says.

He estimates that the cost of a SeaPen works out to between 5 and 7 percent of the value of the boat. Using a 42-foot Scout as an example, the boat costs about $1.2 million. If an owner spends $5,000 every time the bottom is painted, he will have spent $25,000 on bottom paint over five years. When the time comes to sell, a boat loses 10 to 15 percent if it has a painted bottom; and if an owner wants to step up in size, he can sell the SeaPen. There’s a three-year warranty on the net and membrane, and one year on the electronics.

Some owners are planning ahead and buying a SeaPen bigger than their current boat. “My most recent customer bought a 35-foot Scout, but he bought a pen to accommodate a 40-footer,” Guice says.

Another advantage compared with a lift is that the boat is accessible while it’s in the SeaPen. Owners can walk around on the net to clean the boat or put on a cover.

5_SeaPen-BluePrint-Diagram

Establishing a Presence

After he secured the distribution agreement, Freeman had a choice of trying to market the SeaPen with a grassroots campaign or partner with a larger company. He had a relationship with the management at Solstice, so the two formed a joint venture in 2018. The first SeaPen was installed that year, and at the Miami International Boat Show the following year, it won an Innovation Award.

The SeaPen is manufactured in Australia, and Freeman has contracted with a supplier in Ohio for the control boxes. The air hoses for the rear gate attach to the side of the control box with a quick-disconnect fitting, and if power is lost, the customer can pull the hose and the gate will drop. That way, owners can always get their boat out. A supplied hand pump can then raise the gate after the boat is put back in place.

SeaPen sizes range from 21 feet long by 10 feet wide to 65 by 15 feet, with 45 by 13 feet being the most popular. Freeman recently acquired a 20,0000-square-foot warehouse in South Carolina and has seven employees plus subcontractors who assist with installations. He tries to keep 100 pens in stock.

The framing is manufactured from high-density polyethylene that can be walked on for 360-degree access to the boat.

The framing is manufactured from high-density polyethylene that can be walked on for 360-degree access to the boat.

From his time as a dealer, Freeman developed relationships with several boatbuilders, including Pursuit and Scout. He showed SeaPen to Dave Wallace, president of Scout Boats, and the company now uses a SeaPen to protect its boats at larger in-water shows. “From a convenience standpoint, I think it’s much better than a lift, and it’s definitely better than a rack storage,” Wallace says. “Dealers are really catching on to it.”

Freeman says that his annual sales have doubled. He’s sold about 200 SeaPens from Maine to Florida and as far west as Orange Beach, Ala. As a former dealer, he wants to make sure that he doesn’t grow so fast that he can’t service his customers. “A lot of people are still seeing it for the first time,” he says. “We’re not just pushing product to push product.” Once people see the SeaPen, it seems to push itself. 

This article was originally published in the February 2022 issue.

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