Boat manufacturers have spent the last year working toward introducing features and functionality that will appeal to new boat buyers.
Mike Ratcliff of Conrad Brothers Marine, which has dealerships at Smith Mountain and Claytor lakes, is enthusiastic about Mercury’s new 5 horsepower propane-fueled outboard. “Designed as a sailboat kicker that runs off the same fuel used by the boat’s requisite barbecue grill, this clean-burning engine puts an end to fuel degradation issues that plague sail boaters who often go weeks or months without running their outboards,” Ratcliff said.
For the avid angler who doesn’t want to spend a lot, Tracker Boats has refined its Heritage entry-level offering of a fully-rigged aluminum bass boat, complete with a 50 horsepower Mercury, a fish finder, a bait well and a trailer, for $10,995.
And for useful tech, Ratcliff also likes Mercury’s “Vessel-View Mobile” app that uses Bluetooth technology to keep owners informed about engine performance and maintenance status.
Andy Yeaman of Hughes Marine Service of Danville points to the recent return of outboard power as one of this year’s cool features. “Big outboards — Yamaha is offering 425 horsepower and 375 horsepower V8s this year — are the rage for large tri-toons, runabouts and offshore center consoles,” he said. “Outboards maximize space inside the boat and can be operated year-round with no need for winterization. Fuel efficiency and noise level have been markedly improved as well.”
In addition, he said, “Yamaha has also expanded its line of jet-drive runabouts, powered by engine/drive units that are tucked unobtrusively under the cockpit floor to create fully-accessible swim platforms and usable floor space equivalent to larger boats. And, like the outboards, the jets self-drain so no winterizing is required.”
Higher-end boats feature touch-screens with accessory icons and integrated sound and light systems, which some might liken to a disco parlor. Yeaman also likes Yamaha’s WaveRunner personal watercraft add-ons for fishing functionality and cruising comfort that can be retrofitted to models from the past couple of years.
Also for fishermen, Virgil Naff of Virgil Naff Sea Doo/Yamaha and Mark Mills of Webster Marine point to the new purpose-designed fishing edition SeaDoo with an extended aft platform, a large cooler, a fish finder, a bait-cutting board, rod holders and a bench-style seat with side-saddle foot rests.
“Combined with a PWC’s shallow draft and quick-to-the-destination performance, it makes for an attractive solo fishing platform,” Naff said.
Mills also noted the “highly evolved” floor plan on Bennington’s line of pontoon and tri-toon boats with plush seating and other creature comforts such as innovative storage and mood lighting.
Sea Ray models offer wakesurfers “active trim” that automatically helps heavily-ballasted boats achieve a proper running angle, and Nautique Boats is offering its Nautique Integrated Steering Assist system, a helm-controlled transom thruster that makes close-quarters maneuvering a snap.
“Using either the automatic or manual control mode, inexperienced inboard skippers can negotiate complex docking challenges with confidence,” Mills said. “The boat will spin its own length, either direction, with helm or touch-screen commands.”
Tim Wray, owner of Magnum Marine, who recently opened a new showroom and service center on Virginia 122 at Hales Ford Bridge, said extra features found on new boats are all the rage.
“Hull and propulsion design are already so highly evolved that the changes from year to year are minimal, so engineers are focusing on creating luxurious surrounds for skipper and crew,” he said. “The fit-and-finish and cosmetics on the new boats are extremely appealing, and you have to see them firsthand to appreciate how pleasant they can make being aboard.”