I was driving in the car yesterday when a story came on National Public Radio about Columbia, Ky.-based houseboat builder Majestic Yachts. It's no surprise in this economy that it was a sad story, at least at first. The article began by profiling Faye Womack, a former employee. She was part of a 27-person boat production team until orders stopped coming in last summer and CEO Jim Hadley was forced to lay off every single employee. He and the two other owners spent the winter trying to find odd jobs to pay the factory's bills, according to NPR.
Now, however, there is new hope. The company has designed and built a demo of the "Tommy Yacht" - a smaller, less expensive version of the boats it previously built. Hadley told NPR that he could hire back his entire workforce if he received just four or five orders for the new model.
Jim Hadley isn't the only person betting his future on a new boat design. At the beginning of the summer, a group of four students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City won a "Launch Package," valued at $15,000 to market and sell the new product they designed during the spring semester: a lightweight, inflatable, motorized party boat. When deflated, it can be packed into a bag that will fit in a car trunk.
Another new boat that recently hit the market is the EPIC 23e, an electric hybrid wakeboat unveiled this summer by Eric Boats. The "plug-in" hybrid allows for "all-electric operation on lithium batteries for some time before using a gas engine to power the generator that recharges the batteries," according to an article on autobloggreen.com. The boat builder estimates that the boat uses half the fuel and produces half the carbon dioxide during a four-hour operating time than a comparable inboard boat. In addition, the wakeboarder being towed behind it will be exposed to 90-percent less carbon monoxide. The 22-foot boat offers the "hybrid equivalent of 375 horses," the Web site stated. But green comes with a price. Consumers may pay as much as $150,000 for the boat, though the company expects to be able to produce a $70,000 version by 2012, according to autobloggreen.com.
Each of these three boat designers are betting on something a little different. One is focused on affordability, another on convenience and a third on the trend toward "green" technology. Whether they'll be successful or not remains to be seen, but they're doing something right. We've all heard the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. At the very least, these entrepreneurs are trying something new.
We want to know what new marine products or technologies you're seeing out there that you think will resonate with today's consumers. Share your opinion by commenting below.