6 new boat design trends
What's happening to our favourite cottage rides
The all-around champion [runabout]
The runabout is a cottage-country favourite. “People want it for a bit of waterskiing, maybe some fishing, and just spending time on the water,” says Jim Parent, a long-time sales rep at Gordon Bay Marine on Lake Joseph in Muskoka.
“Nowadays, everyone wants to go faster,” says Mark Ellis, whose designs include the Limestone and Pilot lines. Pronounced deep-V hulls have become popular for their smooth and dry ride on big water, he says, but need more power than flatter hulls to get all that wetted surface up on a plane. Some designs transition from a deep-V at the bow to a broader, flatter stern. This provides a planing surface and a little more stability in the back. Manufacturers such as Grew, in Owen Sound, incorporate high-tech “air slots” and “steps” into their hulls—essentially tweaking hydro-dynamics to “make the boat plane quicker and corner flatter, and to allow it to slow down and stay on a plane longer,” explains Grew CEO David Cameron.
Outboards overtake sterndrives
The biggest trend in runabouts is toward more environmentally friendly outboard engines, rather than traditional inboard/outboards. “Consumers are slowly starting to realize that outboards cost half the money to operate,” says Cameron. “They burn half the fuel of a comparable I/O, draw half the water, and require very little to winterize.” What’s more, fuel-injection technology has made smaller four- and six-cylinder engines more powerful, rendering monstrous V8s practically obsolete.
A sweeter ride
Regardless of their utility status, runabouts have also become more luxurious, with plusher vinyl upholstery, flip-up seats, extended swim platforms, and walk-through transoms. Demand for luxury has made larger boats more common in some areas. “Twenty-two-footers are the norm in Muskoka these days,” Parent says. “A longer boat means more comfort and space for up to twelve passengers. We never used to see that.”
The enforcer [towboat]
Love ’em or hate ’em, powerful, aggressive-looking sport boats have rendered the traditional, inboard-powered ski boat almost extinct. Today’s towboats are “all about wakeboarding and wakesurfing,” says Brock Elliott, general manager of Campion Boats, based in Kelowna, which makes the Svfara towboat line.
Design makes waves
Elliott says the formula for creating a perfect wake combines a deep-V profile in the bow and amidships with a relatively flat bottom at the stern. Some designs incorporate ballast systems that add water to bladders in the hull to basically sink the boat and throw up either a massive wake or, in wakesurfing (a newer sport that involves board surfing behind a boat sans towline), a tightly curling wave in just the right place. Other designs use a series of adjustable tabs on the stern to modify trim for optimum wake.
Towboats are loaded with enough high-tech gadgetry to make their $75,000-plus price tags seem more reasonable—to hard-core boarders, anyway. Most are equipped with cruise control, making them easier to drive, explains John Kittler, of Hyperactive Watersports in Calgary, which specializes in watersports equipment. Similarly, users can preset ballast and trim to create a variety of personalized wake characteristics with the touch of a button. Tower-mounted video cameras with direct playback in the dash are one way to revisit a gnarly wipeout.
V-drive engines—which place the power plant in the back of the boat, the shaft directed forward before making a V towards the rear, and the prop exiting the bottom of the hull—are a defining towboat trait. Unlike old-school sterndrives, V-drives allow for more seating space in the centre of the boat. More importantly, “they track very straight at all speeds because there’s no outdrive to cause the stern to wander,” explains Jeff Barnes, of Pride Marine Group in Muskoka. Some towboats feature steering fins on the hull. These move the boat’s pivot point forward to improve manoeuvrability and prevent the boat from sliding sideways, much the way a centreboard does in a sailboat, says Steve Killing, a yacht designer based in Midland, who helped pioneer computer-aided yacht design.
The overachiever [centre-console]
Once the sole domain of deep-sea anglers, open-deck centre-console boats are becoming the go-to general-purpose configuration for cottagers. According to Gordon Bay Marine’s Jim Parent, 13- to 15-foot side- and centre-consoles are replacing aluminum boats on some cottage lakes. “People are choosing the ease of steering wheels over tillers,” he says. Some centre-console vessels are also self-draining. “You can leave them at the dock for a month and not worry about them.”
The surging popularity of centre-consoles has a lot to do with their user-friendliness. With the helm positioned amidships, they offer the driver better visibility with fewer blind spots and so permit easier docking. What’s more, the uncluttered deck layout means passengers can get on and off and move around more easily.
The biggest change in centre-console boats has been increased comfort, including forward seating ahead of the console, plush upholstery to replace wood benches, and larger windscreens. Parent says many 17- and 18-foot centre-consoles come with a bimini top for sun protection. Some of his water-access cottagers order custom, clear plastic panels to shelter the bow area in rough water or bad weather.
Deep-V and modified-V hulls have helped smooth the uncomfortably jarring ride of flatter tri-hull or cathedral hulls seen in early centre-console designs such as the Boston Whaler. Now, modified, sculpted versions enable the boat to reach a plane more quickly, so it can be fitted with a lower-horsepower engine that is more fuel efficient.
“There’s nothing better than a centre-console boat on a nice warm day,” says Mark Payne, of Payne Marine in Pointe au Baril, Ont. “But they’re not so great when it’s cold and rainy. On Georgian Bay, we see people buying them as a second boat—something for general running around as the weather permits.” Unfortunately, the open, easily accessible deck space comes at a price: Centre-console boats aren’t ideal for carting awkward and bulky gear and construction materials. It’s challenging to balance weight distribution, by loading gear on either side of the console, and still enable passengers to move around the boat unobstructed.
The crowd favourite [pontoon]
Pontoon boats have a cult-like following in certain parts of cottage country, particularly on the smaller, sheltered lakes of northern and eastern Ontario, the Kawarthas, and Haliburton. “Their popularity is a real lake-by-lake type of deal,” says Kevin Crittenden, operations manager of Sudbury-based pontoon manufacturer Legend Boats. “Someone buys a pontoon boat, their friends catch on, and it goes from there.”
Bigger is better
The most significant change in pontoon boats is the larger diameter of the pontoons, which float the boat higher to increase freeboard and carrying capacity. Wider pontoons also improve stability at higher speeds. “This has almost reinvented the pontoon industry,” says Mike Maynard of Hastings Marine, near Peterborough, which sells the boats. Bigger tubes, combined with features such as lifting strakes—“essentially, little channels on the tubes that get the boat up on plane,” explains Maynard—and a third, central tube, mean performance-oriented pontoon boats can handle 150-hp outboards and behave almost like a monohull. “Pontoons have gone from being barges to something you can ski or wakeboard behind,” he says.
A place to socialize
The greatest asset of a pontoon boat is its spacious, easy-to-access deck. “They’ve always been a perfect choice for the older crowd,” says Maynard, but now, he and Crittenden say they’re noticing a surge in their popularity among families. “For young kids, a pontoon boat is like an oversized playpen,” Maynard says.
Under the big top
More pontoon-boat users are requesting full or partial canopies, which in turn have been improved with heavy-duty canvas, metal fasteners, and stronger support tubing to withstand heavy wind and rain. As an added perk, “the top turns the boat into a floating gazebo when it’s tied to the dock,” Crittenden says, “giving you extra space to entertain.” And making it an oversized playpen for adults too.
The reformed renegade [PWC]
The new generation of PWCs is revising its predecessors’ infamous reputation, and safer, quieter, more environmentally friendly technology means the little jetboat is on the path to redemption.
Largely as a result of tougher environmental regulations south of the border, new PWCs have little in common with their polluting ancestors. For one thing, they’re far quieter. Better yet, the four-stroke and direct-injection two-stroke engines on all modern models are more lake-friendly. Manufacturers have reduced pwc emissions by at least 75 per cent since 1996, says Bob Eaton, director of environmental services for the Ontario Marine Operators Association’s Clean Marine program. Besides reducing air and water pollution, more efficient engines also mean savings at the fuel pump.
Braking and steering features are standard on some models. Bombardier introduced the first intuitive braking sys-tem with its 2010 line. Operators squeeze the brake lever on the handle (much like on a bicycle), which cuts power and reverses the flow of water under the hull. This update improves manoeuvrability at the dock, where it can be used to provide reverse thrust. Similarly, off-power-steering technology, essentially a pair of hull-mounted fins that drop down to enable an operator to steer when the throttle is released, have also improved control.
This article was originally published on January 6, 2011