This is the best time of year to see boats, boats and more boats!
As 2016 becomes history, so do the 2016 model year boats. And if you’re in the market for a new boat, 2017 holds some great surprises and great potential. New models, new technology, and new designs all come into play, and this year’s boat show season will provide you with the opportunity to get your first look at all the possibilities. You don’t, of course, want to walk into these shows completely unawares. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to Boats Shows for 2017—read on, and you’ll have the inside scoop before you ever start shopping.
Last year we told you about the migration towards lower-cost boat-motor-trailer packages which were designed to be affordable for just about any hard-working American. This trend continues and expands for 2017. Look at the new line-ups from Carolina Skiff, Mako Boats, Robalo, Tracker Marine, and Xpress, for example, and you’ll see a number of $25,000-and-under boat/motor/trailer packages for brand new models in the 16’ to 18’ range.
In other segments of the industry, technology is marching on. Hull designs in particular are growing ever more complex and advanced. Blue Wave’s latest debut, the RS1, which incorporates a step in the bottom to boost efficiency and speed, is a perfect example. Or consider the latest offering from Nautic Star, the 227 XTS, which has planning pods and an air-assist chine to boost acceleration and handling. Pathfinder provides yet another example with their 2500 Hybrid, a boat with a twin-stepped hull that can cruise in the mid 40’s and pushes 60 MPH at top-end. Yes, it’s true that hulls like these require a lot of R & D and as a result, they don’t always come cheap. But the performance, handling, and maneuverability they net is light-years ahead of the hulls designed a few years back.
Boat construction has also benefitted from new tech. While vacuum-assisted fiberglass layup used to be unusual, today it’s quite common. That means fiberglass parts have the ideal resin-to-glass ratio, making them as light as possible while maintaining full strength. Other advancements that are becoming commonplace include the use of Kevlar reinforcing, anti-microbial multi-density foam in seating, Deutsch-style waterproof electrical connections, high-density foam deck and swim platform padding, “Soft Touch” UV-resistant vinyls, and digital switching systems. Yes, you’re right—all of these advancements do again add cost to the price of a boat. And some of today’s boats seem to carry rather eye-popping price tags. But these same things also increase the value of what you’re buying, and they make today’s boats stronger, lighter, safer, more comfortable, and more fun to run.
Despite all of these advancements, the most revolutionary changes you’ll find on the latest crop of boats has to do with—no surprise here—the modern electronics you find at the helm. All of the major marine electronics manufacturers have been developing MFDs and combination chartplotter/fishfinders that are evolving towards becoming the “brain” of your boat. These new electronics systems have the ability to control multiple systems ranging from flipping on the lights and livewell, to adjusting the autopilot. Most feature touch-enabled interfaces that mimic those of your smart phone. But perhaps more importantly, many now have built-in WiFi that allows the different components of your boat to communicate with each other and in some cases, with the outside world. You no longer necessarily need a cable to connect your radar dome to your helm; you can operate your chartplotter, fishfinder, or switching system from a cell phone app; charting updates (including those created with the pings from your own fishfinder and chartplotter) can be up- or down-loaded automatically; and in some cases you can even remotely turn on or off things like lights, pumps, or even air conditioning systems before you even leave your house in the morning.
If technology represents the biggest advancements in today’s highly complex boats, kayaks and their inherent simplicity represent the opposite end of the spectrum. Yet Kayak anglers will also discover widely expanded options when they visit the boat shows this year. The big news for 2017 from Hobie, the iconic builder of fishing kayaks like the Pro Angler and Outback, is the introduction of reverse to the Mirage Drive (now called Mirage Drive 180). And kayak anglers who enjoy waterfowl hunting have a new option, too, with the introduction of Hobie’s Camo Series. You’ll also find new fishing yak offerings from the likes of Feelfree, Native Watercraft, Ocean Kayak, Old Town, and Wilderness Systems.
Although most of us are most interested in boats used strictly for fishing, hunting, and the like, watersports lovers are also going to find a shocking array of new options on the market. The introduction of Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive, which places a forward-facing pod-like drive unit on a stern drive, has made it possible to turn stern-drive bowriders and runabouts into true wake surfing boats. Another startling new option for those who enjoy watersports is the introduction of jet-powered runabouts that are designed to do double-duty as fishing machines. Yamaha broke new ground last year with the 190 FSH, which is a version of their 19’ jet boat with a deck laid out for fishing. Now Scarab has joined in the action, with their 195 Open Fish. Both of these options have all the jet boat advantages that watersports lovers look for, yet since their topsides are designed for fishing, they represent a new and very attractive option for angling families that have kids who also enjoy watersports.
On the outboard front, 2017 ushers in many changes. You’ll find that the newest outboards not only have incredible reliability, they also boast advancements in efficiency and ease of operation.
BRP – Evinrude shook up the outboard world when they rolled out their 3.4 liter V-6 G2 two-stroke engines in the 200 to 300 HP range, and this year, they’re expanding that range with a new 2.7 liter version that’s available in 150, 150 HO, 175, and 200 HP models. These new engines utilize the same G2 gear-case and mid-section as their larger siblings, including the integrated hydraulic helix steering and trim systems. The engine’s systems are digital but the 150 can be set up with cable controls for re-power situations. Evinrude is claiming the new engines get the same 15-percent fuel economy savings the larger G2’s attained, and from what we’ve seen so far, this seems accurate.
Honda – Honda’s “big” news for 2017 is very, very small—at least as far as horsepower goes. They’ve rolled out all-new 4, 5, and 6 HP 127cc single-cylinder portables. When we ran them we discovered a 0.4 gallon internal fuel tank that’s good for 40 minutes of full-throttle running time, easy starting thanks to an automatic decompression system, and very low vibrations in the tiller handle because vibration mounts isolate it from the powerhead.
Mercury – The latest from Mercury is the VesselView Mobile app, now available for iOS and Android. Before you shrug your shoulders and think “oh no, not another useless app,” consider that when linked (via Bluetooth) to a VesselView Mobile Module (which plugs into your engine) you’ll be able to tap into SmartCraft and read everything from engine fault codes to oil pressure. Essentially, it eliminates the need for a computer-based interface, allowing you to see everything that in the past only service techs were able to access.
Suzuki – Suzuki has migrated some important features down into its line, with the DF150AP and DF175AP. Suzuki Precision Control (drive-by-wire throttle and shift) and Selective Rotation (a gear-case that can be programmed to spin in either direction) is now available on these lower-horsepower outboards. During 2016 Suzuki also rolled out a pair of new portables, the DF4A and DF6A.
Tohatsu – We haven’t heard anything new for 2017 from this manufacturer, but remember that in the past two years they expanded their range and now have offerings ranging from 2.5 HP all the way up to 250 HP. Mid-range models were also redesigned for 2015, and new 4, 5, and 6 HP models were introduced last year.
Yamaha – The first V-8 monster outboard, the 5.3-liter F350, has gone through so many changes that it’s now been re-named the F350C. Gear-case passages have been redesigned to improve lubrication to the gears and bearings, improved metal treatments have enhanced corrosion resistance, a new ECU monitors time of use in specific RPM bands, and 41 pounds of weight have been shaved off the original version. The 115 SHO has also undergone some improvements, including redesigned camshafts and a re-mapped ECU that takes maximum RPM from 6000 to 6300.
To make the most of your time at the boat show, you need to learn as much as possible—then you’ll be able to make the very best pick when it comes time to sign on the dotted line. Here are a few tips to help ensure you succeed.
1. Take pictures — lots of pictures—while you’re at the show. Whenever possible, also snap off a shot of the displayed specifications sheet and sticker price. This will help you keep different models, pricing, and details sorted when you go back through your boat show materials.
2. Before you make any decisions about the value of different boats, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. One manufacturer may call item “A” a standard feature that’s included in the price, while another calls it a cost-adding optional feature. By the time you get all the features you want this can make a huge difference in the final cost of any particular boat, and if you don’t figure out the “real” cost ahead of time, it’s easy to be misled.
3. Although we believe you’re best-served by thoroughly researching all options before you make any final decisions, remember that the dealers are at the show with one thing in mind: selling boats. If you’re willing and able to sign a contract at the show, you may be able to bargain for an unusually good deal.
—story by Lenny Rudow