Part 3: Caterpillar.com, westerbeke.com...
By Capt. Bill Pike — December 2000
Caterpillar's caterpillar.com tenders some inventive extras as well, among them a schedule of upcoming boat shows, a listing of Cat-powered commercial and recreational vessels for sale around the world (with phone numbers and other contact information), and links to related and potentially useful marine Web sites, including those for Bureau Veritas, Lloyds Register, and the International Maritime Organization. And yet other examples of creativity may be found at Detroit Diesel Corporation's detroitdiesel.com, with its plethora of downloadable service information bulletins past and present, and Westerbeke's westerbeke.com, with its downloadable CAD drawings of products and its salty but general advice on winterizing engines and generators.
Of course, as with just about every other facet of life, prepurchase research on the Net is fraught with a glitch or two. A common complaint among cyber surfers of the marine persuasion is the inaccuracy of specifications and other factual detail on sites operated by dot-coms not directly affiliated with builders or product manufacturers, a problem likely due to the newness of the medium and the fact that many of the principal players are still struggling to get fully up and running. Another glitch, at least for the time being, seems to stem from the disparity between the snazzy software capabilities of Web providers and the humble hardware that exists in the homes and offices of surfers. It's not unusual to hear long, resentful tales of woe about the difficulties encountered in trying to download and view streaming video and virtual tours. Slow modem connections that are unable to keep pace with today's technology are often the problem.
So what's the future of marine-related Internet sites? Will speed and user-friendliness eventually lead to people not only researching boats online, but also actually buying them there? To answer this questions for yourself, log onto bayliner.com. You'll quickly see how right now you can option out the boat of your choice, firm up a total outfitted price, and have your purchase delivered to your nearest dealer, in case he or she doesn't have exactly what you want in stock. If you need a little more convincing, log onto stingrayboats.com and see virtually the same scenario.
But what about battlewagons, motoryachts, and other vessels that are large, complicated, expensive, and close to custom-built? Manufacturers and builders seem to agree here: Use the Internet for preliminary research only. No amount of online information, or information gathered from any other source for that matter, holds a candle to a real-time, real-life tour at a boat show, marina, or dealership. At this point, reality is still way more trustworthy than virtuality.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.