Product Innovation the Key to Growth in the Boating Industry
The Key to Growth in the Boating Industry
an RBBI White Paper
by Gary Polson
originally published 20 October 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Polson Enterprises
All views expressed are those of RBBI and
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The boating industry has matured. Companies have sought growth through acquisitions and globalization, but the industry as a whole must now either grow or "give ground" to other recreation and leisure pursuits. In efforts to "grow boating" some are promoting it as a family activity, some are trying to remove the "hassles" of boating, some are reducing the cost of boating (PWC's and sport jet boats), others are promoting boating to women. To reduce the consumers fear of being "ripped off," the NMMA is embarking on a certification program to certify industry companies and dealers. The NMMA is are also trying to create a "superfund" to promote boating.
Which if any of these avenues is the best for the industry to pursue? There is a saying, "A smart man learns from his experiences; but, a wise man learns from the experiences of others." Ours is certainly not the first industry to mature. Other mature industries have seen growth and the country came back from the Great Depression. What fueled those recoveries?
Process Technology vs. Product Technology
Two types of technology drive the economy. Product technology results in new innovative products, while process technology results in more effective ways of producing them. Process technology is harmful without product technology. Process technology frees people up for other jobs. If product technology has not created those jobs, they are laid off.
Process technology is not "evil." Radical advances in process technology can significantly lower product cost and attract customers that would not otherwise purchase the product. Obviously, process technology must be used to maintain competitiveness and profitability, however it does not normally result in industry growth.
Manufacturing processes involve millions of dollars of tooling and machines which are frequently very difficult to adapt to radically new products. The desire to use existing tooling and avoid huge expenses of retooling, perpetuates current designs or minor variations.
If you examine our industry in recent years, major companies have been trying to reduce part costs by "nickels and dimes." Cost reductions maintain profitability and reduce cost increases - but they and their resulting downsizings have come at a great cost to boating. By not focusing on product technology, the industry is now in a recession.
Look at the recent IMTEC98 boat show, the most significant innovations were low emission outboards shown by several companies. These products were legislated into existence and would not be here today if it were not for government regulations. The rest of the show was a "sleeper."
The IMTEC Engine/Propulsion Innovation Award winner the past two years was driven more by regulations than by an industry wide innovation effort. The award winner, Suzuki, did a wonderful job in achieving emission regulations and designing a great product. Too bad the entire industry has not been doing the same for the last several years and did not require regulations to produce innovative new products.
This years Innovation Awards at IMTEC included a new category, Manufacturing Process Innovations, which was won by MasterCraft for its new clay modeling technology used in the tooling phase to drastically reduce time to production. Their new "Boating Smart" program (every new owner receives "on land" and "on water" instructions and orientation with their boat) is an effort to take some of the hassles out of boating. Continuing efforts by MasterCraft encouraging colleges to offer water skiing as a graded class are a way of promoting boating. MasterCraft's MariStars luxury inboard power boats have opened a new boat category and are a product innovation. They have also made significant efforts in water sport wake design. By balancing efforts in process innovations, reducing boating hassles, promoting boating, product innovations, and wake research, MasterCraft is taking a sensible approach and we commend them for it. A few other companies are doing the same, but many are not.
What Happened Before, During and After the Great Depression
At the beginning of the Great Depression, no new products were ready to be introduced. Yes, there were "model changes" and minor innovations, but no products that had not been seen by the current generation or even by their parents. Innovative new products are the driving force of the economy. People purchase them, companies manufacturing them grow and hire more people who go out and purchase more new products. Examples of such products today include: cell phones, CD players, DVD players, digital cameras, 400 mega hz computers, Volkswagen Beetles (a retro), Gillette's Phase 3 razor and Viagra. At the start of the Great Depression, the total absence of such products resulted in people holding onto their money and not putting it back into the economy.
Automation, electrification and assembly lines (process innovation) brought an end to several jobs. In the absence of growing sectors (new products) these workers became unemployed and reduced their expenditures. When they reduced their spending, other workers were rapidly laid off as well The cycle snowballed and the entire country came to a standstill.
Overcapacity from the auto boom (no new buyers left and lots of capacity still in place) also led to layoffs. Does this sound familiar?
At the close of the depression, television, airplanes (DC-3), plastics and synthetic materials led a huge wave of new products that "refired" the economy. Exactly how so many major innovations came at once is debatable, but most accept they significantly contributed to ending the depression.
The Recovery of Other Industries
The U.S. automobile industry experienced a re-birth with the advent of the mini-van and sport utility vehicles. The shoe industry was turned upside down by the introduction of the athletic shoe several years ago. The athletic shoe movement in addition to functionality included "fashion." Fashion is a prevailing style at a particular time. Taken to extremes it can become a fad. Fashion is certainly an element in some current PWC and sport jet boat designs. Similarly, Dodge pickup trucks are innovative products in the light truck market that also make a fashion statement.
Portable hand tools utilizing rechargeable batter packs have put power tools in the hands of millions. Throw away cameras, digital
cameras, and kiosk photo booths are shaking up the camera industry. Brunswick's "Cosmic Bowling" gave bowling a big boost.
Oversized tennis rackets (Prince) improved play of beginners and brought thousands to that sport. An unending march of ultra high tech golf clubs and putters keep that industry in a growth mode. On-line stock information and trading is bringing many new traders to the financial investment industry. In each of these cases, a mature industry received a very significant boost from the introduction of innovative new products.
Major Innovations of Modern Boating
Major innovations of modern boating include:
Each of these innovations either almost totally replaced what was before it, or added a new dimension to boating. Each brought thousands of new people to boating. Innovations of this magnitude are needed to rejuvenate boating. To benefit existing boating industry companies, they need to be developed from within the industry instead of from the outside. I am not referring to NIH Syndrome (Not Invented Here), it does not matter where the idea comes from, it needs to be developed by the industry. We need to be driving innovation from within the industry - not relying on outside companies to save us (and make a nice profit themselves).
- Outboard Motor
- Fiberglass Boat Hull
- Stern Drive (and its accompanying trim and power steering functions)
- Bass Boats (added to list in 2007)
- Pontoon Boats (added to list in 2007)
- DuoProp drive (added to list in 2007)
- Sport Jet Boats
- Personal Water Craft (PWC)
- Inflatables and RIBS
- Intelligent Electronics (fish finders, depth finders, GPS, electronic charts, engine monitors)
- Emission technologies
What Technologies Might be Applied to Boating?
RBBI's Technologies Folder, specifically the Product Technologies page lists a number of such ongoing efforts. They certainly will not all "payoff", but a few of them will.
If each major company in the industry was seriously pursuing just one technology similar to those listed on the Product Technologies Page, imagine what would happen when a few of them began to bear fruit.
Cross fertilization from other areas is also very important. Industries "dabbling" in technologies used by the recreational power boating industry include:
- Water Turbines (power generation stations) - very similar to propellers
- Large Propeller driven mixers - very similar to marine drives
- Sailboats - hull design and production methods
- Ships (design, building, testing, operation) - much can be learned from larger vessels
- Large fiberglass structures (swimming pools, etc) - similar forming methods
- Navy & Coast Guard - the military tends to press the limits of small craft. They find ways of "extending the envelope"
that may have other applications.
- The entire board industry (surfboards, knee boards, skateboards, snowboards, etc.) - this industry continues to
develop technologies and methods that might be extended to boating "water toys."
- ATV's and Snowmobiles - closely tied to PWC's.
- Automobile - engine design and application
Some say today's information technology should make future recessions briefer, because companies will be better informed of excess capacity, excess inventory and excess units in the build schedule because they will better be able to "see" the future. Without new products they are going to be "seeing" a downturn, continue trying to "nickel and dime" the parts and lay even more people off while potential boating enthusiasts move on to other more exciting activities.
The creation of an Innovation Award for best new manufacturing process at IMTEC98 shows the industry's logic. Obviously process innovations are needed - but it is product innovation that leads to growth in the industry, not process innovation.
Almost every mature industry experiencing a rebirth and growth did so with the introduction of innovative new products. Promoting boating as a family activity, removing the "hassles" of boating, promoting boating to women, certification, and an NMMA "superfund" promoting boating will accomplish far less for industry growth than PWC's and sport jet boats did. Self promotion of an activity can be beneficial for a new recreational activity, such as the advent of roller blades, snow boards, or Cosmic bowling. It can also be beneficial for mature less widely known activities to increase awareness. It has not proven effective, other than for creating a temporary blip, in mature well known activities. Participants you may temporarily attract will soon leave for the same reason others defected before. The activity itself must be revitalized (such as Cosmic bowling) by introducing new exciting innovative products.
We suggest the industry learn from the past and follow the path of product innovation to growth. We need to find the pre-existing ideas from our own and other industries, and evaluate these distinct technologies. This evaluation could be done by several segments within one company (including research people from several disciplines and products), by several companies forming a consortium and contributing knowledge, funds, materials, and space to it, by independent researchers pulling from the works of many industries, by local votech schools and universities, and by others with an interest in growing the industry. Currently the "project boat" from MDRA is an effort of this nature - it just needs to be greatly expanded to include full industry participation in several projects at once, both as a consortiums and as "in house" R&D efforts.
Every company in the industry, no matter how small, needs to spend some effort toward developing innovative boating products. Perhaps a coordinated effort through NMMA could assist the smaller companies in working together to pursue more sizeable projects than they could alone?
Many innovative boating product ideas are currently being developed by individuals and small companies. They lack the resources to fully develop them and the actual idea they have may not be "the answer" but joint efforts with them might lead you the 'the answer."
We also suggest the industry create a clearinghouse of current R&D basic research that may one day develop into product technologies. These are "far out" developments such as those shown on our Basic Research page. They are too far out and risky for most boating companies to pursue at this time, but as they develop some may enter our sights as applicable technologies.
As we seek to create innovative new products, do not be afraid to include a little "fashion" in them. Ever notice how the top of MerCruiser's Alpha stern drives look like Abraham Lincoln's top hat while Yamaha's used to look like Darth Vader's helmet? Yes, I know Abraham Lincoln won that battle, but I don't think he won it on styling. The Alpha has done a great deal for the industry, but today, reliability and functionality are assumed. Fashion is the next step. Hulls, drives, and major accessories need to be stylish and fashionable, not just functional. Take a look at Yamaha's new LS 2000 Sport Jet. It is an extremely fashionable and stylish craft. Other new innovative products need to reflect fashion as well.
Create an IMTEC Engine/Propulsion Innovation Award for a product not forced by legislation or regulations, but only presented if a deserving product is at the show.
Companies need to communicate their major innovation efforts to every one of their employees and seek input from them. Hundreds of eyes looking for "the missing piece" are much more likely to find it that a few engineers.
Summary of Recommendations
Funding for the evaluation of ideas and technologies could come from current efforts to promote boating and from efforts now spent toward process innovation. Why not use a portion of promotional and process development funds to develop innovative new products that will lure new people to boating? In a mature industry its far better to spend money toward actual improvements, than to spend on advertising telling people how much fun your product is, or increasing your profit by a few dollars if you could actually sell one. If you build it they will come. If we make boating enough fun for the cost, they will come.
- Evaluate existing technologies for application to boating products.
- Individual Companies
- NMMA assist small companies in combining efforts
- Joint efforts with small firms and individuals
- Create a clearing house of basic research
- Design new innovative products to include an element of "fashion"
- Create an IMTEC Engine/Propulsion Innovation Award for a product not forced by legislation or regulations
- Encourage companies to communicate their major innovation efforts to all their employees and seek their assistance.
Quotations from Economists
RBBI comments are in italics.
The important phenomenon to elucidate if we are to make progress in understanding the linkages between innovations and long waves is the birth, growth, maturity and decline of industries and technologies. .... Thus we are interested in what we shall call 'new technology systems' rather than haphazard bunches of discrete 'basic innovations'. From this standpoint the 'clusters of innovations are associated with a technological web, with the growth of new industries and services involving distinct new groupings of firms with their own 'subculture' and distinct technology and with new patterns of consumer behavior.'
Long Wave Theory in the World Economy. Andres Tylecote. 1993. Pg 16.
The economy appears to cycle in Long Waves. A swarming of new product innovations in the early upswing, and a gradual change to more minor "product improvement" innovations and increased emphasis on "process innovations" (improvements in methods of production).
Several economists have proposed that economic depression promotes risk taking and thus many innovative products are developed at the same time following a period of minimal development. Freeman instead says clusters of innovations come from a technological web. As a current example, hundreds of innovations clustered around the internet. Interesting he chose the word "web," it sounds like he is writing about the internet from back in 1983.
"The importance of cross fertilization cannot be over emphasized. Within any narrowly defined area of research, we would expect that the rate of advance would tail off over time, as the boundary of technological potential is approached. Norton (1986) following Freeman (1982) speaks of Wolff's Law, 'Every technical improvement by lowering costs and perfect utilization of raw materials and power, bars the way to further progress. There is less left to improve, and this narrowing of possibilities results in a slackening or complete cessation of technical development.' This is an exaggeration; an individual research agenda may uncover unimagined problems or potentials, and thus open up new lines of inquiry. Invention is not an event but a process; its pursuit involves the creation of new ways of thinking (Aitken 1985:448). Since technology must advance in discrete steps, the solution to a particular problem will rarely herald the end of investigation. ' A radically new technology does more than merely perform old functions better; it makes it possible to perform functions that the technology it replaces could not perform at all. It not only solves a problem; it over solves it. It literally creates its own future.' (Aitken 11). Still a much more prominent source of new lines of inquiry is the conjunction of two or more research agendas; radically new ideas are most likely to arise in this way (Sahal, 1985). In many cases, combinations of this type may be intentional (see Constant, 1980; 14). Research on materials may be pushed precisely because it is recognized that developments in aeronautics require lighter and stronger materials. More often, though, investigations in one field generate results which have huge but unforeseen effects elsewhere. Cross-fertilization of ideas across and within our three technological strands, along with the injection of new scientific discoveries and interaction with longstanding technological traditions, therefore has allowed technological investigation to expand its scope for over a century. (pg 114-115)
I especially liked Wolff's Law: 'Every technical improvement by lowering costs and perfect utilization of raw materials and power, bars the way to further progress. There is less left to improve, and this narrowing of possibilities results in a slackening or complete cessation of technical development.' Does this sound like today's stern drives?
The three technological strands he speaks of are: chemicals, electricity and the internal combustion engine.
Each innovation is a synthesis of pre-existing ideas. Invention is a new combination of the prior art. (Giffan, 1935; 6). Technology develops through physical artifacts (Bassalla, 1998: 30), and thus there is considerable logic to the order in which innovations occur. Rather than springing from the hand of some heroic inventor full grown, particular innovations generally can be traced to the efforts of many researchers over a lengthy period of time. The problem must be synthesized to create something new, and the invention must be refined to allow commercialization (Usher, 1954). This does not happen instantaneously. (pg 113)
With each innovation, the potential for new combinations increases. (pg 127 #22)
Usher warned us long ago (1954) that while the order of stages of technological innovation is logical, the timing of any innovation is indeterminate.(pg 113)
These concepts are very interesting. Each new innovation for which a demand exists, builds upon the existing knowledge and prior art. For example, we had no need for refrigerator magnets before we had modern refrigerators. Once the existing knowledge and prior art is in place, the new innovation can come forward - but it does not actually come forward until it has been conceived, tested, refined for production, and mass produced. It is well known the process from conception to successful mass production typically used to be many years, but has been greatly shortened in recent times. I speculate a similar time reduction has occurred for the time interval between when the existing art and prior knowledge upon which the innovation is built came into existence and the actual time the innovation was conceived. This is due to improved access to information, improved communications and increased cross-fertilization between industries.
Sahal (1985) and others have characterized technological advance as a series of branches. At various points, investigators face a decision about which path of inquiry to follow. By their very nature, these decisions are surrounded by uncertainty. Some paths may lead to dead ends, others to varying degrees of success. Obviously, the choice of which path to follow is not (entirely) technically determined. Still, there is not an infinity of paths to chose from technical considerations do constrain the decision set (Dosi, 1988; 1145). .... Moreover, once a path is chosen, the direction of advance is then technically determined until the next branching point is arrived at (Sahal , 1985). Given that innovations a long-term investment, the pace of change if not the direction , will still be influenced by non-technical considerations. When we reach the next branching pint, we generally find new possibilities have been opened up buy our research which we had not foreseen. .... Choices made at one point tend to be self-perpetuating unless they lead to a complete dead end. Research itself, as well as commercial use of discoveries, causes learning, and this knowledge makes it easier to continue along a given path than to explore elsewhere. (pgs 117-118)
These "branching points" are difficult to back up from. I like the way he calls them "self perpetuating." Sometimes individuals or companies follow them to an idea they refuse to give up, but has no potential at this time. They continue to expend funds and resources on the idea because the knowledge they have makes it easier to continue here than to explore another branch.
Reich speaks of creative destruction : once a new area of technology is opened, firms move rapidly to steadily improve their product line. (pg 121)
Recall how many firms quickly moved into the PWC and sport jet boat arena and how rapidly their offerings proliferated.
Technological Innovation and the Great Depression.
Rick Szostak. 1995.
Though innovation attains its distinct character from the discontinuity typical of the development of science and technology, it sustains economic development following the logic of need development and market creation. The element which connects them to innovation and investments is the notion of potential demand, which gives a new perspective to the analysis of growth and structural change. Particularly to it helps to clarify the notion of the innovative entrepreneur.
Schumpeter's Theory of Economic Development and Potential Demand.
Review of Radical Political Economics. Vol. 25 No.3. Pg.46. 1994.
Other Articles Recognizing Innovation as the Key to Growth in the Boating Industry
Innovation the Key to Survival Boating Industry International article
Innovation the Key to Survival
Boating Industry International
By J. Robert Long
Pg. 56 (inside back cover)
article is summarized by RBBI below
Mr. Long looks back at his thirty years in the industry, recants how innovation
has pulled the boating industry from three major setbacks in the past and identifies
how it can turn the downward tide stemming from September 11th.
When he started in the industry, oil became an issue. Not only could they
not get enough gas to run the boats, they could not get resins, gelcoats
or other petrochemicals. He was at Crestliner where they also built aluminum
fishing boats. When the embargo came, they redesigned open fishing boats
to add a side console, cable steering and a seat behind the console creating
a small inexpensive runabout and fishing boat that sold well, even during the
recession. Side console fishing boats are still popular today.
At the same time, Sea Ray began to add plushness and style to the runabouts
and offer off season sales programs.
Setback 2 (about 10 years later)
President Carter decided to save gas by banning weekend boating.
The industry banded together and the restrictions were dropped. Many builders
began to produce more economical boats, longer range, more efficient cruisers,
and found better uses for diesels. He was with Wellcraft which turned to sailboats
and diesel cruisers to help them get through the rough times. They bought ads
in national magazines and showroom visitors entered contest to win boats. They also
participated in offshore racing which boosted performance boat sales, when
everyone else thought fuel efficient boats were the only answer.
In early 1990's the luxury tax was a heavy burden on the industry. In response,
Wellcraft developed a line of inexpensive boats, some firms exploited niches,
Boston Whaler launched the jet boat revolution. When jetboat sales leveled off,
deck boats made a comeback.
September 11th triggered the current setback. He expects the new generation
to develop high quality, safer, more automated products, easier to use, more
efficient products. Specific areas he thinks innovation may aim at are: easier
products for women to operate, amphibious boats, environmentally friendly
boats that detect manatees and other sea life. He suggests developments
in the area of multi-purpose boats with changeable bottoms to meet conditions,
and props and jets that can be changed to meet speed and power requirements.
He thinks existing leading companies will hold onto their markets because quality
still wins out. He predicts sales, marketing, engineering, finance, production and top
management will work in unison as teams.
RBBI Comments on Mr. Long's article
Excellent backward and forward thinking article. Was great to hear a recount
of lessons learned from the past and predictions for the future.
I met Mr. Long at one of the industry breakfasts a few years ago and his firm
sponsored this page near its beginning.
In our Polson Enterprises operation we have had the opportunity to participate
behind the scenes in the development of many new marine products. We noticed
several major and minor players in this and other industries severely curtailing
new product development after the September 11th disaster. By early March 2002
new product development in this industry seemed to be coming on strong again.
We hope the marine industry becomes more willing to carefully evaluate and accept risk
of true new product development during all phases of the economic cycle.
The only place we have a possible differing of opinions with Mr. Long is in his
confidence that today's firms will ride the wave into the future. We have just
witnessed the demise of one major player and the emergence of another in this industry
(OMC - Genmar), as well as witnessed a topsy turvy world in many other industries.
Just look at recent bankruptcies (Wards, K-Mart, Enron, etc) and the Arthur
Anderson debacle. Those on top are no longer guaranteed golden spoons.
Time will tell.
Again, thanks to Mr. Long for a great article and for putting this topic in
front of the industry where it belongs.
Bring on the Innovation!
Boating Industry magazine
May/June 2003 pg. 58
Mr. Hey notes marine four stroke engine advancements do not seem to have driven innovation beyond the transom.
He recounts how the marine industry lags the automotive industry in innovation, notes boats are not as fashionable as cars, boaters free time is decreasing while the cost to boat is increasing, and encourages innovation during this period of economic downturn to propel growth in the future. The article does mention a few convenience products where innovation has been successful: boat lifts, light weight boarding ramps, and cleats mounted on a slide. He, like us and others encourages putting fun back into boating.
Sea of Sameness
by Ron Eldridge
Feb 2006 pg. 6
Mr Eldridge reports their editors almost monthly point out is a challenge to find "some innovation that makes one boat stand out from the competition". The market has become a sea of sameness. He goes on to point out a few exceptions (hinged/tilt up sunpads) and how other builders begin to copy any "new" thing that begins to grab a foothold, but few dare to launch a new idea themselves, leaving that mostly to the smaller builders that are "more freewheeling than larger companies." Active seating, swimseats, and swim ladders that telescope into the transom are also mentioned as recent innovations. He closes with "We need more sharks with the vision and daring to drive the school constantly forward. Its sink or swim, baby."
30 November 2007 RBBI Update 9 Years Later
Someone called me late this morning. They had just come across this article/web page and were wondering what
I thought the major product challenges facing the industry today were and what the major innovations of the
future might be. I thought this might be a nice time to drop an update into this page so here goes ...
In terms of product challenges, I think you need to look a little further back at boating, why
we boat, and how we boat. Some of those challenges may lead to new products. Depending on which
segment you are in you probably tend to boat for one or more of these reasons: to enjoy the outdoors,
spend time with your family, fish, participate in towed sports, to compete (bass fishing / towed sports),
have some excitement, meet people, see and be seen, to relax, or just to "get away". Most of those reasons
now have more serious competitors than they did ten years ago, plus lifestyles of some young people tend to
be a little more toward instant gratification and indoor activities. Product Innovation is going to be need
to hold onto the boating market, let alone to grow it.
Couple that with rising fuel costs, aging boaters, water access issues, low water levels (Lake Lanier seems
to be in the news every day), credit issues surrounding the housing industry that have spilled over into the
boating industry, emissions & environmental issues, and the ever present hassles of boating, its a wonder
the industry is doing as well as it is.
Industry consolidation and vertical integration of major players are also making it harder for
new products to make it to the top. But its not time to give up yet.
Innovations of the Last Decade
Last time we tried to identify some of the major innovations of boating. Since then a few more have
come on the scene.
The last decade has seen product innovation in some boat components, including some totally new
- Watersport / Wakeboard boats
- Deck boats
- PWCs ramping up horsepower/performance, some able to carry 3 or 4 riders, and many can tow a tube or skier
- Four stroke outboards made it to mainstream from more than one player
Hull forming Process Innovations have taken great leaps forward (SCRIMP, VEC, ROPELINE, etc),
and hull materials are set to move (Nanoxcell, etc), but they result in boats that still look the
same from across the street. As mentioned before, process innovations are needed, but its product
innovations that will bring people to the market.
- Volvo and Brunswick/Mercury Marine are touting their IPS and Zeus twin, though hull drives. We are glad
to see them try new propulsion arrangements, but they appeal to such a small segment of the industry we do
not see them as major industry changing innovations.
- Mercury made a tremendous amount of noise about the Verado outboard engine, but it remains so expensive,
its out of the reach of many boaters, especially as seen in the three and four outboards on the transom photos
commonly seen in boating magazines.
- Marine entertainment centers/stereos/flat screen tvs
- Integrated electronics (radar, gps, depth finders, fish finders all talking together)
- Mercury's Smart Craft Gauges (one of few examples of companies looking outside the industry
and bringing things in)
- Large inflatable tow toys
- Underwater lighting
- Mercury Marine recently announced their Big Tiller tiller steering for large outboards.
- Catalytic Converters are now entering the scene
- Catamaran hulls are being more widely accepted in the U.S.
Remote engine diagnostics and Dockiminiums have come mainstream.
The Grow Boating Initiative we alluded to 9 years ago, finally came to fruition.
Nonproduct issues such as licensing, mandatory boater safety training, banning the use of alcohol,
and mandatory use of PFDs continue to make the rounds.
Zebra Mussels have burst on the scene.
Fractional ownership seems to finally being getting some consideration.
Over the past decade, women have at least been recognized as a market on paper and Hispanics
can be expected to follow. Both groups offer product innovation opportunities.
Innovations of the Future
In terms of specific innovations that may surface and do well in the future, we have long
been a student of TRIZ (a Russian Problem Solving Method - see our
Technology Forecast Page for more info). TRIZ can show you where certain components, assemblies
or products are on the continuum of change and what their next step most likely will be. We would
suggest those thinking about the future of boating spend some time with it.
The thing to remember is innovations are solutions to problems. Problems are actually opportunities.
The more problems your industry has the more opportunities it has. Right now the boating
industry is blessed with lots of opportunities, we hope it makes the most of them.
We can't talk about many things we have seen, but looking at some of the current problems and
logical paths to solutions, will list a few areas we would expect to see development in over the
What will come first? Probably innovative small entry level, shallow running, easy to operate boats.
The industry turned its attention to much larger craft in recent years due to very strong sales of
larger vessels. The current downturn will shift the industry's focus back to its roots to stay alive.
- Small entry level boats with minimal drag, such as Ven-tboats,
that result in low fuel consumption, easy storage, and more fun per dollar spent.
- Many are looking at hybrid propulsion, but we are less than convinced of their
applicability to mainstream boating, but would be happy to be proven wrong.
- Alternative fuels are being pushed by others (in addition to Ethanol), but decisions and
distribution will have to be worked out in the automotive industry before they can filter down to the
boating industry. Ethanol has already created a number of problems in the boating industry (fuel tanks).
- Some boating innovations have surrounded new "on water" activities such as Personal Watercraft,
Tournament Ski boats, and Wake Boarding. Freeboarding is making some noise now, but does not
seem to require special craft. Similarly, Poker Runs are still popular. We think this area holds
promise. Creating new "on water" activities and the vessels to go with them. Examine the types of
people involved, the types of things they enjoy doing, and try to fit those onto the water. We tried
to promote on water and near water Geo-Caching and on water GPS Art several years ago and they went
nowhere, but wait, we just saw an article on boat Geo-Catching in the December 2007 issue of Boating World.
Maybe we were just too early. Powered surfboards, parasailing, and small WIG planes were attempts, but
they have not really made it to the mainstream market.
- One idea is to start is to look at classes of cars and see if something has no boating counterpart.
The micro SMART car comes to mind as not having a sharp, sassy,
interesting counterpart, similarly the old Volkswagen Beetles and Busses had almost a cult like following,
that seems lacking in the low end of the boating industry. Maybe the right design, along with a push
on the social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook), video sites (YouTube) and a virtual presence on
Second Life could buzz up a new vibrant boat design in the eyes of the younger crowd?
- As long as we are talking about cars, Drifting is hugely popular in Japan, made it big time
here in a few movies and has pockets of huge interest. Can this be transferred to a boat? Yes,
it was somewhat present in the sport jet boats, but not quite. There might be room for a boat that
seems always out of control, but is really not.
- Boating indoors at the Mall? almost every other sport is coming indoors or to other unnatural sites
(indoor snow skiing, indoor surfboarding, indoor beaches, cable waterskiing & wake boarding, we just
saw an article on indoor parachuting (fans blow up against you while you free fall forever)). Some
large water tanks are moved around the world for special events already. Just set them up permanently
at a major attraction and let people boat indoors (maybe under fuel cell or battery power). A large area
could have all kinds of activities (tie up for food, for a movie, or to go shopping, fishing from stocked
areas, see wildlife, etc). Yes,it sounds strange, but so do the other indoor activities.
- New drag reduction methods that focus on how water contacts the boat and drive and upon the
properties of water. These could drastically reduce drag (fuel consumption). This is similar to
"cold fusion", not lots of mainstream people working on it, but if it ever really comes through
it will instantly change boating. It will be like being able to go on plane twice (today when a
boat jumps up on plane the drag drastically lowers, imagine if a boat on plane could go on plane
one more time). The technology might also bring back displacement hulls.
- We still see an aqua car design every now and then. Its possible the next decade may really see
some action there. There have been literally hundreds of attempts in the past. Some current
ones (like the Aquada) are much better funded. Is it time to replace your tow vehicle AND your boat?
- Am I the only one that thinks Zorbing is made for boats? Riding in a Zorb being towed by
a boat could be pretty thrilling, especially if you were towing more than one Zorb. Formation
- Terrorism / Homeland Security Issues may result in some new boat designs for the general public?
- We are not convinced we have seen the end to new drive configurations (outboard, inboard, stern
drive, thru hull drive, etc) and would not be surprised to see some new variants here in the future.
- Totally new propulsion methods (flappers, fish like propulsion, etc) have lingered out there
a long time. Nano technology is talking about microscopic propeller machines. All this sounds pretty
science fiction, but we may see some action in these areas in the future.
- As long as we are talking about fish, how about super fish. Will we see genetically altered
fish bred for fishing? We already have genetically modified glow in the dark fish for your aquarium.
How about super fish, maybe even Jurassic Park style prehistoric fish reconstructed from DNA?
- Virtual Fishing has exploded (see our paper on the
Evolution of Virtual Fishing Games).
Mechanical fish are being used to gather data for fish passing through turbines. Will we see
mechanical, auto roaming fish for sport? or some other integration of virtual fishing and boating?
Maybe some folks could control the fish while others fish for them?
- Along that same line, much press has been devoted to the Virtual Hunting / Internet Hunting guy
(John Lockwood) in Texas (you could fire a real gun at wildlife at another location from your computer).
Seems like you could similarly really fish remotely? and for that matter, you could operate a boat
as well. Remotely controlled PWCs for harbor security are already in existence (like Qinetiq's Sentry).
- As long as we are going that way, scuba diving is cool, but takes too much work and training for
those looking for quick gratification. How about economical submersibles with lights and cameras
that can be ran from a boat via a tether. It would be fun to be out in a lake, siting in the
cabin watching a big screen tv displaying remote video from a small submersible you were controlling,
even if it only went down 30 feet. And even better if it could be operated without a tether (several
methods of untethered but not strictly autonomous control are currently being developed).
- Other fun things to do on the water - why not expand your direction up as well. Kite flying
(just everyday kites, not kites with people on them), large balloons, remote control planes adapted
for on water use, and other aerial activities might bring some new life to boating.
- Marine turbines, fuel cells, water injection, and water jet propulsion have all lingered out
there just out of range for decades, maybe we will finally see one or more of them come to the
recreational boat propulsion market in a big way.
- Literally hundreds of groups are working on automotive fuel consumption reduction projects ranging
from totally new engine concepts to drag reduction to small gee whiz add ons. Some of those can be expected
to work their way across to the boating industry.
- We are already starting to see "kicker power" - access to extra power for brief times, like to
bring up a skier. We expect this to spread.
- Leave No Trace Boating - the younger generation and certain areas of the country seem more willing
to give up a little for the sake of the environment. Products leading toward Leave No Trace Boating
(similar to Leave No Trace Camping) may come in vogue.
- Component Innovation - everything from tow ropes to windshields will continue to benefit from
developments of new technologies in other industries and applications. Those who can find them
first, identify the ones that hold promise, implement and deploy them first will be rewarded in
the marketplace (Mercury Smart Craft Gages are an example).
- Somebody in the boat building industry is finally going to realize that a PWC is an entry
level boat and try to build a vessel for them move up to.
- As long as we are there, boat builders similarly miss out on those attracted to Canoes and Kayaks.
These guys and gals might like small, silent, low powered, easy to store, get back to nature boats.
(Hmm sounds like a fuel cell?)
- Boats designed for aging baby boomers that don't want to be bounced around so much, but find
pontoons and deck boats boring.
- Anti-fouling, Zebra Mussels (and other invasive species), bottom paint, and other slimy worlds
may see some new products?
- Security (don't let bad guys steal my stuff) and Ease (backing my boat down the ramp, hooking
up my trailer, winterizing, etc.) will continue to see new entries.
- Greater interactivity between people on multiple boats at rest. "Rafting up" will become more popular.
New products may target this activity, plus if we can raft up at rest, why cant we raft up when
- Lowering water levels are currently pushing for new shallow running boats and drives.
- We are still promoting floating hot dog stands in major boating areas. The industry could
subsidize this and similar "on water" activities in peak season that might not be profitable in their on
right, to draw more people to boating and thus grow the activity. By sponsoring or partially sponsoring
fun things to do on the water, they could make money from selling more boats and accessories. Just like
$100 hamburgers for pilots (they fly somewhere to eat a burger), floating hotdog and hamburger stands could
create fun things to do on the water.
- Global Warming will push for reducing Carbon Dioxide emissions. Right now the boating public probably
thinks the new high efficiency outboard technologies and the use of automotive technologies
in stern drive and inboard engines is minimizing their impact, especially with the coming of
catalytic converters to stern drives. However, the recently proposed recreational marine engine emission
standards, make no mention of carbon dioxide emissions. Plus catalytic converters actually increase
carbon dioxide emissions. The future will most definitely bring some new approaches and products in
this area. We have been covering this problem on our
Boat Carbon Footprint site.
- Lastly, we have long promoted detecting people and large marine life (manatees, right whales, sea
turtles, etc) near propellers and having the boat take appropriate actions (alarm, kill engine, reduce speed,
brake drive, etc). We have gathered a tremendous amount of information on propeller safety issues
in general as well as on potential virtual propeller
guard technologies and approaches. One or more of these technologies may finally burst out and
make it to the marketplace.
If someone is really serious about working on one of these problems/opportunities, we would encourage
them to study what has come before (prior art, patents, very broad literature searches), etc) and
spend some time with TRIZ, then do some brainstorming, plus get your employees involved in the hunt for
solutions. Its amazing what a diverse group of people can come up with from their daily lives and
experiences. Plus once you get an idea with a little promise, mock it up, that will lead to even more
ideas. If you are outside the industry looking in, you might want to spend some time looking a the
dynamics (seasonality and swings) of the industry along with its structure. You may not find it to be
friendly waters to new comers. Some of our other white papers
spend some time on industry dynamics, especially those on the marine propulsion side of the market.
There are a few things to remember when looking at the future of the boating industry:
That about wraps us the status of things in late 2007. Not much really much change from 1998. I hope
things are different if I am still around to write another followup article in nine more years (2016).
Woah? Just writing that date makes it seem like it is so far out there. But if the industry doesn't
get moving now that update may be pretty brief, or an obituary.
- Although new technologies and innovative products may make boating easier and more fun, don't forget
that competing activities are not standing still. They will be getting improved as well. So the challenge
is not just to improve your activity (boating), its to improve your activity (boating) MORE than other
competing activities are improving.
- New competitors will come on the scene (just like the Internet, Video Games, Casinos, iPods, and other
activities have become major leisure time activities, more new activities will follow).
- New challenges will arise (just as fuel costs, water levels, emissions, MTBE, zebra mussels
and other issues have risen to the top, more will follow). So just whipping current problems will not
guarantee boating a safe ride. Innovation will have to be ever ongoing.
- Not everything that comes along is bad. Who knows what they will be, but some things will come
along that will be good for boating (just as the discovery of fiberglass changed boating tremendously
and the move to hydropower and flood control dams created dozens of huge lakes). Plus even bad things
may have a silver lining (Global Warming is already lengthening the boating season).
Beyond the Buoy. BoatUS January 2008
BoatUS ran a nice column on innovation being needed to grow the boating industry in their
January 2008 issue:
Beyond the Buoy
January 2008 Page 4
by Richard Schwartz Founder and Chairman and Michael G. Sciulla Editor
The article is briefly summarized below
The high cost of fuel, growth of time spent with digital devices, personal computers and the
Internet all pulling away from boating hours. The NMMA began to respond with the Grow Boating
concept about ten years ago as well as created the boat builder certification program in an attempt
to assure the customer received a better boat.
Now Randy Repass, founder of West Marine, has begun to call for better quality products and
innovation to make boating more attractive to "time-starved, fuel conscious consumers."
Then the authors point out Mr. Repass's call to action given at the Marine Equipment Trade Show
(METS) in Amsterdam echos a white paper written by us (Polson Enterprises - Gary Polson) almost
ten years ago (this document) and review several elements of our paper.
The article concludes with a call to reduce the cost of boating, reduce the cost of boats,
mention of fractional ownership of boats as an option.
Generally they stress the high cost of boat ownership and limited time to devote to
one form of recreation. Innovation will be needed to make sure boating remains a viable leisure
Please let us know what you think about this paper. Is this a good idea? Would you like to see more "white papers"
like this one? E-mail your comments to : email@example.com