The boating industry is booming, in large part due to the pandemic. There was nothing like being locked down for people to have motivagted to get outside and on the water. More people new to boating have taken up the activity while experienced boaters have changed the way they boat by choosing different vessels or outfitting them in new ways. Let’s look at 10 trends that are going strong in the industry and changing the face of boating.
Multi-tasking Boats And Space-Saving Crossovers
Today's boats have become akin to SUVs on the water and that means they’re being asked to do multiple duties. For example, center consoles used to be bare bones fishing machines but today, they can fish in the morning, tow skiers in the afternoon, entertain at happy hour with onboard grills and dinettes and even provide overnight accommodations in cabins with full heads and showers. We've seen center consoles growing in length and offshore capability by the year. Likewise bowriders have been increasing in size too, becoming crossover style vessels with yacht-like amenities and even cabins down below, while watersport boats are being built to be able to tow wake boarders and often have ballast tanks that can be filled to make them truer surf boats.
Small trailerable cabin cruisers, aka "pocket yachts" or "trailerable trawlers" have been packing in more and more features into remarkably compact boats. Great examples of this are boats like Cutwater's C-24 Coupe and Ranger Tugs R-23 - a full-berth, live-aboard style cruiser under 25 feet. Overall today's boats work hard to serve entire families so they must do it all.
Big Power - Multiple Outboards
Boats are gaining muscle. Larger and more engines are being packed onboard. It’s not unusual to see 3-5 outboards with huge horsepower hanging off today’s transoms. The advantages are many: moving the propulsion system aft creates more room in the boat and if a repower is needed, it’s easier to take an outboard off the transom than to pull an inboard engine out of its compartment. Today’s outboards run smoother and are more fuel efficient as well as quiet.
A clear example of this is Mercury's V12 600HP 7.6-liter monster powerplant Verado outboard engine that is finding its way onto the transom of more and more boats on the water. In particular this engine's gearcase pivots underwater independently from the rest of the engine - an innovative space-saving feature that means more power can go on the back of outboard-powered boats than previously possible. We should also mention that open day boats, particularly center console boats, are also getting bigger and bigger to take advantage of the power being offered by outboard engine builders.
Pontoon boats have been the fastest growing segment of boating for a while. These versatile boats used to be cocktail party barges but today, they can fish, tow, and entertain with the best. Many pontoons now are built as tritoons with a third tube in the middle that adds buoyancy and strength so the boats can carry a bigger payload and larger engines. Bigger and bigger motors have made these boats faster and more versatile so don’t be surprised to see a tritoon coming at you at 30+ mph.
Boat builders have been busy at work creating the next generation of pontoon boats with highly configurable decks and innovative new features. Take for example the unique 2022 Sea-Doo Switch. The Switch is a pontoon boat with the heart of a PWC Sea-Doo. Fully configurable for any activity under the sun, tere’s nothing quite like being seated behind the unique handlebar controls of the Switch.
Speaking of fast-growing segments of boating - power cats have come on strong. They’re more visible in charter as well as in private ownership and have several advantages: They have more exterior and interior space; there’s more privacy in the accommodations; they have system redundancies built in; they’re fuel efficient since they’re not dragging a heavy keel through the water and they’re miore stable so less likely to induce seasickness. Power cats can plane at 25 mph or they can go the distance as slower multihull trawlers so they’re a great choice for coastal or distance cruising.
Small Is The New Big
You don’t to go big to get on the water in style. Smaller vessels are more accessible so inflatables are booming an they’re quite sophisticated these days. Paddle- and pedal-powered boats like Hobie kayaks have grown appendages that dial them in for specific activities like fishing, cruising or even sailing. Also, personal watercraft (PWCs) have become complex mini-boats themselves. On A PWC, multiple riders can bring along fishing tackle and rods, a cooler with lunch, great tunes and even a pylon to tow a boarder. Also, many of the big PWCs today carry enough onboard fuel and advanced navigation equipment to act as pocket cruisers.
Nobody’s roughing it on the water these days. From mood lighting above and below the waterline to sophisticated electronics that just about navigate for you, today’s boats are safer, more comfortable and easier to use than ever before due to advanced technology. Digital switching has trickled down from large yachts to just about every kind of boat and that makes onboard integration a standard. Most people are used to a level of digital switching from their cars and homes, so it makes sense that their boats have become “smart” as well.
Apps For Everything
Speaking of convenience – there’s an app for that. Apps bring lots of information onto a boat like weather, navigation, fishing highlights and safety. You can monitor your boat remotely from your tablet, rent a boat from a private party via your phone or turn onboard systems on and off before you ever set foot on the dock. Turn on your lights and AC before you step aboard or switch everything off with one button. Apps are good for education too. You can learn to sail or tune an outboard with an app. Boat builders, dealers and third parties like electronics manufacturers are developing apps for their products so it’s all at your fingertips.
Boating among non-boat owners has exploded with the growth of boat clubs, peer-to-peer boat rental organizations, charter and fractional ownership. Most boating clubs are membership based so you join and then rent a boat to use for a day or a weekend. Peer-to-peer organizations connect boat owners with boat users so owners defray costs and non-owners can get on the water without a large commitment. Chartering in exotic locations is off the charts. Even people who have never set foot on a boat are opting for water-based vacations by hiring a professional captain and flying to their boating desination. Finally, fractional ownership of large yachts has also grown. These boats usually have 3-5 “owners” who share the yacht and possibly also a professional captain.
Hybrid and electric cars are on the road and the same goes for boats on the water. So far, only 2% of boats have an electric component to their propulsion system but that’s changing quickly. Some of this has been made possible by the skyrocketing growth of lithium batteries that provide energy-dense storage for house and propulsion needs. Lithium power management has become smaller, lighter, cheaper and safer so electric vessels from tow boats to ferries are popping up everywhere.
Change has come to all levels of boating and that means the big yachts as well. First, the big boats are getting bigger. It used to be that 80 feet would qualify for a superyacht and although there doesn’t seem to be any hard number, you may be laughed out of the yacht club if you call anything under 100 feet a superyacht. Second, these yachts are morphing in their onboard arrangements. Main deck master suites are popular as are privacy panels that open and close to hide or show another part of the boat. For example, the galley can be the separate domain of the crew, or it can be opened and integrated into a great room effect if the owners like. Also, loose (rather than integrated/fixed) furniture is being used which provides versatility to how a space is set up and used. Finally, superyachts bring along friends now. It’s not unusual to have a 200-foot superyacht followed by a 100-foot support vessel that carries extra crew, toys like PWCs and helicopters, fuel and provisions for the master yacht to use.
The above are just a few examples of how boating is changing. Whether you’re new to boating or are looking to expand your horizons, chances are there are boats, gear, apps and motors that will change the way you spend your days on the water, so enjoy.