Jim McClure has been in the maritime business for two decades, but at a recent convention he saw something new even to him — a $100,000 pontoon boat, with LED lighting around the cup holders and seats that would have fit a luxury SUV.
“Fifteen years ago, spending 40 grand on a pontoon boat, people thought you were ridiculous,” said McClure, general manager of Charleston’s Butler Marine. “But the guys coming out with new, innovative stuff, those are the guys taking advantage of the upswing in the economy by being able to show (buyers) a little something different.”
While technology has long had its place on the water, recent breakthroughs have been in the area of practicality — making boats quieter, easier to operate and more comfortable for passengers.
Chief among them are gyroscopes that reduce the roll on offshore boats, cutting down on seasickness. The most popular model, Seakeeper, claims to eliminate up to 95 percent of roll, but that luxury comes with a price; it starts at $22,700 for boats of 27-32 feet, the smallest on which it can be used.
A more cost-effective upgrade comes in the form of touch screens, which are replacing analog electronics. Similarly, docking and maneuverability have been enhanced by joystick control, allowing operators to creep sideways or diagonally, somewhat like self-parking technology in an automobile.
“We fall somewhere in between a car and an airplane as far as electronics,” said Rick Hall, president of Charleston’s MarineMax Hall Marine. “… In the old days, there was quite a learning curve to get comfortable with marine electronics. Now it’s so user-friendly.”
Anglers benefit from improved sonar that provides a better picture of fish in deeper water. Night-vision screens have become clearer and more affordable. And while four-stroke engines aren’t exactly new, they continue to make boating quieter, cleaner and more appealing.
“To me, that’s the biggest thing that’s influenced the boating market as far as pushing it to the next level,” McClure said.