You want a boat, but you're having a problem with the F word. No, not that F word. The one
that identifies you as the breadwinning head of a happy household: Family.
Logic dictates a family-friendly craft with room and amenities for the kids and all their
toys, but your emotions are guiding you toward yet another F word: Fast.
You can see yourself at the helm of a snarling, high-powered speed machine, racing across
the water in a blur of neon-bright racing graphics. But your speed dreams are leaving your
family at the dock and your boating hopes on the rocks.
Boatbuilders understand your dilemma, and have responded with a new breed of runabout that
blends the utility and comfort you require with the performance edge you desire.
How can you have it both ways? It's all about the technology.
Twenty-first century boatbuilders use a variety of techniques and technologies to put an
extra bit of run into their runabouts -- everything from high-efficiency engines and drives
to drag-reducing hull designs, all wrapped up in a bold new generation of graphics and styling.
The boats we found this season prove there's hope of reconciling both the eye-patched pirate
in you and the mentoring parent you want to be.
GETTING THE MOST MPH FOR THE BUCK
How do boatbuilders get so much performance out of boats with so many amenities? By reducing
drag. Once the boat is up and running, drag becomes the enemy of speed. The faster you go, the
more wind and water resistance you must overcome. Streamlining the topside can reduce some
wind resistance, but it probably has the greatest effect on your ego. The underwater profile
of the boat, however, can have a significant effect on speed. The trick is to lift the hull up
and out of the water and reduce wetted area while maintaining control.
Years ago, ocean racers discovered that they could reduce water drag by channeling air under
the hull. They did this by cutting stepped notches along the hull chines to the keel. But there
was a downside. Stepped hulls were great when running fast and straight, but runabout owners
found that in the hard turns that skiers and tubers need, some stepped hulls dump speed faster
than a tube could dump a rider -- bad news for quick recovery of skiers.
The design team at Regal Boats came up with a system that allowed them to incorporate
aerating steps that preserve performance in turns. The patented system they call FasTrac
delivers speed and running efficiency even in 180-degree turns. The hull also provides
predictable handling that's more comfortable for recreational drivers.
Stingray's patented Z-plane hull creates a sort of "reverse chine" that provides lift
without drag-inducing strakes on the hull's surface. In all cases, today's top boatbuilders
use tactics far superior to the trial-and-error modifications to plug and mold of the old
Any coach will tell you: If you want to go faster, lose some weight.
Ditto for your boat.
Of course, you shouldn't sacrifice weight at the expense of strength -- especially if you
plan to push the upper edges of the speed envelope.
Fortunately, this is not an either-or proposition. Space-age materials and construction
techniques have provided boatbuilders with ways to both lighten the load and increase
structural integrity. Composite and core materials add strength to hulls by creating the
engineering equivalent of an I-beam fused to the running surface. High-strength roving and
resins allow builders to get more strength from less material, shaving hundreds of pounds
out of a typical fiberglass lamination schedule.
Drawing from their racing heritage, engineers at Baja Marine have taken this a step
further, using a computerized system of measuring stresses on their hulls that allows them
to put plenty of fiberglass on the stress points and save weight by reducing material on the
spots that don't need it.
Precise cutting and assembly of parts also reduces waste. Companies such as Stingray
accomplish this through tools such as a computer-controlled milling machine, a water-jet
cutter and a CNC router. To the buyer, these impressive-sounding processes translate into a
product that fits together with greater precision and strength.
All boats tend to run well once up on plane, but even well-powered boats groan while
getting there. Now boatbuilders use a number of design tricks to get their crafts up and
running. The top trick here is extending or modifying the running surface in the transom area
to lift the boat on plane faster and keep it on plane with less power. Crownline and Caravelle
use proprietary variations on this concept, and our past tests prove they work as advertised.
Is horsepower the answer? Yes and no. Scan the test reports on boatinglifemag.com and you'll
see that even a 100-pound difference in load can slow a boat dramatically. Add 50 horsepower
and 200 pounds for the bigger block and your new boat may go only slightly faster with the
bigger engine --and burn a ton more fuel doing it.
Hitting the balance between power and weight -- the power-to-weight ratio -- is the ticket
for your family's poker-run rig.
One of the most popular engines, used by both Mercury and Volvo in making stern-drives, is
the GM Vortec 5.0-liter block. In fact, it's the engine Baja slips into the sporty 202 bowrider
to hit the 60 mph mark.
Impressive at the time of its introduction years ago, this small-block V-8 is more powerful
today thanks to new cylinder heads that enhance combustion efficiency and a better intake
manifold that increases air flow through the engine. But these don't affect the weight of the
engine, so we talked to GM's Dave Garrett, the manager of Customer Engineering Support, to find
out why this engine is so popular among boatbuilders pushing performance.
"The most significant change in the GM Vortec block is the multiport fuel-injection system.
It's much more efficient and increases the horsepower of the block without adding weight. In
fact, people are happier with the 5.0-liter small-block V-8 than they are with the 5.7-liter
Garrett says the block gets 250 to 270 horsepower in Mercury or Volvo stern-drives.
"We raised the power-to-dollar ratio instead of the power-to-weight ratio," Garrett said.
In truth, 21st-century speed and power are achieved through superior engineering and increased
efficiency -- and most of that is due to the computerized efficiency of the engines'
THE WOW FACTOR
OK, then. Boatbuilders and engine makers are producing faster and more comfortable products --
but so does Lincoln with its Town Car. That's not the image that's going to peel your teenager
away from the Xbox or, for that matter, make you sneak that black patch over your left eye.
It takes that "bad boy" look to get on the fast track, too. Whether they're appliques with
checkered flags or stripes and flames, or bold colors splashed along the hull in carefully laid
gelcoat, we want some stripes on the freeboard that flaunt the power under the engine cowling.
Fortunately for us, those graphics are much less expensive today than they were years ago, and
that's thanks to digital technology.
What else could a boating family want in a runabout? One more F word: Fun! That's a concept
everyone can understand.
Boating Life Magazine