At last, change - and a whiff of spring - are in the air.
For the last 2-1/2 years the marine industry, like the broad economy, has been struggling with recession and downsizing and change. Companies have disappeared. So have some brands. Others have changed hands. And more failures are likely to occur as businesses continue to right-size to fit reduced demand.
The phrase "creative destruction" has been used to describe the upheaval the economic meltdown caused. But there's a positive side to that term as well - and that is the innovation and entrepreneurial drive that accompany these periods of great change. In that vein, new models and methods for designing, building, servicing, distributing and selling boats and equipment are being formed. That's all good.
As tough and challenging as this churning has been, it's also inevitable and necessary for survival and growth, for moving forward. Several trends have been emerging concurrently. There has been a downsizing move since the economy first fell off a cliff - the idea that when it comes to boat size and propulsion, a little less may represent a lot more. Expect that to continue.
We're also seeing a shift back to basics, where the focus is on quality and utility, rather than on gadgets that merely push the cost of a boat higher without improving the overall experience of being on the water. Wisely, more people are saying "pass" to doodads better suited to life ashore.
And I expect continuing interest in hands-on projects, from kit boats to refits, repowers to upgrades. Many of us have fallen in love for a second (or third) time with our existing boats, improving, tweaking, even investing in a little Botox for our lovable tubs. At the same time, smart technology marches on. Innovation that brings value, safety, reliability and enhanced enjoyment to boating will drive product development, critical to improving the breed.
Here are a few recent examples of boats and propulsion that are part of the sea change under way.
"We would cut a path just 13 feet and 9 inches across this ocean, like a meteor wandering through the solar system."
- Ray Kauffman
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.
A 1981 Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate, Bill has been writing about boats for more than two decades. His boating travels have taken him from the Persian Gulf to the Baltic Sea, and always back home to Little Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. As editor, Bill is responsible for planning and executing the publication's boating coverage each month, and his Under Way column starts each issue. Bill has been with Soundings for 20 years and in 1997 won the Moulton H. "Monk" Farnham Award for Excellence in Editorial Commentary.