A peek into the future

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What innovations and technologies are on the horizon? Boatbuilders and designers say the focus will be on the helm station.

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Engineers are dabbling with simplifying electrical and electronic control systems with more intuitive controls for propulsion, electronics and accessories. “We should see major advances in the coming years, with cleaner helm stations and less clutter,” says Doug Zurn, president of Zurn Yachts in Marblehead, Mass., which designed the new MJM 50z.

No longer will we see a smattering of control heads at the helm, each displaying different information, says Robert Kaidy, CEO of Ocean5 Naval Architects in Stuart, Fla. “A few years ago the console looked like an old aircraft’s. All of these components had different display styles and interfaces. That was a big pain in the neck for the owner. In the next five to 10 years, you are not going to see this on boats. The control for all the electronic devices and even electrical devices is going to converge in one display or system.”

That’s already happening with Volvo Penta’s Glass Cockpit — a networked electronics system developed with Garmin that manages all boat, engine and navigational information and funnels it to touch-screen displays.

Change is also on the way in terms of improving the driver’s comfort — for example, shock-mitigating seats. “The Coast Guard and military world is completely immersed in shock-mitigating seats,” says Michael Peters, president of Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota, Fla. “We cannot design a government agency boat now without shock-mitigating seats. It used to be the boat could take more than the person, and for the first time the person can take more than the boat. It’s not so much that the boat is faster; it’s that you can run it faster in worse conditions.”

Skippers of big center consoles who had to stand when driving to absorb the boat’s vertical accelerations can now sit, Peters says. “Consequently you will run the boat harder because your body won’t be so worn out,” he says. “That natural tendency to slow the boat down because you are hurting, that is gone now.”

Because the boats will be used harder, designers and builders might see some structures fail, and this presents new challenges. “We are having to rewrite how we design a structure,” Peters says, but he welcomes innovation and change. “Every innovation is good for designers, no matter if it’s a drive system or shock-mitigating seats or new engines because it gives us more crayons in our coloring set.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue.

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