Freelance automotive reporter Clifford Atiyeh stood at the helm of a 32-foot Boston Whaler Vantage with twin 350-hp Mercury outboards as it made its way north along the Hudson River, a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline gracing the starboard side of the boat.
“Should I slow down so we don’t hit that wave?” Atiyeh asked Boston Whaler vice president Jeff Vaughn as the boat approached a large ferry wake.
“You can, but try to keep the boat up on plane,” Vaughn answered, showing Atiyeh how to angle the boat into the wake for minimum impact. Once it was cleared, Atiyeh grinned.
Vaughn instructed him to start turning the wheel. “Keep turning it; keep turning it,” Vaughn said, so Atiyeh could get a feel for how the Whaler turned and handled on the choppy river. He was visibly impressed by the way the boat handled, as were his two colleagues on board.
“You’re doing great,” Vaughn told him — and he was; a bystander would never know it was his first time driving a boat. When Vaughn demonstrated the joystick control, one of them said, “Parking assistant!”
“It’s like that, but with a boat; it’s a docking assistant,” Vaughn said. “You can take someone who’s never docked a boat before and they can do it.”
It was one of several outings on seven boats docked at MarineMax Chelsea Piers in Manhattan in an event Mercury Marine hosted Aug. 8 as part of its push to reach mainstream media outlets.
Mercury has stepped up its efforts to let non-boaters, either directly or through media reports, experience the technology it developed to make boating easier, less intimidating and safer. This was the second year in a row that Mercury has done the event out of MarineMax at Chelsea Piers in New York. (It held a similar event in Chicago June 1.) The company is planning to add more events in additional locations next year, said spokesman Lee Gordon.
“Basically we want to get people out on the water” to experience boating and the technology they might not have been familiar with, Vaughn said.
The company brought seven boats — the Boston Whaler, a Cigarette with quad Mercury 350-hp Verado outboards, a Harris Grand Mariner SL 250 pontoon with twin 350 Verados, a 29-foot Sea Ray SDX with twin 250-hp outboards, a 31-foot sterndrive-powered Sea Ray SLX — and the most popular boat, an Outerlimits SV43 powered by twin Mercury Racing 1350s, with company owner Joe Sgro on hand to answer questions.
It wasn’t a typical industry event. It wasn’t timed with new-product debuts, and it even involved Mercury president John Pfeifer touting boat clubs and peer-to-peer options to a millennial-focused outlet — a potentially important point as the technology continues down this path. Although it does make boating much easier for beginners, it also adds to the price of the boat.
“This is a great centralized location so we can get in front of a lot of different journalists,” said Erik Christiansen, general manager of Mercury Racing.
Aspects of boating that were covered included millennials in boating, family outings on the water, technology and speed. “A lot of the journalists who aren’t from boating media don’t know what to expect at all, and they’re completely blown away,” said Mercury chief technology officer David Foulkes.
Mercury doubled the number of media outlets it attracted from about 10 last August to 22 this year, which Christiansen attributed to Gordon’s media connections. (Gordon spent 15 years as a television anchor and producer for CBS and FOX affiliates in Chicago, Montana, and Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Fla., including time as a sideline reporter for the NFL on FOX.)
Attendees included Fox News, CNBC, Cosmo, Gervois Magazine, Men’s Health, the New York Post, Seventeen Magazine, Yahoo and Cheddar, an outlet that bills itself as “a live post-cable network focused on covering the most innovative products, technologies and services transforming our lives.” ThesocialNY.com and brazenwoman.com also attended, as well as NY Bob — Robert Anthony — who has 1.2 million Pinterest followers, Gordon said.
Camera crews from mainstream media outlets piled onto boats at MarineMax Chelsea Piers on a beautiful August morning, laden with equipment and fussing with personal flotation devices, unsure of how the straps functioned.
Stepping onto the boats, a Fox News crew talked about how they would frame shots from the chase boats, and inside the main boat, and how many minutes were left until the next “hit.” The entire focus was on work.
But when they returned, most were smiling, many laughing, and several telling stories about what happened when they hit a wake at 60 mph over lunch. One member of the Fox crew inquired how much a Harris would cost him.
“Like last year, there was a lot of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this kind of technology existed,’ ” Gordon said after the event. “Also a lot of, ‘When are you turning the engines on?’ when they were already on, not realizing how quiet the Verados really are.”
As Mercury, and the industry overall, continue down the path of easy boating, it’s important to give non-boaters opportunities to experience the technology, Foulkes said. “We’ll keep adding technology to the joystick, molds, active trim, and look at how far we can go in making boating more autonomous.
“If you look at the automotive world, there’s a stretchy goal of total automation, but they’re progressively adding more autonomous features” and that will be Mercury’s goal moving forward, as well, Foulkes said.
Cheddar broadcast a live 10-minute spot from the Hudson River in front of the Empire State Building on a Harris Grand Mariner powered by twin 350 Verados, conducting an interview with Pfeifer that focused on millennials in boating.
Soundings Trade Only and one of the Cheddar videographers were on a Cigarette center console with quad 350 Verados, which was being used as a chase boat for the Harris so the news outlet could get some wide shots.
“While boat ownership among millennials might be down a bit, boating participation among millennials is really healthy,” Pfeifer said during the segment. “There are more avenues than there ever have been before for millennials to participate in boating without being a boat owner,” such as boat clubs and peer-to-peer models. “Anything that gets people on the water, that gets people on a boat to enjoy it, that’s great news for Mercury Marine and the business we’re in.”
Fox News and Fox Business focused their coverage on speed and technology, and the fact that the industry, based largely in America, has rebounded. Those outlets did live spots featuring automotive reporter Gary Gastelu piloting the Outerlimits SV43, which had twin 1,350-hp Mercury Racing engines and holds the record as the world’s fastest V- bottom at just over 180 mph. “That’s almost twice as powerful as the fastest street car you can buy,” Gastelu said during a Fox Business spot.
“The boat industry [is] back after bottoming out in 2010,” Gastelu said during the Fox News segment. “They sell about a quarter of a million powerboats in the United States every year, and 95 percent of them are made in the United States — this one comes from Rhode Island.” He pointed out in a Fox Business segment that the engines are made in Fond du Lac, Wis.
But the other boats weren’t lost among attendees. “While I’m used to supercars and high speeds, it’s a total shock to travel 100 miles per hour on the water and feel 2,700 horsepower kicking in,” Atiyeh said after the event. “Outerlimits is clearly the hypercar of the boating world, though I’d rather cruise slowly in total comfort. I’d take the 32-foot Boston Whaler in a heartbeat.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue.