The Miami International Boat Show is the premier boat show in the US and is where marine manufacturers often showcase their new products for the first time. This year, I attended the show as a speaker at a couple of industry board meetings and had the opportunity to walk the show afterward. Below are some of my observations regarding recent industry trends and what they mean for boaters. Because the Miami show caters primarily to saltwater boaters, please note that most of these items pertain to that style of boating.
1. Evolution of Outboard Runabouts
Up until fairly recently, fishing boats were almost always outboard powered whereas pleasure boats had sterndrive engines. However, the growth in outboard sizes and improvements in engine technology have changed this. The reason? Outboards are generally cheaper, lighter and easier to maintain. Plus, they are easier to install by boat builders. This led to the “perfect storm” for sterndrive powered pleasure boats which have declined dramatically since the 2008 recession.
But, outboard powered runabouts are not without their drawbacks. The following are a couple ways that boat builders are striving to increase the appeal of this popular boat type.
Redesigned Swim Platforms
Besides the fact that some boaters prefer the cleaner look of a sterndrive package, having outboard power means that the swim platform area is compromised. And, as a boater and someone who has conducted focus groups with many other boat owners, I know that the swim platform is a prime piece of “real-estate”. To address this problem, some boat builders, like Monterey, are experimenting with ways to retain a functional swim deck with an outboard-powered package.
Notice the extended engine set-back on this 255 SS model, allowing for plenty of room to safely get in and out of the water via the rear swim platform area.
It is no secret that the boater population is getting older. With advancing age are challenges in getting on and off the boat. Picture Grandpa or Grandma trying to get into a large pickup truck. It isn’t pretty. To address this challenge, an increasing number of fiberglass boat manufacturers have taken a page from pontoon builders by offering swing away “dive doors”.
For example, this beautiful new Chris Craft on display at the Miami Boat Show makes entering the boat as easy as stepping into an elevator.
2. Blending of Boat Types
Is it a runabout or a saltwater center console? The Chaparral 280 OSX, new for 2020, is an example of a growing segment of boats that combine the comfort and styling of a family runabout with the open-interior and hardtop that you would see on a saltwater center console. Great for families that enjoy in-shore and near-shore island hopping or pleasure cruising and are not into the “fishing thing”.
Notice that this boat has a side console set up yet there is a walk-through area for easy access from bow to stern.
Plus, you still get a fully-cushioned bow area, complete with a quality sound system and cup holders, that runabouts are famous for.
But Chaparral is far from the only one in this space. Also new for 2020 is the Boston Whaler 280 Vantage, the latest in the company’s line up of family friendly dual console boats. Unlike the Chaparral, the 280 Vantage offers some fishing features such as a livewell, fish boxes and rod holders for those who enjoy dropping a line on occasion.
3. Family Friendly Center Consoles
Related to the blending of boat types is the continued growth of family friendly center consoles. Not long ago, these boats were built almost exclusively for fishing. Featuring limited seating and wide open walkways, these were great for handling rough seas and fighting fish. Not so great for accommodating family members or guests who are not into fishing or would prefer a comfortable seat over hanging onto a leaning post to get from point A to point B.
Nowadays, most saltwater boat makers have added creature comforts such as a “head”, bow cushions and backrests and even rear jump seats. Even serious fishing boat manufactures such as Pathfinder have gotten on board with this trend. This 2600 TRS comes with each of these features and even a Ski Pylon for those interested in doing water sports on occasion.
Let’s face it, buying a boat is an expensive proposition and typically a joint decision between a husband and wife. But, having a boat with something to offer Mom and the kids makes it a much easier “sell”. Dad’s who want to fish but need to do a little “convincing” at home should take note.
4. Larger Outboard Boats
Not that long ago, outboard powered boats were generally restricted to boats under 30′ in length whereas bigger boats were often inboard powered. But, with the introduction of higher HP motors and improvements in engine quality, outboards are now being installed in larger vessels – many of which feature 3, 4 or even more engines.
There are few reasons why outboards are replacing inboards in some larger applications. For one, they are easier to service or maintain since the engine is readily accessible. And, if you ever need to replace a motor, it is much easier and economical to do this with an outboard vs. pulling an inboard engine. Plus, because the motor can be raised out of the water, it is less susceptible to corrosion or marine growth. Finally, because outboard motors can now be stylized to match the boat color, there is a certain “cool factor” that can’t be overlooked.
At the 2020 Miami Boat Show, there were numerous outboard-powered boats over 40′ in length such as this sexy Midnight Express 43′ Open packaged with five Mercury 450 R (Racing) motors or this gorgeous Formula 430 All Sport Crossover featuring four color-matched Mercury 450 Rs.
But, these were far from the largest outboard boats on display. In fact, there was a 59′ Cigarette Tirranna with SIX Mercury 450Rs at the show. Even Don Johnson would be jealous.
5. The Connected Boat
Just as smartphones, household appliances, and automobiles are becoming “smarter” and interconnected, the same is true with boats. Thanks, in part, to the adoption of the NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) standard, electronic devices made by different manufacturers are now able to “talk” to one another.
One of the more recent examples is the Mercury “Glass Dash” which was on display at the Miami Boat Show. Using a pair of large Simrad monitors, a multitude of electronics data is displayed – including engine data, joystick controls, trim tabs and, of course, the GPS navigation and sonar data.
The advantage of this is that it gives the captain access to critical information in one stylish and easy to use touch screen display.
Of course, there are many more examples of “smart” or connected marine devices. For example, several popular fishfinder models offered by Humminbird, Lowrance, and Garmin can be used to control a (compatible) trolling motor, shallow water anchor and even connect to your smartphone so that calls or text messages from your spouse will pop up when you are out on the water (well, I guess not all technology is a good thing ;).
Other examples include things like the Siren Marine MTC that enables you to monitor boat systems such as your battery and bilge remotely via your cell phone. If problems occur, a critical event alert will “push” to your mobile phone. You can even employ geo-fencing to quickly inform you if your boat is moved beyond a certain GPS radius. A handy feature for theft-prone areas and provides peace of mind when away from your boat.
Those are just a few of the trends I noticed while walking the 2020 Miami International Boat Show. Most are not new but have been developing for some time. Let me know your thoughts or any trends you have observed at your local boat show in the comments section below. Also see my related article on ten cool products from the show.