A family’s boat can be its castle, thanks to recent innovations in the communications, navigation and entertainment segments of the marine industry. These days, the gadgets people are accustomed to in their media rooms and automobiles also can be found in their boats.
One of the most visible signs of the renewed emphasis on this segment is the formation of Navico from the merger between Simrad Yachting AS and Lowrance Electronics Inc. last March, followed by the acquisition of Brunswick New Technologies, Marine Electronics division, in March 2007, which added Navman, Northstar and Mx Marine to Navico’s portfolio of B&G, Eagle, Lowrance and Simrad.
“Greater consolidation throughout the entire industry value chain should not come as a surprise,” says Jens-Thomas Pietralla, president and CEO at Oslo, Norway-based Navico. “Consumers are becoming more demanding, seeking a healthy balance between enhanced functionality that is manageable and easy to use, and higher levels of integration.”
Ryan Barber of CWR Electronics describes the electronics sector as “chaotic,” noting mergers and acquisitions that have disrupted business somewhat. Still, the sales manager of the Bayville, N.J.-based electronics distributor says the company should have a good sales year. “I anticipate moderate growth of the marine electronics sector, with CWR’s growth driven largely by increased market share and entry into new markets,” Barber says.
Ted Gartner, media relations manager at Garmin International, Olathe, Kan., calls this trend the “iPod-ization” of the boat. “Everyone realizes what technology can do for them, but they don’t want a lot of hassle. … They just want it to work so they can enjoy their days on the water.”
Garmin expects to grow the marine segment by 20 percent in 2007, thanks to a new line of marine electronics and the acquisition of Nautamatic Marine Systems, an autopilot provider.
“Consumers have become more sophisticated about audio and video, so their expectations have increased when they step on a boat,” says Carmen Porco, president of Access Technologies, the manufacturer and marketer of marine audio products based in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Porco says the company has been gaining market share even while the overall boat market has been flat.
“More audio systems are being designed strictly for the marine segment,” Porco says. “The market has moved from a radio and two speakers to sound systems designed from the ground up to deliver great sound quality while withstanding the rigors of the marine environment.”
The demand for high-performance audio systems has grown over the past 15 years, and 2007 will be no exception, notes Vince Fiorda, vice president of sales at Marine Audio Engineering & Sales Inc., Chesterfield, Mo. The movement of brands such as Polk Audio and JL Audio into the marine industry has fueled interest among boat owners who want a media experience on the water similar to what they have on land, Fiorda says.
“I think that the biggest change is that boat builders and marine retailers are now more in sync with customer expectations,” Fiorda says. “A decade ago, satellite radio was unheard of. Today, it is an integral part of boating. Looking into the future, I see an expanding role for wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth.”
C.P.S. Distributors Inc. represents such brands as Sony Marine, Kicker Marine and MTX Thunder, and Larry Shandy says that builders are looking for products with brand names that resonate with consumers. Shandy, president and CEO of C.P.S. Distributors, predicts a good year for his Kansas City, Mo.-based company.
Will Heyer, product manager at Poly Planar Group LLC, believes that being a niche player in the marine industry has its advantages. “We have seen ups and downs and understand that new and innovative products are the key to staying afloat against the giants who court the big box stores and only dabble in the boating industry with consumer products in marine packaging,” says Heyer of Poly Planar, based in Burnie, Md.
The company recently introduced a new multizone-capable audio system, with intercom, MP3 capability, satellite-ready and plug-and-play functionality.
Even televisions can be used outdoors on the open sea, says Lynn Stearn, vice president of sales at SunBriteTV, Moorpark, Calif. “Satellite technology has expanded in such a way that boat owners can receive television reception almost anywhere,” says Stearn. “Up until now, however, they had no choice but to view it in their cabin.”
Money in multi-purpose
Multi-function products also are making inroads on the navigation side of the electronics industry, says Jeff Kauzlaric, advertising and communications manager at Furuno USA Inc., Camas, Wash.
“Most multi-function display units today have optional black box components that can be connected to the unit, such as fish finders, satellite weather receivers, weather faxes and much more,” Kauzlaric says. “The trend will be to continue to create different black box products that consumers can add to their existing hardware, very similar to how the computer industry is today.”
Furuno hopes to capitalize on this trend with products such as the multi-function NavNet vx2 system and MaxSea Navigation software that can update three-dimensional charts in real time by integrating a boat’s sounder readings.
Garmin has introduced its GPSMAP 5000 series, which has a touch screen and intuitive user interface with three-dimensional navigation views, suggested routing capability and an integrated network. The company also has unveiled what it calls the only 4kW 18-inch marine radar for smaller boats.
Navico also has recognized the convergence of electronics in boats and the advanced networking of communication systems. The company has introduced such products as the Simrad GB60 Glass Bridge System, which combines a purpose-built processor with up to three large bridge displays for a seamless display of information in high-end yachts and professional vessels as well. Pietralla compares it to the so-called “glass cockpit” in modern jet aircraft.
The company’s Northstar 8000i combines an ultra hi-speed processor with touch-screen functionality that allows for easy operation and display of data and entertainment screens, while the Simrad WR20 RemoteCommander allows operation of an entire suite of products from up to 300 feet away. These two products shared the National Marine Manufacturers Association Innovation Award presented at the 2006 Miami Boat Show.
On the entertainment side, Fiorda from Marine Audio Engineering & Sales Inc. notes that Clarion’s new CMD5 source unit has struck a chord with the market. The satellite-ready unit offers ease of use with simple controls, two-line text display and optional iPod interface.
Innovations from Sony available through C.P.S. Distributors include the MEXBT2500 and MEXBT5000 audio/visual units that can automatically pickup cell phone calls and an MP3 player using Bluetooth technology and Sony’s MEX1GP hard drive unit, which has a 500-song capacity in its detachable faceplate.
Successful companies in the electronics and communications industries always keep the boat builder and consumer in mind equally when creating or promoting products to enhance the boating experience, says Heyer from Poly Planar Group. —Matt Bolch