Lead Line — February 2003
By Richard Thiel
Why Not Compare Boats?
|Boaters want to know how boats stack up—which one is best.|
One of the best parts of being editor of PMY is hearing from you. Our readers are uncommonly knowledgeable and experienced, which means we learn a lot from you. You also care about the magazine and so consantly offer suggestions on how we can make it better. In fact, some of our best ideas aren’t our ideas at all. They come from you.
And from readers like Andy Holloman of Savannah, Georgia, who wrote back in December with this suggestion: “You are in the position to help your subscribers greatly by offering comparisons of different brands [of boats]. When we are reading a boat test that says this bluewater battlewagon can run with the big boys, that begs the question, how well does it run compared to the competition? How about publishing your opinion of the top ten boats in certain critical categories, based on previous tests, such as top ten boats ranked in order of smooth ride in five- or six-foot seas? Or the top ten boats ranked in order of quiet ride at cruising speed (separate lists for trawler and planing speed), or ranked in order of engine access. That would be valuable info for us to use in choosing a new boat. You could qualify, by stating it is only the opinion and/or impressions of your boat test crew.”
Andy’s got a point. While it’s true that no one gives you the breadth and depth of test information that PMY does, it is also true that boaters want to know how boats stack up—they want to know which one is best. It’s human nature. But subjectively ranking boats is tricky for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is our lack of unaniminity. Capt. Bill Pike’s top ten boats would surely differ from mine, and the same is true for the rest of the staff. In fact, the philosophy of our boat test program is to take subjectivity out of the equation—or at least minimize it.
That sounds great in theory, but in truth we can’t avoid subjectivity. When we say a boat is fast or quiet, we back it up with data, but we don’t shy away from making subjective evaluations about things like beauty and ride. So why balk at ranking boats according to appearance, quietness, or smoothness? It’s the ranking that rankles. Saying one boat is better than another—even just better in a single category—is simplistic and unfair. Should we rank a boat tops in ride if she’s unconscionably expensive or painfully slow? Or name one the performance leader if she has no range, lousy accommodations, and monster engines?
There are two truths in boat testing: One, boats are complex and must be evaluated on how they do many things. Two, there’s a boat for every boater and vice versa. You may think that the Reebok-shape slug at the end of the dock is butt-ugly, but for the guy who takes a family of eight on leisurely sojourns around the bay, she is number one.
All this is not to dismiss readers like Andy who long for perspective. We can do a better job of putting our reviews in context, as long as we compare them fairly. Perhaps we could even rank boats on a few universally acceptable criteria, such as engine room layout. But don’t look for a PMY Boat of the Year or even a PMY Quietest Boat of the Year. We may share that urge to see someone recognized as the best, but until we can figure out how to do it fairly, we’ll leave that job to you.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.