A couple of new products that caught my eye in Miami were highlighted at the annual Innovation Awards, presented by the NMMA and judged by a panel from Boating Writers International. Of the seven winners and two honorable mentions chosen this year, one was the broadband radar by Simrad (BR-24) that I observed in action earlier last week. The other, which radically updates an old concept, was the Aspen Power Cat.
This 18-foot day cruiser, the L80 Launch, is a catamaran, with two hulls, and because of that, its 10-foot beam creates plenty of seating area. Yet it’s not really a catamaran, because the hulls are not a matched pair. “The hulls, while identical in profile, are different in plan view,” says the company literature. That means they look the same from the side but their widths and cross-sectional shapes tell a different story. One hull is quite a bit fuller than the other and has a rudder, engine, shaft and propeller. The other has none of the above and is 35 percent finer.
If you think about it, the purpose of the second hull is primarily to balance the boat, giving it all of the stability characteristics. But that means it’s more like a proa than a cat, and the proa concept that’s been around since the Polynesians invented it, sometime long before Captain Cook observed their outrigger-type sailing canoes in the 18th century.
Aspen calls this their SeaGlider technology and what it allows them to do is achieve good speeds and great fuel efficiency. According to their tests, in a fully loaded state, their Yanmar 110 diesel engine burned 3.4 nautical miles to the gallon at 3200 RPM up 15+ at 800 RPM. Speeds were 20.4 knots at the top end and 3.8 at the low.
Learning about innovations such as the L80 was a bright spot when listening to industry reports from the NMMA on boat sales dropping 28 percent for 2008 compared to 2007. According to NMMA president Thom Dammrich, boat manufacturing was a $40 billion business in 2006, dropped to $37.5 billion in 2007, and when the final numbers are in, is expected to be less than $30 billion for 2008.
The silver lining Thom highlighted was interesting, though. He said that since the NMMA's Grow Boating campaign began in 2006, the number of people who've participated in boating in North America has increased. After a steady decline from 1997 to 2005, 6 percent more people went boating in 2006, 9 percent in 2007, and 1 percent in 2008.
Part of the Grow Boating effort is advertising and marketing the activity (think about the National Dairy Council's "Got Milk?" campaign, featuring 250 celebrities with milk mustaches), but another key part is Dealer Certification. The goal has been to provide new boat buyers with a better experience, and the J.D.Power reports I mentioned the other day indicate that among major boat and engine manufacturers, the trend is a positive one for buyers.
Trying to improve your experience with new boats was a sentiment echoed to me by Eric Cashion, communications director for Hatteras Yachts. Not only is the company offering good pricing on new models, such as the Hatteras 60 Motor Yacht, but they're offering extended warranties.