What will the boat of tomorrow look like? It’s a question my team kicks around often. It’s a question that fuels our reporting on things like autonomous technology, alternate fuel sources, design trends and even which boats we review.
On a recent call with the editors of our sister publications (Anglers Journal, PassageMaker, Sail, Soundings, Trade Only, Yachts International and others), we wondered aloud if boats would follow their auto brethren into an electrified future. The debate went about how you would expect. Some were sure that electric—or at least hybrid-electric—would play a larger role in our pastime in the years to come. Others put on war paint as they prepared to defend fossil fuels to the death. “I love the smell of a two stroke in the morning,” was a comment that received a near standing ovation.
Well, what about autonomy and the advances in marine electronics? Again, many boaters, ourselves included, are divided. There are those who possess palpable pride in being able to prop walk a single-screw trawler on a windy day in a cross current while turning their nose up at the guy using the joystick on his center console. I can empathize with both camps, but when push comes to shove, I’d rather blast out to the sandbar than recalibrate my sextant at the dock.
Then there are the outboards themselves. Higher torque motors (or simply more of them) are allowing yacht designers to do things previously inconceivable. I’m thinking about last month’s cover star, a 38-foot Regal with outboard power and a full flybridge. I’d like to shift my chips and bet that we’re only seeing the beginning of the outboard flybridge cruiser.
Our ongoing reporting on technology trends led me to a virtual (fitting, I suppose) meeting with MIT graduate and aquatic entrepreneur Sampriti Bhattacharyya, who is teaming up with Lyman-Morse to build her vision for the boat of the future. Complete with antonomous tech, carbon-fiber bones, foils (America’s Cup style) and electric propulsion, it is, shall we say, an ambitious undertaking. And this is no mere concept yacht; dozens of deposits for these craft have already been taken and build slots assigned. Bhattacharyya hopes this new type of vessel will change the way we think about recreational boating.
I regularly find myself torn between futuristic craft and the classic boats of yesteryear. As an editor, I don’t think there has been a more exciting time to be reporting on our industry. New boaters, the rise of boat clubs and more and more headlines about companies investing in an electric– or hydrogen–powered future. Seakeepers calming the sea aboard center consoles and superyachts. Things like Raymarine’s Virtual Bumper and Garmin’s truly innovative SurroundView System (that gives you a bird’s eye view of your boat when docking) will help to usher in the next generation of boaters. It’s obvious that boating in the 2030s will not be the same as it is in this decade or decades past. And for the most part, I think that’s exciting.
That said, as an owner of a vintage boat, I appreciate the simplicity offered by boats of the past. Engines that spin shafts and props. Oil that’s checked with a dipstick. Issues that can be diagnosed by ear and nose instead of an app on your iPad.
When I think of the boat of the future and past innovators, I can’t help but think of Shep McKenney, who helped bring us the fly-by-wire joystick and the Seakeeper—two innovations that irrevocably changed boating. There was a time when our former editor, the late Richard Thiel, thought the idea of a gyro on a boat was crazy. That was until McKenney famously flew Richard to an exclusive test and made him a believer.
I think of that story often when deciding whether or not to cover a boat or technology that many think is a bit too futuristic or too impractical. In these moments, it’s wise to remind ourselves that the bold and crazy ones are often remembered by a different adjective: Innovative.