Talkin' Boats with Rob Noyes

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Sea Ray Vice President of Marketing

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Rob Noyes has nearly 20 years of experience leading Boston Whaler and Sea Ray in marketing, public relations, sales and product development. Noyes, 47, has been Sea Ray’s vice president of marketing for the last 12 years and was vice president of domestic sales and director of marketing for Boston Whaler before that.

Impressive résumé, right? It all goes back to that 13-foot Boston Whaler he ran around in as a youth growing up on Long Island Sound. “It was always my dream to work for Boston Whaler,” he says.
His passion for boating and the water increased during his teens and early 20s, when he worked on commercial lobster boats. Noyes got his first job with Whaler in 1991, and he moved to Sea Ray (www.searay.com) six years later. Known as a promoter of not only the Sea Ray brand, but also the sport of boating, Noyes founded “AquaPalooza,” an annual on-the-water boating celebration aimed at bringing more people into boating (www.aquapalooza.com).
Here, he talks about the proliferation of joystick helm control, a new construction method that will dramatically reduce noise and vibration on Sea Ray boats, the importance of making boating hassle-free, and the boats he has owned. Noyes lives with his wife, Linda, and their two children, Reed, 11, and Abby, 15, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Q: What new Sea Ray models should boaters be excited about as we head into the boat show season?

A: The first boat you’ll see a lot of this show season is the 450 Sedan Bridge. That boat came out this spring, so it has yet to be shown on the full boat show circuit. We have a new 190 runabout sold with a standard 3-liter engine or a 4.3-liter option. The other boat coming to market this fall and debuting at Fort Lauderdale is a new 410 Sundancer.

Q: What’s new or different about these 2012 boats?

Sea Ray has invested heavily in robotic technology.

A: Obviously the economy has taken its toll on the industry, but we have to control what we can control. We have completely redone our entire sportboat and sport cruiser lineup with all new gelcoats and new vinyls and new dashes. We have invested heavily in some robotic technology and now have the most advanced gelcoat process in the industry. We used to spray four or five different colors that have different graphic packages. I was down there the other day and they sprayed 18 different color combinations in one day, which for this company and its volume levels is remarkable. And we’re now offering not only hull sides in different colors, but the entire boat. You can mix and match the bottom and the hull sides — black bottom, red sides or red bottom and black sides, whatever you want. On the cruiser side, not only have we redone the vinyls in the cockpit, we’ve redone a lot of the interiors. And you will see that in all of the boats from 30 feet and above, new designs in the interiors and new sofas that are more ergonomically friendly and more comfortable. With boats 40 feet and above, we have incorporated much larger windows into them. A few years ago, the boats may have had a few portholes, now we have windows that seem to go on for miles.

Q: The lack of natural light in the interiors of some motoryachts and express cruisers has been an issue for years. Is this something Sea Ray has paid particular attention to?

A: Absolutely. Technology has allowed us to not only come up with the windows and the material to create that see-through, but the technology has allowed us to bond in those windows properly. These windows are bonded and part of the structure of the hull.

Q: So the engineering must be behind it?

A: Anything that is done on a Sea Ray has engineering backing it up, and it’s one of the reasons Sea Ray is as large a premium company as we are and why Sea Rays are such a valuable commodity on the retail market.

Q: Is there any other news from Sea Ray?

A: Yes, there is. It’s a new technology we are using. It’s called Quiet Ride. … It is the same technology, I think, in the space shuttle. It is in high-speed trains and monorails, fighter aircraft. It is a material that takes noise and vibration and turns it into heat, and so the end result is it quiets down your boat. We are laminating this material and adding some other materials into our engine compartments to further quiet it down. We expect to implement this into our manufacturing this fall. People will be able to hear it — or not hear it, I should say — at the shows coming up, probably Miami first.

Q: From testing boats, I know that a quiet ride on a powerboat means noise levels no higher than the low 80-decibel range. What kind of readings are you getting with Quiet Ride?

A: Low 70s at a cruising speed, which means all of sudden you can talk on your cell phone while cruising. This is a technology you have to experience. When you start it up at the dock, you can barely hear it running. How quiet is it to my ear? That is what matters to consumers, and I can tell you that when the decibel level gets down in the low 70s, that is getting quiet. We are not in production yet. It’s not that simple. We are going through testing and validation now, and that includes literally tuning your transom, using the materials to change the harmonics and the vibration that comes out of it.

Q: Tell us about Sea Ray’s efforts to incorporate joystick technology in its boats.

A: Sea Ray really helped pioneer the Zeus system with MerCruiser and Cummins. And we did all of the validation testing that put thousands of hours on multiple boats. So we offer joystick technology in every twin-engine boat we build up to 54 feet. At about 54 feet, where you can’t use the Axius or Zeus system, you move into the Twin Disc joystick technology, and that is being incorporated into our bigger boats.

Q: When will the Twin Disc be offered?

A: Within this model year. It is not so simple as putting a joystick in and wiring it up. There is quite a bit of engineering. The boat also has to be sold. We wouldn’t build a 60-foot boat with a joystick and not have a home for it.

Q: How many models are equipped with joystick control?

A: Right now, 12 models. That would include the 300 SLX and the 310, 330, 350, 370 Sundancers. It would include the 390 Sundancer, the new 410 Sundancer, the 450 Sedan Bridge, the 450 Sundancer, the 470 Sundancer, 500 Sundancer and the 540 Sundancer. The smallest boat is a bowrider. We call it a 300 SLX. That has been a very popular feature on that boat.

Q: What will boaters look for as we come out of the recession?

A: At the end of the day, what every consumer wants is ease of use. They want a boat they can go to and start and run and be as simple as possible. If flying an airplane were simple, many more people would do it. Boating is much simpler than flying. The entire industry tries to make it easier — and in every part of the industry, whether it is electronics or stereos or joysticks. Simplicity and ease of use, they are certainly major drivers for everything we do. Let’s take one component of a boat as an example: a Bimini top. People don’t always want it deployed, but when they do deploy it, the task has got to be easy. Large boats have historically had a big, one-piece fiberglass hardtop. Well, they now have a hardtop with powered, sliding sunroofs. Making boat ownership easier will draw more people into the sport.

Q: Besides ease of use, what is important to a person buying a boat?

A: I think when people are buying a boat they are thinking about efficiency certainly and resale value, but the first thing they look at is who am I buying it from and are they going to take care of me. We would be remiss if we overlooked the importance of the distribution network. There are some hiccups out there. Some manufacturers are choosing to sell their boats right out of their plant. That is a strategy out of necessity more than anything in this economy, because it is a lot easier if a consumer calls me and I say I will sell it direct and get you a better deal, but I can’t service you in Florida or I can’t service you in Connecticut. The distribution has got to be there to service them.

Q: How has boat design changed in the past 20 years?

A: There has been an incredible influx of engineering into the building of boats. The engineering has greatly increased for all manufacturers. With that, there has been so much technology introduced, all the way from design through manufacturing, so you are seeing all of the design go through [computer-aided design]. You are seeing product development facilities. The amount of technology in our plants is unbelievable. With every hull and deck, the gelcoat is all applied by robots. And those robots are fed by robotic pumps, pumping the gelcoat.

Q: How can boat design and building improve?

A: You have to have a continuous path of improvement. You cannot be stagnant. J.D. Power and Associates looked at things from a consumer perception: Did the product do what it was supposed to do and was it easy? So a builder can have the highest-quality GPS in a boat, but get low marks from J.D. Power because the consumer says it was complicated to use. So every manufacturer, if they were paying attention to the J.D. Power study when it was out there, was looking at the consumer feedback and improving on it. Where do you improve? In areas that are important to the consumer. That could be anything from the ergonomics of seating or swim platforms to the performance of the boat.

Q: Is there one Sea Ray model that stands out as your personal favorite?

The 250 SLX is Noyes' favorite boat in the current Sea Ray lineup.

A: My favorite boat in our current lineup is the 250 SLX, and the reason is because that boat is at the top of its class. It delivers on every expectation a customer has for a 25-foot runabout, from design and layout to comfort to performance. It is an incredibly smooth boat and easy to operate. If I went back in history, I would say the 240 Sundeck, the original 240 we built when we put a full windshield on it. We were one of the first manufacturers to take a deckboat — sort of a box with a little console — and give it some styling and put a windshield on it. That was arguably one of the most successful boats in the company’s history. That boat continues to be one of the most desired boats out there industrywide. You can’t find used 240 Sundecks because people absolutely love them.

Q: Outside of Sea Ray, what boats impress you?

A: I would have to pick two of them. One is the classic Boston Whaler 17-foot Montauk that has been a remarkable boat for 40 years. For a larger boat, I think the 31 Bertram was a boat ahead of its time. It is an all-time classic.

Q: What are some of the boats you’ve owned?

A: The first boat I owned was a 17-foot Whaler Montauk that I bought when I was lobstering. It was mainly a boat to get back and forth to the mainland. That had an old 90-hp Mercury on it. I owned a 23-foot Intrepid after the Montauk. I still own a 31-foot 1973 Bertram with my brother-in-law. It has twin 7.3-liter MerCruiser gas engines. And I now own an 18-foot Triton. And certainly, over the years, I have had access to many Sea Rays. I also owned a 15-foot Boston Whaler. I just sold it and bought the Triton, which has a 150-hp 2-stroke. I love it because I can take my son bass fishing.

Q: You are a native New Englander. Do you miss the salt water?

A: Believe it or not, I do not, because Knoxville is one of those hidden gems for raising a family. In 10 minutes I can be in farmland or in the Smoky Mountains or on many of the lakes that go from just north of Knoxville to really all the way down to the Gulf [of Mexico]. So I can get out on the water any day of the week. I can go find a trout stream. I can go bass fishing. I can go catch a 30- or 40-pound striped bass. I can go hunting. If you like outdoors, believe it or not, it is easier to be outdoors here than in New England. I did not expect that at all. The transition to Knoxville was easy.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.