MODERN BOATS ARE are nothing like those of our parent’s generation – for that matter, they’re far advanced over the boats we saw hitting the market just a decade or so ago. As is true of so many aspects of modern life, a combination of raising consumer expectations and improving available technology has led today’s boats to evolve at a rather break-neck pace. The net result? Today’s boats are quite simply better.
The most obvious way today’s boats have changed is visible right on the stern: they carry more power. In many cases, a lot more power. Triple and even quad engine rigs are commonplace today, and at least one new boat (the HCB Center Console Yachts Estrella) has a brace of five outboards sitting on the transom. Even on smaller more common center consoles and bay boats, however, you’ll find larger and larger powerplants. Thanks to the development of several different 300 and 350 horsepower production outboards, a 20-something fishing boat rigged with 350 horses, which has a cruising speed in the mid to upper 40s and a top-end of 60 or more mph, is not unusual.
Along with larger outboards, hull designs have developed to better harness the power that’s available to them. Many new hulls incorporate steps, notches, and other forms of air-induction or handling-enhancing tweaks and modifications. Jack plates have also become more and more common and today are even seen as standard features on some models.
Another aspect of modern power systems which enhances our use of boats is the integration of electronic controls which go far beyond mere shift and throttle. Joystick controls are now common on outboard boats, and have been for a few years. But in the recent past they’ve begun adding control features which can greatly enhance your fishing endeavors. You can press a button and hover your boat in place over a wreck or reef; press another to jog the boat 10 feet in one direction or another; press again and allow it to drift but maintain its heading; or press one more and
maintain both the heading and the position. And if your boat has an electric trolling motor on the bow this same sort of control can be taken even farther, as you can not only control positioning but even follow bottom contours as the boat moves through the water.
Another way in which many modern boats have become better is in how they treat you while you’re aboard. Several of the latest bay boats and center consoles have mister systems built right into the hard top, to keep you from frying on a sweltering summer day. Many larger models have actual air conditioning systems which blast a refreshing breeze through the helm-deck and in a few cases, even the open cockpit.
Seating also has a leg up over what we found on older craft. Designing in better and better ergonomics is a constant challenge for boat builders, and in front of the center console where we once found blocky coolers with cushions snapped on top, today you’ll often discover large, comfortable loungers. Forward seats in the bow have also grown better, thanks to the addition of removable and/or fold-away backrests. Transom bench seats have evolved to fold into narrower compartments, ultimately opening up more deck space for fishermen. And today many boats also feature similar seats that can fold out from the sides of the cockpit, as well.
Regardless of which of these seating arrangements you’re considering, all have benefitted from vastly improved vinyl treatment processes. Today’s upholstery is commonly more UV- and stain-resistant than that of the past as a result. But better yet, the introduction of anti-microbial treatments means that you can go for years without battling the mold and mildew that defaces the seats of so many older boats.
One more comfort-inducing trend: the appearance of head compartments in smaller and smaller dual console boats. While it’s true that most sportsmen will opt for center consoles, the dual console design enjoys an enduring popularity because it works so well as both a fishing boat and a family boat. And while those ever-important heads could be found on large models in the past, recently they’ve begun showing up in much smaller models.
Even fishing features have gotten a leg up, on today’s modern angling machines. Do you remember when virtually all fishing boats had four flush-mounted gunwale rodholders, and that was it? Today a huge number of builders have managed to design in multiple transom rod holders as well. Livewells, meanwhile, just seem to keep getting better and better. A decade ago pressurized wells which seal at the hatch (and eliminate sloshing and spilling) were few and far between, but today they’re commonplace. Same goes for exterior viewing ports, baby-blue interiors (which keep baits calmer than a white interior) and multi-level inlets (which eliminate “dead spots” that can form in wells with sub-par circulation). They’re also more numerous on today’s models, and while most older boats had a single livewell, today seeing three on a well-designed boat is not at all unusual.
Finally, if you’ve looked at a number of new boats recently you may have noticed that designers constantly get better and better at planning in stowage for our fishing-related equipment. Not just onboard tackleboxes, but also dedicated compartments with recesses or chocks for securing five-gallon buckets; locking rodboxes for large numbers of rods and reels; and strategically placed tool holders and racks.
What do all of these advancements boil down to? The fact that our original assertion – today’s boats are better than those of yester-year – is demonstrably on-target. Yes, modern boats are expensive. Of course, they aren’t perfect. But when you consider all of the advancements of recent years, there simply can be no arguing the point. And for once, our parent’s generation would agree.
The 2018 ICAST sportfishing show highlighted numerous fishing tackle industry trends. Maybe the most surprising for the TF&G staff was inflatable boats.
For starters the only boats we have ever noticed at the show are kayaks. Most motorboat manufacturers debut their products at the Miami or Ft. Lauderdale Boat Shows.
So, when we saw inflatable boats in the new products showcase as well as at several points on the showroom floor we had to examine them closely.
Most people probably think of inflatable boats as something you put in a pool for kids to play on or goof around on at the beach.
This is not the type of boat featured at ICAST and showing up at many locations around the country.
The main reason for owning an inflatable boat is portability. They can even be stowed away in the back of an SUV along with a small motor and taken to strategic fishing locations.
The largest growth in these craft is out west where many people fish remote streams and mountain lakes that offer no access for launching a larger powerboat. The ability to add a small motor adds a great deal of mobility. This can take bank fishermen on a much larger adventure than they might currently be relegated to in certain situations.
Inflatable boats of the past were not always reliable and could not withstand much wear and tear. New technology has allowed them to still remain light, but withstand rocks, shells, sticks and other hazards of the shoreline. Most of the medium to high-end inflatable boats are made from very durable PVC and come outfitted with rod holders, tackle storage and mounts for motors as well as trolling motors.
These boats come in various configurations.
There are inflatable kayaks, inflatable pontoon boats, the standard raft-style inflatable boats and even the good old float tubes, which were popularized as far back as the 1980s.
In preparation for this story we found boats that could hold as little as 300 pounds to some that could handle 1,350 pounds, so you’ll find boats for the lone angler and for small families.
Will inflatable boats take over motorboats in Texas? No.
Will they usurp kayaks in popularity? No way.
But they might just fill a niche for anglers looking for something different that doesn’t destroy the pocketbook and allows them to fish beyond the bank.
While it’s easy to think it will never happen to us, these are real stories from survivors of accidents on the water.
—story by LENNY RUDOW