Innovators: The Smart Boats

By Michael Vatalaro
Published: October/November 2012

Manufacturers build innovative solutions to boating's everyday hassles, and in doing so make your day on the water even better.

Boating for most of us is a retreat, so anything that can make a day on the water easier, cheaper, safer, or more enjoyable is a welcome addition to our boats. To this end, a lot of clever thinking has come out of the marine industry lately. Here are several examples of innovative ideas that just make boating better.

Illustration of Air is drawn through the intakes by the forward motion of the boat and funneled under the running surfaces
Air is drawn through the intakes by the forward motion of the boat and funneled under the specially-designed running surfaces, reducing friction and improving fuel economy by 15 percent.

Slick Hull, Full Wallet

Tiny bubbles aren't just for champagne anymore — they can also help speed your boat along.

If you make your hull slippery, you can drive it farther or faster with less force. That means a more efficient hull design burns less fossil fuel, and saves you money. One of the simplest ways to reduce drag is to reduce "wetted surface" or the amount of hull surface in contact with the water.

An early adaptation on planing powerboats was the stepped hull, which modifies the traditional (long, continuous running) surface of the boat into three triangle-shaped contact patches. The total surface area of these three triangles is less than that of the unstepped hull, reducing drag. The steps increase the amount of air being introduced under the boat's stern while on plane, contributing to some tricky handling characteristics during turns. Still, properly designed and in the hands of a skilled helmsman, stepped hulls are faster and more efficient than their unstepped cousins, which is why most modern race boats feature some variation of a stepped design.

Boat designers who worked with stepped-hull designs soon learned that introducing air under the running surface reduced drag even more than shrinking the contact patches. Two in particular have gone to great lengths to take advantage of this principle. Michael Peters Yacht Design drew up the hull for Invincible's line of center consoles, built around what they call a Stepped-Vee Ventilated Tunnel. The steps are vented to the hull sides, allowing air to be drawn down to the running surface, which in this case is a "tunnel" along the centerline of the rear of the boat. The tunnel traps the air under the boat, channeling it to the stern, reducing friction. The result is a hull with the lowest coefficient of drag in its class.

Put another way, Invincible's boats are capable of 60 mph with twin outboards; the 36-footer hit 81 mph in a Mercury performance trial with triple 350-hp Verados on the stern. More staggering was the fuel efficiency, better than 1.5 mpg while cruising at 45 mph. For comparison, a Boston Whaler 37 Justice, which doesn't have a stepped hull, was also tested by Mercury, pushed by triple 300-hp Verados (not the race-tuned 350 SCi versions on the Invincible), and could only muster 0.7 mpg at the same speed and topped out at 55 mph. On a 37-foot Intrepid, which does have steps in the hull, triple 300 Verados averaged about 1.3 mph at the same 45 mph, and the boat reached 66 mph. Advantage bubbles.

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Keeping Cool With Hot
New Fabrics


Sitting down in a swimsuit on a dark cushion on a sunny day usually results in a quick jump and a yowl. Burnt buns from hot vinyl is nothing new whether in your car or on your boat, but help is on the way in the form of a new material from Syntec Industries. CoolTouch is the brand name for a special vinyl technology that has a reflective pigment to help dark colors stay cooler even when in direct sunlight.

Photo of CoolTouch seat cushions from Syntec Industries
Photo: Sea Doo

CoolTouch can be used with many base products including regular vinyl or even on Syntec's NanoBlock vinyl which resists abrasions, ink marks, and mildew, because it is a special additive. Price will vary with the base product it is applied to, but is estimated to be $30-$50 per yard. It doesn't change the weight of the fabric, which is still in the range of 26 to 35 ounces per linear yard, but it will stay 10 degrees cooler than other vinyl and leather. It is available in limited colors. Today, navy, brown, burgundy, black, or charcoal colors can be created with CoolTouch technology, and the material retains its original luster so it doesn't get shiny just because there is a reflective pigment added.

Photo of a boat with CoolTouch seat cushions
Photo: Sea Doo

You can't buy this at your local canvas shop just yet because currently, it is only available in the industry's OEM market. That means certain boat manufacturers will be offering it on some new models as an option. But keep an eye out as this product is expected to be available aftermarket within a year and that means you may be able to revamp your cushions with hot colors that will keep you cool.