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The Wild World of Boats: 8 Designs that Changed Boating (for Better or for Worse)

By: Scott Way

Proteus catamaran prototype
Proteus Catamaran Prototype At Sea

Ever watched a waterbug (aka a 'waterstrider’) scoot along and wonder how it's so efficient with those long legs standing like posts out of the water? The Proteus is the answer. Designed by Silicon Valley bigwigs as a prototype for a Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel-type (WAM-V… or WHAM! every time you excitedly burst through a wave), the Proteus will wake you up before you go-go.


A 100 foot long catamaran with a 50 foot wide top deck, a top speed of 30 knots, and a fuel range of 5000 miles, it has the performance to offset any questions about its design. It's high speed, low drag, and a lotta fun. Plus the graffiti on the pontoons looks pretty hip while docked in trendy San Francisco Bay. There’s plenty of freeboard since it only produces about 1 foot of draft despite weighing over 10 tons, and it can be beached safely even with 9000 litres of diesel fuel stored in its pontoons. The titanium spring loaded struts allow the superstructure to absorb forces from the water- making it a comfortable ride while you’re perched in the cockpit 20 feet in the air. Next time you’re watching a tourist pedaling a Sea Cycle water bike at your local pond, think of what a few million dollars in tech funding could do. WHAM!

Proteus catamaran at sea
Proteus Catamaran Prototype

Glastron GT150 James Bond movie
Glastron GT150 James Bond Edition

This boat is making the list for sheer cool factor. An iconic boat from the 1973 James Bond film Live And Let Die, its famous chase scene showed as many overland shortcuts it did on-water escapades. Glastron were one of the first producers of fibreglass hulls and when they teamed up with Carlson Inc., the ‘renowned go-fast boat designer of the day,’ the result was a snazzy sport boat with mainstream appeal. Like other machines made famous by film, like the ’77 Trans Am from Smokey And The Bandit or the ’81 DeLorean from Back To The Future, the Glastron GT150 infiltrated pop culture and became a boater’s showpiece. The GT150 is a highly sought after collector’s item, but you’d be hard pressed to find one. Most were snatched up and rebuilt so regular civilians could pretend to be Roger Moore and jump billabongs on the bayou (you can watch the glorious chase scene on YouTube). If the movie taught us anything it’s that the Glastron GT150 not only embodies coolness, it’s also incredibly well made. After surviving a boat chase that could give the chase scene in The Blues Brothers an aquatic run for its money, it’s truly a fine craft.

Glastron GT150 refurbished
Glastron GT150 Refurbished

U.S Navy Sea Shadow IX-529 at sea
U.S Navy Sea Shadow IX-529 At Sea

Speaking of cool, the U.S Navy has a fleet of radical designs, but their reasons for going sleek aren’t the same as James Bond. In their quest for a vessel that could defy physics and avoid radar, The U.S Navy’s ‘Sea Shadow’ (IX-529) was an achievement in forward thinking. Designed by Lockheed Martin to match their similarly futuristic stealth plane, the Sea Shadow employed a SWATH design, which stands for ‘Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull.’ The boat was tested in secrecy from 1984-1993, its design serving as the focus of potential future viability of the SWATH hull shape. The hull acts similar to a submarine, where two powered nacelles sit below the surface and drive the boat forward. The narrow vertical arms minimize drag and allow wave energy to pass by without affecting forward momentum. In essence, the SWATH design was meant to minimize a vessel’s volume where water meets the air, leaving the bulk of the buoyancy and displacement below the surface. What scuttled the Sea Shadow wasn’t necessarily poor design, but rather its complexity. The dual nacelles each required intricate trim-control systems that proved problematic, and given that the deck had to be high enough to prevent wave impact, each vessel had to be catered towards individual location and function. In essence, each hull had to be custom built, driving up costs and making the project non-viable for large-scale military development. At least that’s what the U.S navy claims; they say the boat was scrapped, but you wouldn’t be able to find one on radar anyway.

U.S Navy Sea Shadow IX-529 San Francisco
U.S Navy Sea Shadow IX-529 San Francisco

Juliet Marine Systems Ghost Ship prototype
Juliet Marine Systems Ghost Ship Prototype

The initial promise of the Sea Shadow and its futuristic persona inspired several smaller versions, none cooler (or harder to find) than the ‘Ghost.’ With an apt name befitting its difficulty to locate, the Juliet Marine Systems design bore traits similar to the Sea Shadow but on a smaller and more lethal scale. Meant as a fast action and quick moving response boat for outmaneuvering larger warships, the Ghost was a butt-kicking machine. Capable of being outfitted with various weapons systems, transporting troops during stealth operations, and providing fast action security to a threat on a larger vessel, the Ghost was originally borne out of true American entrepreneurial spirit. After the attack on the USS Cole in 2001 highlighted shortcomings in American naval protection, serial entrepreneur Gregory Sancoff founded Juliet Marine Systems and amassed an impressive crew of engineers and advisors to design the Ghost. It’s most notable feature was forward facing propellers on each pontoon, rather than at the rear, creating a gas bubble in front of each pontoon during rotation that allowed the boat to pull rather than push. Known as a super cavitating propulsion system, it proved faster and more efficient than conventional rear-focused engines. But despite the intimidating appearance and ‘do not try me’ attitude, the Ghost became permanently docked in a bureaucratic quagmire. A fascinating story worthy of a full length novel or a Netflix documentary, the technology patented by Juliet Marine Systems became the target, and eventually the property, of the United States government through methods that some would claim were… irregular. Impassioned quotes from Juliet founder Gregory Sancoff and advisor Rear Adm. Jay Cohen accusing the U.S navy of interference made worldwide news (i.e., “this is either incompetence at its height or it’s a Machiavellian plot,” from Cohen), as did accusations of professional sabotage and outright government repossession. In a sad twist of fate, the U.S military didn’t go ahead with production of the Ghost, but they won’t let anyone else use the design either. And so the Ghost can’t be seen, a conclusion befitting its name.

Juliet Marine Systems Ghost Ship propulsion design
Juliet Marine Systems Ghost Ship Propulsion Design

Gibbs Aquada amphibious car
The Gibbs Aquada

An original 1960’s Amphicar is near the top of every car collector’s wishlist, and its novelty as a dual purpose vehicle unsurprisingly led to several impressive impersonators. None more so than the Gibbs Aquada, which arrived in 2003 amidst the height of the middle class sportscar craze. While the Amphicar was truly a car with a measly propeller, the Gibbs Aquada offered impressive performance in both marine and terrestrial testing, all while looking comfortable parked next to a Ford Mustang or a Chevy Camaro. With the press of a button, the wheels recoiled to showcase a 175 hp V-6 jet drive motor with nearly 2,000 lbs of thrust. The changeover process took a mere 12 seconds, and once on plane the Aquada could reach a top speed of 30 mph. If you were in a rush to reach the marina, on-land figures had it reaching a top speed of over 100 mph via the 2.5L Rover V6 engine. In 2004, famed business tycoon Richard Branson used a Gibbs Aquada to set a new record for crossing the English Channel via amphibious vehicle, earning the vessel a well-deserved spot in popular culture. Branson even considered buying a fleet of Aquadas to service customers on his Virgin Atlantic airline, using the boat to ferry passengers along the River Thames and bypass traffic snarls between downtown London and Heathrow airport. That never came to fruition, and unfortunately neither did sales of the Aquada. In 2016 Gibbs announced it was selling the 20 remaining Aquadas for the niche collector price tag of $250,000 each.

Gibbs Aquada amphibious car waterskiing
The Gibbs Aquada Waterskiiing

Russian Novgorod warship
Russian Novgorod Round Warship

You can’t discuss anything weird and wacky without inevitably discussing something Russian, and the Novgorod was an oddly circular warship that will rightfully never be duplicated. Built in the 1870’s with the intention of creating more deck space for larger guns without increasing a ship’s draught, the Novgorod suffered a short and unsurprisingly stubborn existence. With a diameter of 101 feet, the vessel was notorious for poor performance like spinning around during gunfire due to recoil and instability in rough waters. Nevertheless, it saw action in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 and arguably served its purpose relatively well as a coastal defense vessel. Weighing in at over 2500 tonnes, with 12 inches of armour surrounding the hull and boasting two impressive 11-inch guns, the Novgorod was genuinely a half-ball of steel. It required 6 full steam engines at its stern (if you can call it that) fed by 8 cylindrical boilers, giving it 3300 horsepower but a top speed of just 7 mph. The appetite of the engines for coal, coupled with the high drag of the hull design, gave it a range of only 480 nautical miles. In typical Russian stoicism, any rumblings of its poor design remained hushed whispers until the boat was decommissioned in 1903, at which point it became famous among naval historians as arguably the worst war ship ever made.

Russian Novrogod Warship model
Russian Novrogod Warship Model

Super Yachts Monaco HypnoSquid design
Super Yachts Monaco- HypnoSquid Design

The HypnoSquid could make this list on name alone, but a closer look at its origins reveals a truly puzzling super yacht. Designed by Roberto Curto in collaboration with Super Yachts Monaco, Curto claims the HypnoSquid was inspired by the ‘elegance, speed, and agility’ of the cuttlefish. For lowly land dwellers, a cuttlefish bears a quirky resemblance to a squid in a skirt, so elegant isn’t typically the adjective it gets associated with. With room for 10 guests and a crew of 12, the boat includes an onboard garden, massage centre, gym, and cinema room. There’s a Jacuzzi with a waterfall, but there’s no confirmation it’s stocked with cuttlefish. There’s also a Japanese-style open layout between galley and dining room, so you can submit your calamari order directly to the chef. To the opposite effect, there are privacy panels in the games room to section off wandering eyes during high stakes poker games. The allusions to the cuttlefish come in several design features, most of which are on the exterior. The hull shape itself bears resemblance to the tubular form of the cephalopod, with two large LED coloured windows on the main deck representing the cuttlefish’s eyes. Made of lightweight aluminum instead of steel, the HypnoSquid does have an impressive range of 3000 nautical miles and is capable of transatlantic journeys with a top speed of 30 knots. At 201 feet, with a 45 foot beam and 9.5 foot draft, the boat casts an impressive shadow. The marketing material for the boat is also pretty epic. According to designer Curto, “we don’t design conventional yachts.” No argument there.

Super Yachts Monaco HypnoSquid design art

Footprint Boat on water
Footprint Boat Full Extension

The easiest way to describe a Footprint Boat is to call it an RV with a propeller. With many of the same camper-style features of their highway cousins, Footprint Boats were made for family excursions. A strange mix of RV, pontoon boat, house boat, and camper, the Footprint made a….footprint in boating history (sorry). With a beam of 8’2’’ but extendable to 11’9’’ utilizing extendable crossbeams, the utility of the Footprint was its coolest feature. Pop-out windows in the camper-style cabin were handy for maximizing space, and the concept of ‘flexible interior architecture’ was an innovative concept for such an economy boat. With its extendable windows, adjustable beam width, convertible sofas, the Footprint was kind of like playing Jenga on a pontoon boat. They weren’t easy on the eyes, but being made of lightweight aluminum they were relatively low cost cruisers for family adventuring on inland waterways. Most of the exterior was comprised of tent fabric over aluminum framing, so a weekend on a Footprint wasn’t much different than camping in a tent. Sadly no longer in business, the brand will always carry the legacy of being a deceptively cool machine. All that was missing was a firepit for roasting s’mores.

Footprint Boat at sunset on water
Footprint Boat At Sunset
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