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May 19, 2009

Boatbuilding From Screen to Salt

Designing and introducing a new boat is an involved process.

It's what anyone attending a boat show or visiting their neighborhood dealership expects - a new season means new models loaded with the latest features and power packages. Boat companies count on buyers to upgrade their boats regularly - and the competition to capture that market is fierce. But the decision to expand a line does not come easily. Many factors, from focus-group input to manufacturing costs to market forces, affect when a new boat will hit the showroom.

"We like to launch a new model every 18 months," says Owen Maxwell, vice president of product development for Regulator Boats. "We also update at least one existing model during that period. And the market drives us to do all this, from initial concept to actual production, in a year or less.

"Customer expectations are very high these days," Maxwell explains. "I call it the 'Lexus generation.' They want it now, they want to push a button and they want it to work. So that's what we try to deliver while staying true to a clean, functionally designed offshore fishing boat."

Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Company, which builds 34 different models among its four brands, works in a five-year cycle.

"We don't replace boats just to replace them," Deal says. "Each new model has to have demonstrable improvements in the ride and performance. We analyze our poor sellers, look at trends and pay attention to the competition. That starts the process of actually bringing a new boat to market."

Dealers have the most interaction with potential buyers, so companies poll them to gather input on what customers want in new models. Fishability aspects like deck layout and the capacity and location of livewells, fish boxes and tackle storage are discussed. So are family considerations, such as seating, live-aboard comforts and ergonomics. All these variables are factored in with potential power packages and construction costs to meet a price point that is acceptable to buyers.

Without a dealer network, factory-direct builders like Yellowfin Yachts and SeaVee Boats rely on customer input and market assessment when deciding what to introduce.

"I look for the niche and then design something for that niche," says Wylie Nagler, Yellowfin's president. "We do our designs in house and strive for a blend between fishing considerations and what anglers do with the boat.

"The number one thing is styling," he explains. "If the boat is not aesthetically pretty, nobody will buy it. You don't go to a car dealership and buy a mini-van if you want a sports car. After capturing the look, we then work on fishability and performance. For the fishing, we listen to our anglers. For styling and performance, we listen to ourselves. Our philosophy is to be faster than the competition, so we design our hulls with that goal."