top of page

Four Tech Trends Primed to Change Boating in 2024

boating trends 2024
The Yamaha DRiVE-X intuitive docking system in the flagship Yamaha 275SDX

Our journey through 2024's most disruptive innovations has led us to a new frontier.

First we explored the boats redefining what's possible in 2024. Then we considered exactly how their engines will disrupt the marketplace in 2024.

Now it's time to explore the 'inside' world of boating -- the exciting new tech that's making helm stations more user-friendly, the boating experience more autonomous with AI, and the R&R experience more relaxing with clever design features.

The boating world is in a state of flux, as it often is. The ebbs and flows of industry, economics, and entrepreneurship are bubbling as boatbuilders seek out a competitive edge. There is a huge upswing in several keynote areas. They are, in my humble opinion, 1) autonomous/AI technology, 2) alternative fuels and power sources, and 3) new building materials and construction processes.

Combined, we're seeing a trickle down effect whereby boats are easier to operate, require less maintenance, and offer an intuitive user experience that makes for a stress-free experience on the water.

Here are four new pieces of technology that will change the game in 2024 and beyond.

1) AI At The Helm

Brunswick and Apex.AI partnered to develop their autonomous docking capability

Make no mistake, boat manufacturers are increasingly looking for ways to make the boating experience more intuitive. That means meshing AI with the technology at the helm to improve things like navigation, steering, docking, and even onboard amenities.

One of boating's biggest and most influential outfits, Brunswick Corporation, has been very clear about their investments in AI. They partnered with Apex AI to advance their autonomous docking capabilities, and they wasted no time showing its potential by using a Boston Whaler 405 Conquest as their test boat. It performed flawlessly, too.

The Azimut Magellano 60 uses a Google-based AI mobile app so captains can communicate with their boat

Brunswick isn't the only one. Last year, Yamaha announced a $100 million investment in AI, Robotics, and digital technology. We haven't yet seen the fruits of that labour yet, but considering Yamaha is clearly thinking outside the box with respect to boating's future, they probably have an ace up their sleeve. With everything from hydrogen-powered outboards to acquiring Torqeedo, Yamaha is setting a bold course for the future.

It's also worth noting that Big Tech is dipping their toe into the marine world. Azimut Yachts partnered with Google to test AI for boat captains. In essence, Azimut is integrating a Google mobile app that allows boat captains to use voice commands to control their boat's functions.

Imagine sitting at the helm and telling your boat to dock itself. As it slides effortlessly into its slip, you then ask it to turn the stereo up, dim the lights, crank the AC, and shut down the engines. Time for a dock party.

2) Aluminum Is The New Steel

The all-aluminum XO 44 Explorer

Over the last decade, superyacht manufacturers have increasingly turned to aluminum for their hulls and superstructures instead of traditional steel. From a function and capability standpoint, it makes sense. The material is lighter than steel, comparably strong, and easier to form during the construction process. It's biggest deterrent has always been price, but that's less of an issue for superyacht buyers than for your average boater. While we can never predict economics, aluminum boats are appearing in increasingly smaller sizes, which makes for interesting changes in design philosophy.

Yes, there has always been a large market for aluminum fishing boats, pontoon boats, and small recreational craft, but aluminum has been virtually non-existent in cruisers or other midsize vessels.

The 24-foot aluminum hulled 'Arc' electric runabout

Not anymore. Finland's XO Boats recently unveiled a stunning 44-foot explorer yacht with a 100% aluminum hull and structure, which might set the tone for boats in that size range going forward. It's a fascinating craft, and a look at her interior construction will undoubtedly making other boat builders take notice.

The Silicon Valley 'entrepreneurial' side of boating is also tinkering with aluminum. For the same reasons as above, aluminum may offer benefits that other materials simply can't. The 'Arc,' a Hollywood-infused electric boat is made from a 100% aluminum hull, even though it's a 24-foot runabout. It's not your standard appearance, but innovation demands change. If that means retiring the same standard issue hulls we've seen on the same brands for years, so be it. Just as long as the price of raw materials stays practical.

3) Alternative Fuels -- Beyond Hydrogen into Methanol, Diesel, and Electric Power

The 400 volt electric motor attached to the new OXE 450 Hybrid outboard

We've talked ad nauseum about the ongoing rush to develop hydrogen power. It's going to see the light of day, but the spotlight put on hydrogen is taking away from several alternatives that might have equal potential.

In a nutshell, hydrogen is extremely promising as an alternative to gas-powered engines, but the intricate details with the fuel cell, storage pressure, and storage capacity means there are several kinks that still need to be worked out.

In the meantime, superyacht builders like Lürssen have already integrated hydrogen fuel cells into their massive vessels, but they've also been using methanol to make it happen. Their strategy is to convert methanol into hydrogen using a process that's more efficient, and cleaner, than simply storing hydrogen fuel cells on board. It looks very promising, even if it's currently only viable on large vessels.

Which brings us to other alternative fuel types that could be promising for small boats. Diesel fuel, in particular, is rapidly getting close to parity with standard gasoline. Cox Marine just reached 350 horsepower with their V8 diesel outboard. Since it offer roughly 30% better fuel efficiency than a gas-powered outboard of the same size, you can be sure boaters (and boatbuilders), will take notice. They garnered even more well-deserved attention by recently setting the diesel-powered outboard speed record, too.

Caudwell Marine's 'Axis' diesel outboard

Caudwell Marine is similarly closing the gap with their turbocharged 300 hp diesel platform. Some prototypes in development may push diesel power even closer to the mainstream, too, like OXE Marine's 450 hp diesel-electric hybrid outboard.

And this is all to say nothing of the recent advancements in electric power. For all the (mostly well-deserved) humming and hawing from traditional boaters, electrification continues to march towards large-scale industry acceptance. The partnership between automotive and marine manufacturers is putting tried-and-true electric powertrains from vehicles into electric boats, and their efficiency can't be ignored. It's a partnership we've discussed before, but it proves a point: we're getting pretty close to viable electric boats on a large scale.

Vision Marine just raced an electric boat to 116 mph. Companies like Candela, Nimbus, and Voltari continue to push the electric envelope. Mercury Marine is making major commitments to electric propulsion. Even Hollywood is making investments in electric boating with fanciful names like the 'Arc.'

Change is near.

4) The Fold-Down Terrace Trend

The Regal 50 SAV with fold-down terrace

Enough with all the tech talk, let's discuss design features. Several major manufacturers, and even a few upstarts, have begun adding a 'fold-down' terrace to their stern sidewalls to increase floorspace at the back of the boat.

It's so simple and practical it's surprising no one thought of it sooner. Cruisers Yachts just unveiled an entire new series of flybridges that will feature fold-downs along her sidewalls. The feature not only makes moving along the side of the boat much easier (and safer), it also dramatically increases the social space at the stern. The improvement in mobility and functionality is nearly enough to make any potential buyer looking in that size range to gravitate towards their offering. The all-new flagship 435 cruiser from Wellcraft also features a similar design, another testament to Wellcraft moving into daring new territory compared to their previous fare.

Perhaps the best example of increasing social space comes via the all-new 50 SAV from Regal, which creates a massive stern platform by folding down the sidewalls on both sides. The 50 SAV is arguably the most 'social' themed boat of its size on the market, -- it was literally designed for fishing, family, and fun -- and the increase in surface area at the stern means you can host a massive gathering without ever going below deck. The stern itself features everything else a recreational boater could ask for, so why not have the equivalent of a dance floor to keep your guests happy? There won't be any unnecessary elbow rubbing.

Even the high-end sportfishing market is beginning to take notice with boats like the all-new 50 Evolution from Intrepid featuring a similar open-concept stern. On the Intrepid, its functionality lies in its ability to get big fish onboard easier, but it also makes for easier boarding, safer supply transfers from dock to boat, and an all-around smoother boating experience.

Upstart companies are jumping on the bandwagon, too. The obscure yet strangely enticing R30 from Blue Innovations Group is not only an electric center console at the forefront of the electrification movement, it also features a drop-down terrace at the stern. When you pair that with its electric power, solar panel arrays, massive size, and intriguing tech, you've got a hive of interesting features that may provide the blueprint for boating going forward.

So what might we see in boating in 2025 and beyond? Without pontificating too far into the future, based on 2024 trends boaters should expect to see the biggest changes at the helm. The AI and autonomous tech trend that's sweeping Silicon Valley and the internet itself will likely find its way into future watercraft. Since boaters are always looking for ways to be safer and more efficient on the water, you can expect to enjoy smarter, faster, and lighter boats in the years ahead.

And they'll have extra floor space, too.

714 views0 comments


bottom of page