I spent several days at the Miami boat show, one of five I normally attend each year. I see a lot of boats, many of them over and over again. If you’ve been to half as many boat shows as I have recently, you know that there’s a an undeniable trend emerging among boats over 35 feet: transoms, bulwarks, hullsides and T-tops that open, rotate, fold or otherwise articulate when the boat is (hopefully) at rest. I call them Swiss Army Boats. I’m not being critical here, because my design office is as guilty as any other in this regard. We’re engineering at least four Swiss Army Boats right now, from 47 to 131 feet, each with at least three can openers, corkscrews and tweezers to play with.
If virtually every boat in 2019 is expected to be a Swiss Army Boat, where is this trend going to take us in another decade? Oh, you know where it’s going, don’t kid yourself—the folding boat! All it takes are two watertight bulkheads, a big ol’ stainless hinge and a few strong latches on the hullside, kind of like the handles on the refrigerator and freezer in the galley of an old Grand Banks.
The potential advantages of the folding boat are many. Imagine calling a busy marina from your 80-foot convertible: “Uhh, Pelican Poo Marina, this is Fillet Show requesting an 80-foot slip.” Pelican Poo is popular this time of year and the only available mooring is a 40-foot-long tee. No problem! Simply tap the “fold” button on your phone and, BAM! The boat, hinged amidships, will fit perfectly at the end of that pier once you’ve safely negotiated the inlet. And don’t worry about docking with the boat folded—the joystick software will figure that out.
Cleaning can be a hassle on any boat, so imagine how convenient it would be to clear your anchor of seaweed and mud from the comfort and security of your cockpit. With the boat folded in half, just hose ’er down right there, since the bow will be next to the stern.
You want sun at anchor, but your spouse wants shade? Hit the button.
Want more stability at anchor without having to fire up the gyro and wait an hour for it to spool up? Hit the button.
Want to invite thirty friends over for fireworks but there’s not enough room on the aft deck for everyone to sit? Hit the button.
Small boat trailers have folding tongues to fit into regular-length garages, and your next folding boat will allow you to store Betty’s Booty in a building that’s half the length that you need now. Think of the money this could save. Brilliance!
Now, there are a couple of little teeny downsides to the folding boat. The most obvious is that you better make sure the boat is securely locked in the “unfolded position” before heading across the Gulf Stream. An unscheduled folding at 30 knots would spill a drink or two.
Second, as a yacht designer who specializes in high-speed hull designs for the likes of Crescent Yachts, Huckins, Lazzara, Van Dam and many others, I can assure you we put tremendous effort into optimizing bow shapes for ideal efficiency, seakeeping and comfort at sea. With your boat folded amidships, all this careful design work goes out the window. Your speed will vary, as they say.
Other minor considerations to this otherwise brilliant evolution in the art and science of yacht design would include the need for “-REALLY WIDE LOAD” trailer permits, the hassle of grabbing a fender from what was once the port side of the boat but is now the starboard side, and for that matter even figuring out what the hell is port from starboard in the first place. Oh, and duplicate electrical and plumbing systems for bow and stern.
Hmm ... maybe as designers and consumers we should take care to be judicious in our insatiable desire for Swiss Army Boats. As Kenny Rogers once said, You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em. But you also need to know when to run.