The markets: Boatbuilding and marine (2018)

NMMA’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract reports that US sales of all boats, marine products and services totaled US$36 billion, which was a 3.2% increase over 2015. Overall sales of new powerboats in 2016 increased 6%, for a total of 247,800 boats sold, with similar growth expected in 2017 and 2018.

The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, IL, US) reports that 2016 was the best in 10 years for the sales of new personal watercraft, while the market for used boats approached an all-time high. NMMA’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract reports that US sales of all boats, marine products and services totaled US$36 billion, which was a 3.2% increase over 2015. Overall sales of new powerboats in 2016 increased 6%, for a total of 247,800 boats sold, with similar growth expected in 2017 and 2018. Outboard boat sales, which represent 85% of new powerboat sales, were up 6.1% in 2016 to 160,900 units.

This is a far cry from the nadir of the US recreational marine market, which came in 2009, when only 153,500 new powerboats were sold — less than new outboard boat sales alone in 2016. Indeed, 2016 sales figures were approaching those not seen since 2007, when 267,300 new powerboats were sold. “Economic factors, including an improving housing market, higher employment, strong consumer confidence, and growing disposable income, are creating a golden age for the country’s recreational boating industry,” said Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA. “Summer is a busy selling season for our industry, and we expect steady growth to continue across most boat categories through 2017—and into 2018—to keep up with the acceleration in demand for new boats.”

And if you’re worried that unit sales, although better, still lag the “go-go” days of the early 2000s when the industry was selling close to 300,000 craft year, Dammrich suggested that the industry doesn’t need to fret. Watercraft today, on average, are larger and more expensive than they were 15 years ago. As a result, although the unit total might be relatively low, the overall value of the market (it was US$36 billion in 2016) is relatively high, and is expected to remain so, assuming there is not another recession or other shock to the world’s economic system in the wind.

Additive manufacturing also is making inroads into the boatbuilding market. And here, too, as in the automotive market, it is in the toolmaking area. A notable example is a 3D-printed boat hull pattern, completed using a near-net shape additive manufacturing process. A production-capable fiberglass mold was successfully pulled from the pattern during a collaborative proof-of-concept joint evaluation program conducted by Thermwood Corp. (Dale, IN, US), Techmer PM (Clinton, TN, US) and Marine Concepts (Cape Coral, FL, US). On display at the AM2017 Additive Manufacturing Conference, held Oct. 10-12, 2017 in Knoxville, TN, US, the pattern was 3D printed slightly oversized, over a period of approximately 30 hours, and subsequently trimmed to final net size and shape, using Thermwood’s trademarked Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) system. The printed material was Techmer’s trademarked Electra l ABS LT1 3DP, which reportedly has proven suitable for marine tooling applications when processed using LSAM print technology. The entire print, assembly and trim process reportedly required less than 10 working days. The final tool was printed in six sections, four major center sections with walls ~1.5 inch (~38 mm) thick and a solid printed transom and bow. Sections were pinned and bonded together using a Lord Corp. (Cary, NC, US) plural-component urethane adhesive. The assembled pattern was then machined as a single piece on the same Thermwood system, a task which required about 50 hours. Advocates here see the potential for significant change in the boatbuilder’s moldmaking processes.

In the auto world, OEM efforts to build electric-powered cars have benefited from lightweighting benefits of composites in a variety of components, including body panels. As the need for lightweighting has grown more urgent, the spotlight has turned on the composites with the most lightweighting potential, carbon fiber composites. Boatbuilders, are long acquainted with glass-fiber composites in hull, deck, mast and cabin construction. But like their counterparts in the auto industry, boatbuilders interested in electric powertrains are discovering the same. 

Electric-drive boats, in fact, have been heralded in the marine market as “the future” for almost as long as electric cars have in the auto world. But in 2017, the pace of development appeared to be quickening, enabled by increased development in power systems and battery/energy storage technology. Just as composites are predicted to be a valuable enabler of range-and performance extending lightweight for plug-in cars, it seems already the construction of choice for performance boats without the noise, smell, cost and environmental impact of gas and diesel fuel. And it ought not to be dismissed lightly: Electric boats were, in fact, the powerboat norm before the 1930s.

A case in point is Hinkley Yachts newest Picnic Boat. Always on the boatbuilding cutting edge, this Southwest Harbor, ME, US-based group was one of the first to license the Seeman Composites Resin Infusion Molding Process (SCRIMP) develop by marine composites legend Bill Seeman. It was pretty new, and Hinckley was one of the first recreational boatbuilders to license the technology. The company recently introduced glass/carbon fiber hulls to cut weight by more than 1,000 lb/454 kg. But in 2017, it launched its Dasher all-electric motor yacht. This 28.5-ft fossil fuel-free runabout features is the lightest Hinckley Yacht yet (6,500 lb/2,950 kg, fully equipped) via a resin-infused carbon fiber/epoxy composite hull and carbon composite stringers, plus an Artisanal Teak deck that is actually an epoxy composite hand-painted to look like varnished teak, offering much less weight and maintenance and much improved sustainability. 

Consider also the all-composite hydrofoiling watercraft developed by SeaBubbles (Paris, France), the brainchild of hydrofoiling yachtsman Alain Thébault and champion windsurfer Anders Bringdal. Their vision of creating an eco-conscious taxi transport solution for the world’s urban waterways has come to fruition with the support of composites fabricator Décision SA (Ecublens, Switzerland) and Sicomin Epoxy Systems (Chateauneuf les Martigues, France) a formulator and supplier of high-performance epoxy systems. SeaBubbles water taxis are based on a hydrofoil design that allows the watercraft to glide silently above the water when it exceeds 12 kph/7.5 mph. A clean-charging electric drive system converts solar, wind and water power so the vessel does not generate any CO2 emissions. Already installed on the River Seine in Paris, the technology’s makers hope to spread SeaBubbles to more than 50 waterway-rich cities worldwide.


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