The steering and controls sector of the boating industry is seeing a rise in sales despite challenging economic conditions.
Many manufacturers believe the reason for this increase is two fold. On one hand, the major advancements in technology and innovation in the steering and controls market is proving difficult for consumers to resist; on the other hand, the soft economy limits consumers’ ability to purchase new boats, and therefore upgrading the boat they currently own with new products is the favored alternative.
Dan Kobelt, vice president of Kobelt Manufacturing, said that his company recorded a 20-percent increase in its sales this year, and he foresees this success continuing into the new year.
“I think we’re going to see at least a 10-percent gain again,” Kobelt said about 2004 sales in controls and steering.
ZF Mathers LLC, a manufacturer specializing in marine propulsion systems, has also experienced sales on an upward trend this year as in the past.
“We’re selling more electronic control systems than we ever have,” said Joe Hudspeth, marketing representative of ZF Mathers reported.
In addition, Vetus den Ounden, Ltd., a manufacturer of Vetus products for pleasure craft and smaller commercial vessels, has seen an increase in sales over the last few months, according to President Leo J. van Hemert.
Van Hemert said, contrary to industry reports, that sales are flat, his company has seen increases in the last few months, including its sales in controls and steering. He added that Venus den Ounden, Inc. expects a reasonable increase for 2004.
Joe Rode, sales manager for a marine product manufacturer Eddie Marine, noted a successful year for control sales but an off year in terms of steering.
Teleflex Marine is off its sales plan year to date, Dennis Zirkelbach, director of marketing for Teleflex Marine, reported, but said that the company sees “a chance to make up some significant ground.” Certain products are doing better than others, he said noting that the company’s steering products are doing well.
“The price of fuel, unemployment, and weather in the Northeast continue to be a part of our challenges in 2003,” Zirkelbach said, but added, “as far as we are concerned, the year isn’t over yet.”
Looking toward the future, Zirkelbach said Teleflex is optimistic for 2004, and early indications from their distribution network gives them reason for optimism.
THE UPGRADE OPTION
Many in the industry believe that with the current state of the economy, boat owners are looking to upgrade the boats they currently own, instead of purchasing new ones.
Manufacturers expressed their belief that the success of the controls and steering sector of the industry is largely because new controls or steering equipment is one way to upgrade.
“I think the economy compels people, like in the automotive industry. People decide to keep their cars longer if economy is down and there is uncertainty about their jobs, and I think the same holds true for the marine industry,” Bill Michel, general manager of Uflex USA, Inc. said.
Often times in the boating industry when the boat builders’ business is off, the aftermarket mitigates some of the loss, explains Michel.
Rode reiterated this theory, stating that Eddie Marine’s trend in sales can be attributed to the state of the economy, and admitted that when the economy is down, aftermarket sales as a whole usually do well.
“People are upgrading instead of purchasing new,” he explained.
TECHNOLOGY AT THE FOREFRONT
While many believe the state of the controls and steering sector is reflective of the economy, these same people also attribute the success of this sector to the rapid advances in technology over the last couple of years.
The growth of this particular sector of the industry is growing as the technology is moving from mechanically governed engines and mechanically operated gears to electronically governed engines and shift transmissions, explained Hudspeth.
“The marine industry… at least in my own experience, has never had a period of time in which so much new technology has been introduced,” Michel said. “And it’s really compelling technology for the consumer to try.”
Improvements in technology entice consumers to upgrade and elevate the awareness of performance in their boats. As far as the controls and steering sector of the industry goes, more and more people are choosing hydraulic steering.
Because of this swing toward performance, Rode explained, “We’re selling more and more two-lever controls where a person has more control in a performance application.”
Zirkelbach reported that Teleflex Marine’s hydraulic steering is still in a growth mode as more builders offer hydraulic steering in place of mechanical.
Manufacturers expect this trend in technology to continue into 2004. Michel said that he foresees a much greater level of integration between the control systems and other systems on the boat.
“Whether that integration is electronic in terms of the data reported back to the consumer or whether it somehow simplifies the operation of the boat or brings a greater level of consistency to the operation of the boat, this is where I think technology is headed,” Michel said, “That’s the direction.”
Hudspeth explained that the industry is not only moving to electronic, but it is also incorporating CANbus technology, which is just now hitting the main front.
“CANbus is similar to the Ethernet on your computer,” Hudspeth explained. “It is a type of serial communication, basically it allows a lot of information to pass between multiple units and so you don’t have to have every wire going to every single component, you can just have wires going to the bus network,” he added. “This process allows information to be exchanged very rapidly and freely.”
TIME IS MONEY
What’s so enticing about these innovations in this sector of the industry? It’s cutting down on installation time, which offers cost savings.
Hudspeth pointed out another way innovations are saving time for consumers. The new technology used in ZF Mathers’s innovations will cut down the time spent on troubleshooting. With the use of CANbus technology, if there is a problem, it will be related to some sort of display device and it will tell you what that exact problem is and provide you with suggestions to fix it, Hudspeth explained.
There is a focus on the value of time and simplicity, and the new technology being introduced in the controls and steering sector of the industry is picking up on this trend.
“People are looking for easiness,” said van Hemert, “and they like to have things be as easy as possible when they are on their boats, and that’s what we’ve tried to follow.”
A MOVEMENT TOWARD MAINSTREAM
There is a lot of speculation as to how long it will be before this new technology is considered mainstream in the industry. Not all consumers are ready to dive head first into the new electronic systems.
And while electronic technology definitely has a presence in the market, it is far from perfect, said Michel. The consumer still has a mental hurdle to get over about the concept of fly-by-wire, he explained.
Kobelt echoed Michel’s beliefs concerning consumer mentality, stating that early manufacturers produced some faulty systems that gave electronics, in general, a bad name. The result was that people were a little worried about buying these new systems.
But now the pendulum seems to be swinging.
“I see that more people are relying on electronic systems because they have proven to be reliable,” Kobelt explained.
In what is becoming a very competitive market, manufacturers are aware of the technology on the forefront. Most of them agree, however, that the future of the market is really going to depend on the consumer’s acceptance of all the innovation. Further, if consumers do take hold of the innovations, how long is it going to be before this acceptance takes place?
The technology and innovation that has been emerging in the past couple of years has been successfully tried in other industries, said Michel. What the marine industry is seeing now is just a migration of existing technology into a new market, he explained.
Zirkelbach predicts that CANbus based product will see slight increases of acceptance in 2003 with 2005 seeing greater acceptance at the OEM and boat owner level.
Kobelt also foresees consumer acceptance, as he predicts that prices for electronic controls are going to come down and that boats in the 30-foot range, maybe in the next five years, are going to start buying electronic control systems.
“Like anything new,” Michel said, “it takes some time for the good word of the good experience to travel from consumer to consumer such that the new consumer for this doesn’t think twice when they order their new boat with it.” —Sara Faber
ComNav Marine’s TS-202 Full Follow-up Lever Remote Control is a tool for making steering and autopilot course changes while away from the helm and can be operated from virtually any location on the boat. The new waterproof remote allows the operator to select standby, tiller steer, autopilot and navigation modes. Independent port and starboard scaling is provided to define how far the rudder will move when the tiller handle is moved to a maximum position. The 202’s adjustable helm bias is useful for vessels in commercial service. ComNav, #15 13511 Crestwood Place, Richmond, BC, Canada V6V 2G1; 604 / 207-1600; www.comnav.com.
With hydrofoils that flex independently to absorb shock, the Doel-Fin from Davis Instruments gives a boat greater stability, steadier turns and higher speeds. For wake boarders and water skiers, the boat will maintain lower planing speeds and faster out-of-the-hole performance. The Doel-Fin creates maximum lift in the stern while minimizing drag, compensating for motor weight and producing a fuel savings of up to 30-percent. The Doel-Fin is designed for small or big outboard motors and outdrives on boats ranging from inflatable dinghies to large ocean cruisers. Davis Instruments, 3465 Diablo Ave., Hayward, CA 94545; 510 / 732 – 9229; www.davisnet.com.
From Octopus Products comes a new version of its original mechanically steered Intellisteer. The Intellisteer consists of a waterproof, handheld remote unit that communicates with an Octopus reversing pump to operate the steering cylinder. The system adds additional virtual steering stations plus remote capability. Hydraulic Intellisteer makes it convenient to make course changes during trolling operations or to steer from a comfortable spot. Multiple handheld remotes can also be installed. Installation is simple and if a future autopilot installation is planned, the Intellisteer can be easily expanded into the new system. Any vessel with Teleflex Seastar-type steering or Hynautic pressurized-type steering is a suitable Intellisteer Hydraulic candidate. The Hydraulic Intellisteer remote control is available for 12VDC or 24VDC. Canada Metal (Pacific) Ltd., 634 Derwent Way, Delta, BC, Canada V3M 5P7; 604 / 525-0471; www.canmet.com
T&R Marine’s new auxiliary engine connection kit allows the auxiliary engine to be steered from the main engine’s helm. A tie bar can be bent for custom applications and the unit can be easily connected or disconnected from the inside of the boat. T & R Marine, 3309 East US Hwy 27, Perry, FL 32347; 850 / 584–4261; www.trmarine.com.
Marine Machine, Inc.
Marine Machine, Inc. is introducing a new line of throttle and shifter control units. Breaking away from the rocker switch design for remote trim override switches, Marine Machine, Inc. is offering two separate switches per lever instead. These units offer quality control over your trim system, color coding to match most wiring harnesses, and incorporate neutral safety switches. These units can be configured in a variety of cable exits. Marine Machine, Inc., 12890 North West 30th Ave., Opa-Locka, FL 33054; 800 / 426–2628; www.marinemachine.com.
TechMarine’s fly-by-wire throttle and shift controls are universal and compatible with any engine. They are responsive, easy to install, compact and have a three-year warranty. TechMarine,LLC, P.O. Box 1020, Harvard, MA 01451-1020; 877/484-BOAT; www.techmarine.com
ZF Mathers’ introduces the new 9000 Series electronic propulsion control system. The system features plug connectors and push button setup to increase the ease of installation. Synchronization and one-lever operation are standard. Each processor has a display unit that provides information for setup, system status, or diagnostic purposes. ZF Mathers, LLC; 360 / 757–6265; www.zf-marine.com
Kobelt’s new electronic controls system, the Mighty Mariner, is water-proof, CE approved, made entirely of die-cast bronze and stainless and steel. Features include station select, station LOCK, and manual override. The system is designed for any size vessel utilizing mechanically operated engines and gearboxes. Requiring only control heads and actuators, the system has no separate microprocessor box. The controls are wired in series, minimizing wiring and wiring time. The Mighty Mariner is compact and easy to mount. It is available in side-mount model, or portable walk-about. Engine synchronization for twin engines is a solution offered by Kobelt as well. Available in multiple finishes. Kobelt Manufacturing, 8238 129th Street, Surrey, BC, Canada, V3W OA6; 604 / 572– 3935; www.kobelt.com.
Glendinning Marine Products, Inc.
Glendinning introduces the EEC-2001 electronic engine control system. The EEC- 2001 has an integrated, automatic backup system that switches to mechanical mode if an electrical problem should occur. Other features include single or dual lever control, adjustable head detent and/or drag settings, which can be changed without disassembly of control head, “posi-lock” gear lockout, easy installation, 7 different idle speed settings, six station capability, and visual and audible indicators. Glendinning Marine Products, Inc., 740 Century Circle, Conway, SC 29526; 843 / 399–6146; www.glendinningproducts.com.
The Henry G. Dietz Co., Inc.
From the Henry G. Dietz Co., Inc. comes the Powerboat Handling Trainer with full size engine controls. This trainer teaches the operation of full size twin screw powerboats using a 45-inch computer controlled twin screw boat with rechargeable batteries for continuous operation. The Trainer can be used in a dealer’s showroom, classroom, or at home to gain knowledge through hands on repetition by using full size engine controls, consisting of throttles, clutches, and steering wheel similar to those found on a twin engine powerboat. The Henry G. Dietz Co., Inc., 14-26 28th Ave., Long Island City, NY 11102-3692; 718 /726–3347; www.powerboat-handling.com.
A new control for Volvo Penta will be featured at IBEX 2003 at booth #601. The control’s features include improved ergonomics, a redesign of bearing surfaces for a smooth shift and intuitive positioning of shift interlock and trim switch. The control is available with 20-foot wiring harness for easy installation. The control is designed for use with Volvo Penta 333C or Xact control cables. AB Volvo Penta, S-405 08 Goteborg, Sweden; +46 (0) 31 235460; www2.volvo.com.