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Yacht / Boat Design Forum

Boating Week 2000

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A panel of designers (Michael Peters, Peter Granada and Jim Backus) discussed general design issues, problems in getting designs accepted and built and fielded questions from those attending.

The auto industry has moved to smaller vehicles: PT Cruiser, Audi, Porsche Speedster.

Boat design problem: no real difference between a lot of models.

Years ago, the car industry started building and displaying concept cars. They found interest in certain niches and appealed to the more exciting side of the market.

Concept vehicles are probably the most inexpensive way to conduct market research.

When fiberglass first came on the boat scene, designers felt anything they could do, they should do.

Currently a retro look going in the industry. One panelist thought it will be a short lived trend. He feels in 6 months to a year others will be copying the design and it will no longer be unique.

Most of today's boat builders do not have a 40 year history to pull from, Chris Craft is unique in this respect.

This designer wants to redefine a boat, not restyle it.

Designers do not like to keep stuffing more stuff or people into limited space.

Some of today's boats try to be more like a home. If the boat is the same as the home, why leave home.

A customer does not always know what he needs. Mini-vans are an example. Customers did not ask for them to be designed because they could not envision how helpful they could be.

Only one marine product has ever made everyone happy. Noah's Ark!

Men always want things contrary to what their wives and children want.

Today's boats can be very uncomfortable in mild chop at high speed. A slow, comfortable, quiet boat might be loved by the wives and children.

Automobiles are designed to protect us from the environment (potholes, crashes). Boats are designed to expose us to the environment.

The fleet idea, buy 2 or 3 boats. Some people can buy a luxury boat, performance boat, canoe and sailboat.

Everybody at one time or another owns a car. Not everybody owns a boat.

Most everybody (manufacturers) lives on volume. Repeat sales are different, you get much more specific users.

Some boats appeal to entry level boaters. You are dealing with high to low incomes. Just because you are an entry level boater does not mean you are poor, this may just be your first boat.

How do we get this to be the #1 sport? One designer hopes it never is. Boats are something certain people have. They are special. The boats are the #1 sport concept dilutes the boat down to being a car. Today's boat marketing descriptions look like a floating condo.

When you come into the industry, your first experience needs to be as positive as possible.

There are problems with the size everyone wants the industry to be.

A few years ago a major builder was looking a making a much larger craft than they currently make. Looking at the volumes of these large craft they hoped to sell, determining the approximate workforce to build them and looking at today's boat building sites, not one of them even had a parking lot big enough to part the employees it would take to build that many large craft.

Note from the audience: There are lots more boat builders than auto manufacturers. In response to the mini-van example, we might not be able to teach consumers what they want. No single boat builder may be big enough to do that.

One panelists said, How can designers assist builders? Perhaps several builders in one region could combine resources and work with one designer?

Another panelist was strong on the concept of exhibiting concept boats at shows. All it takes is a piece of paper and a CAD system to make some drawings.

AT IBEX they are going to try to show what Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology (including boat design) is all about through a series of drawings.

Is boating a weekday sport? Hiking is currently the Number 1 outdoor recreational activity, boating is Number 14. Nobody picks up sailing as an older person. You have to grow up with it. The cost issue is a big thing. Boats are still seen as a luxury. They are still not what most people are planning to do with their money.

Their has never been an industry wide, national promote boating campaign.

Audience question: Has anybody ever done a study on why people select certain leisure activities?

RBBI comment: I handed the person a copy of our Leisure Activity Selection FUNNEL CHART.

About weekday boating, one person responded, "Tell them to go walking on weekdays and boating on weekends."

One member of the audience did not want any more boaters, because it is already to crowded.

Are we seeding people (customers) for the future?

A panelist said, "Some people purchase a boat not understanding all the associated expenses (docking, insurance, fuel, etc), now they get a boat designed for everything that doesn't ride like a damn."

A member of the audience said, " I hope you are not on the Grow Boating Committee." Everyone laughed real good on that one.

Cigarette in now back on the map with their new stepped hulls. One of the panelists was promoting back in 1978, it took 22 years.

Back then (70's) surface effect ships were hot, but still not seen in the industry.

We don't have a receptive audience (builders). Fishing catamarans are now big here. They have been big in Australia for 20 years.

What is the boat of the future? The industry has not historically received it when they've seen it.

15 to 20 years ago, one of the magazines used to print some info on concept boats allowing them some exposure. They were later removed. Representatives of a publication in the audience (Yachting Magazine) said they still one page of sailing and motor boat designs per issue.

RBBI Comment: Seems like a potential beneficial use of the new alliance with Boats.Com. Designers could be in posting concept designs for industry review as well as by today's boaters. You could even request some specific feedback through online polls (click on your choice or rate each design)

Lots and lots of talk about concept boats. The panelists though they were a much under used tool.

One person said, "until a boat is built and strongly promoted nation wide, people will not get excited". Just seeing some sketches or even a concept boat will not "wake up" a lot of people.

Audience comment: Concept boats may not attract new people to boating. To consumers not already boating, a "run or the mill" boat is a concept boat. Meaning just having a ordinary boat is a new concept to them.

A panelist said, "You sell new designs, you do not take orders for them." He feels manufacturers should openly promote some new designs for exposure and further refinement instead of trying to take orders for them.

Recently a manufacturer wanted to look at a radically new jet boat design. One of the panelists came up with a dune buggy looking unit. It was so far off the side, they choked. They told him they know how many units the currently manufacturers sell, but don't know how many of these they could sell. He only sells a design (his work) if the company buys it, they did not.

Someone else mentioned a pickup / catamaran styled boat.

The dune buggy look had purpose, but no style. They could not get past it.

Concept boats are a thought platform to leap on the next step. Concept boats are sometimes called eye candy.

Builders want something new, different and fresh, but are always looking back over their shoulder at how many units have been sold. They want to build and sell similar units, not take risk on new designs.

Time factor. Finding time to go boating is a problem. We need to turn time into an advantage.

One panelist has a design without a steering wheel. He has another way of doing it.

Truly custom boats have moved to 150 feet and up. Semi-custom building does not exist below 60 feet. Semi-custom boats are very labor extensive and expensive.

One panelists thinks some things we grew up with will stay (steering wheels, wooden masts).

Some large custom yachts are electronically steered. Catamarans might not have taken off, because they do not look like a boat.

Surface effect ships effect ships may not have moved over to boats because they do not look like regular boats.

Speeds, 50 to 60 mph is not fast anymore. Bigger cruisers run 40 knots and up.

Water jets are really entering the market from top to bottom. Environmental issues, endangered species, exposed props are tipping several craft to jets.

Composite boats are moving up in size.

Boats may be constructed in the final analysis by the dealer,not the builder. Builders make the platform and dealers adjust it to the buyer.

Nike ads are not selling shoes, they are selling lifestyle.

This industry cannot even agree on whose boat to feature in a promote boating ad. They would rather chew each others leg off than work together.

Audience comment: The largest segment of the today's market is driven by people who require a boat for their activity (water skiing). They do not set out to boat, they set out to water ski.

This is not an industry that is friendly to the consumer. We get them, suck all the blood out of them and spit them out.

We have pointed noses on the front of today's boats because they were once made from wood. Wood had to be pulled together at the front. Today's planing boats could have about any shape at the front.

Fiberglass Corvette automobiles have 7 highly visible seams. The boat building industry spends a lot of time and money trying to cover-up similar seams.

They referenced an article in the Aug/Sep 2000 issue of Professional Boatbuilder magazine, MPYD (Michael Peters Yacht Design) that was provided as a handout.

You can also read about his firm on the MPYD web site.

RBBI Comments:

Great Session! Really interesting to hear comments from some designers, even if they did spend a lot of time crying about the lack of acceptance of their designs. In many industries, forward thinking designers like these gentlemen are "out front" of the general public a few to a many years. One advantage Mr.Peters has, is the racing industry. Racers are much quicker to adapt new technologies and designs than traditional builders.

It was interesting to hear the discussion about how hard it is to crack into the builders with a new design. I have observed the same thing in the marine drives industry which has very few U.S. built competitors, while their are several hundred if over a thousand U.S. boat builders.

Historically, the boat building industry had very low barriers to entry. Just find a tin building and some workers with at a zerox copy of a green card. Now, with much greater focus on environmental and health issues, plus increased complexities in the electronic and engine control systems, the barrier to entry has been raised. In the past, designers with confidence in a good design just started a company and built the boat themselves. This is much more difficult now that the entry barriers have been raised.

Again, I really enjoyed the session, especially the comments from Mr. Peters. It was also great to have the other designers as a sounding board.

A big thanks to those who participated on the panel.

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