Big-Boat Trends & Innovations

By Michael Vatalaro

New options, from propulsion to stabilization, are popping up on midsize cruising and fishing boats. Here are some features you might see at the fall boat shows.

Integrated Outboards

Photo of the Pursuit SC 365iPursuit SC 365i

Both Pursuit and Sea Ray introduced sport cruisers recently that make use of outboard power rather than the more traditional inboard or sterndrive configuration. But you can't tell that from looking at them. The outboards are concealed beneath a cowling on the Pursuit SC 365i, and a pair of sun pads on the Sea Ray 370 Venture.

Photo of the Sea Ray 370 Venture

Photo of the Sea Ray 370 Venture interior Designing a midsize cruiser around outboard propulsion rather than inboards frees up space for a substantial cabin midships, such as on this Sea Ray 370 Venture.

There are a lot of advantages to outboard power for both the boatbuilder and the boater. For the builder, using outboards eliminates the need to engineer and build an exhaust system — not an insignificant undertaking. There can also be material expense advantages because outboards are often installed much later in the build process than inboards, or sometimes by dealers at the boat's final destination. For the boater, outboards free up space inside the boat. Both the Venture and the SC 365i offer large midships cabins, using space that would be dedicated to a pair of V8s if these models were running inboards. Outboards may also offer a slight advantage in fuel economy compared to inboard gas engines. Another notable difference is the noise, or lack of it. With outboards tucked beneath the cowling or sun pads, engine noise is minimized. Modern four-strokes are already quiet, and hiding them away just improves things that much more. Finally, outboards can improve long-term satisfaction with a boat, as replacing them doesn't entail cutting or disassembling large portions of the cockpit or interior.

See At Night — Thermal Vision

What was once the stuff of spy movies now has a price tag under $3,500 (even less for handheld models). Infrared-sensing thermal cameras can see in the dark, using the tiny differences in temperature and heat output to create video images on your chartplotter screen. Unlike radar, which takes some interpretation and getting used to, images from a thermal camera such as those made by FLIR just appear as black-and-white video.

Thermal vision can also spot objects floating just at the surface, like a log or an MOB — something radar cannot do. People in the water, in particular, jump out on a thermal-vision screen as body temperature is much higher than that of the surrounding water. It doesn't even have to be dark for thermal vision to be useful. Returning to port with the sun low in the sky can leave you fighting to see through glare. Thermal cameras don't pick up visible light, only infrared, and are unaffected by glare. With the price tag now down near that of high-end radars, and FLIR cameras controllable directly through just about every chartplotter brand out there, thermal cameras are showing up as an option on more and more midsize boats.

Joysticks For All — Even Sailors

We covered the march of fly-by-wire and joystick control in powerboats from pod-driven boats, to sterndrives, and finally outboard-powered boats last year, but you may not be aware that sailors can get the benefits of joystick control as well. Beneteau introduced Dock And Go a few years back on a 50-foot model, and has steadily expanded this offering to other boats in their lineup. Dock And Go is now available on all Beneteau models longer than 40 feet. The system links an azimuthing pod capable of rotating a full 360 degrees with a bow thruster, controlling the combination through a joystick. The result is a sailboat that can spin like a top, walk sideways against wind and current, and generally bend what most sailors would think are immutable laws of docking physics.

Photo of a A Dock And Go demonstration at the Annapolis boat show draws a crowd You've never seen a sailboat go sideways before? A Dock And Go demonstration at the Annapolis boat show draws a crowd every time.

Gyro Stabilization

Stabilizers are usually associated with larger-displacement speed trawlers and yachts, but Seakeeper recently unveiled a model aimed at 36- to 43-foot boats and kicked things off by installing one on a 39-foot Intrepid 390, a boat that's anything but slow. The 50-knot Intrepid was designed as a custom tender and is the first boat of its size to have a gyro installed.

Gyroscopic stabilization works by spinning a flywheel to create angular momentum. If you've ever stood a bike on end and spun the front wheel, angular momentum is the force you feel resisting efforts to turn the handlebars back and forth. To create angular momentum, you can either spin a really big flywheel with a lot of mass slowly, or a smaller one very fast. Seakeeper has taken the latter approach; their M5500 model spins at 7,500 rpm generating 5,500 newton-meters per second of angular momentum, which translates to a righting force of around 9,600 newton-meters (7,000 pound-feet of torque). That energy is transmitted to the boat by mounting the gyro unit down low in the stringer grid along the centerline. When the boat starts to roll, the gyro rotates fore or aft on gimbals, creating a counterbalancing force. The rate of roll is controlled by a pair of hydraulic arms and a digital processor. The result is up to an 80-percent reduction in roll.

The Seakeeper is effective even at anchor, because it doesn't rely on the forward motion of the boat to generate righting forces. The system does require power from a genset; a 20-amp circuit is necessary to spin up the flywheel. But there are no external protrusions to slow down a fast boat like the Intrepid and possibly hang up a fishing line or be damaged. Expect more high-end fishing boats, in particular, to sport these in the near future. 

— Published: October/November 2013

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