Are all fiberglass boats created equal? Great question!
Most boat buyers at The Toronto Boat Show or looking at buying in season assume that they are. The flash or graphics in combination with overall look usually unfortunately are the prime considerations with of course price. Many boat brands have been around for decades….must have something going for them….right? Absolutely but for example is Bayliner which has significantly increased in price over the last few years as good as or provides my family with the same value as a Tahoe or a Starcraft or a Larson? My neighbor has a 20-year-old Starcraft…still seems to be going…are the new ones the same? How do I separate 5 boat brands at all the same relative pricing or that 6th line which is $1500 more?
At The Toronto Boat Show frequently I have had people seek me out mainly because of the Boater’s Chat writing I have done over the years, length of time in this industry, reputation and say to me I am looking at a Brand X. I will normally ask why that Brand and model and just what has drawn them to this brand or model. The conversation normally goes something like this…. “well we like the look and the price and I think it is a good boat.” I will ask…. “how do you know it is a good boat” and then there is really no answer for that question from them. They are making a large assumption….are they actually receiving a very well constructed boat made from the finest made from the finest available materials and as such they are getting real value for the dollar….. but they have not really put in the work to find out or don’t know to find out. The answer to the question comes back something like this….It is a good boat because the brochure says so and so does the salesperson! I had a young couple come up to me a couple of years ago when I was showing in the Crestliner Fishing Boats booth. After a short conversation I asked him if he had found a boat? The young man said yes he was going to buy a $35,000 Tahoe fiberglass boat. I asked him do you know anything about how the boat is actually built? He said no! Did you ask any questions on construction? I then asked if you are going to purchase and finance a $35,000 boat and you are prepared to do this with not having any conversation on actually what you are actually getting for your money? I admit that I am not a fan of Tahoe boats…way over priced and not the best construction available for that amount of money…but the conversation is itself is interesting to me and says a lot. Too much emotional purchasing and too much blind faith in brochures and salesperson.
We all have budgets that have to be adhered to but we would be smarter in suffer less buyers remorse if we put less emotion into the purchase and consider content received…..it should be best construction value for the dollar. The fun and challenge of turning over every rocks to find the Holy Grail of a deal…. More for Less…can get us into trouble. Below you will find one of the dirty little secrets of the boat business that can greatly affect manufacturer boat building raw material costs plus possibly have a safety concerns or increased insurance costs for you and your family. What am I inferring to?
All Fiberglass Boats Are Not Created Equal
Lets get past the gel coat colour thing and get deep into construction and the choice a boat builder has to make. This important fact was only explained to me about 14 months ago in a conversation with Brock Elliot the President of Campion Boats. Campion Boats are the largest fiberglass boat builder in Canada and is considered a premium boat with respect to quality, material used and as such not your least expense brand.
Consider This: All fiberglass boats under 20′ centerline including rub rails must adhere to level floatation standards for not sinking. Any boat then technically longer than 20′ centerline goes right to the bottom when full of water. So in fact depending on the builder you and your family may in fact be safer in a 19′ centerline boat than say Brand Y’s 20’2″ boat. For example the Monterey 204FS with a centerline length of 19’7″ has to meet level floatation standards but the older Crownline 202 did not have to by convention.
What is Level Floatation: The ABYC ( American Boat & Yacht Council ) defines level floatation and the requirements that a builder must meet to be an ABYC member. The definition is ” the boat has to float when swamped (full of water), in an upright attitude.” The referenced time period is 18 hours. Remember this only applies to boats under 20′ centerline including the rub rail or gunnel molding. This requirement does not extend to pontoon boats, catamarans, trimarans or cruisers.
How to Achieve Level Floatation: There are three acceptable methods for achieving the floatation standard. The most expensive is polyurethane foam with the other options being polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) or air chambers. Air chambers that are integral with the hull are not allowed.
To continue my example of a Campion Boat, Campion is ABYC certified and as well they are a member of the IBBI (Independent Boat Builders). What does that mean to your family and value offered. The Combination of ABYC and IBBI means that this boat is built with the finest approved materials only and meets or exceeds all ABYC standards for construction and safety. This is the most expensive footprint for a builder and a choice on their part which means we will not be the cheapest but we will be the best! Monterey Boats also follow and meet these standards.
In order for a builder to place a boat in the market at a lower price point than its competition they must do one of two things:
- Reduce the cost structure of the boat through reducing materials costs or improved efficiencies including labour
- Reduce the profit in the boat at the manufacturer’s level before it is sold to a dealer and can be retailed at a lower price
Taking a closer look at the two available options:
- Essentially all the boat brands we can purchase in Ontario are manufactured in selected locations in the USA in States where labour , taxes and environmental regulations are most favorable in terms of reducing boat manufacturer costs therefore there is no obtainable cost benefit savings available to one builder than another…..not available here!
- Since 2008 the boat business has been in a period of slow to no growth. Many boat builders have left the marketplace, gone into Chapter 11, been bought out by Hedge Fund Companies and have cut expenses to the lowest possible level. The boat retail market is highly competitive with the profit margin charged to the dealer and charged at retail to the buyer by the dealer essentially the same brand to brand and dealer to dealer as there is just no fat in the system…..not available here!
We have just looked at once case on how a boat builder can reduce or alter its cost of building through choices in its Bill of Materials for particular model. If Boat Company Y choose to use Styrofoam floatation instead of the much more costly polyurethane foam substantial savings are available. The downside for the buyer is that Styrofoam has a shorter lifespan, is more subject to chemical degradation and provides substantially less structural strength. One of the most effective reduction in building costs is the selection of the lamination resin as the difference in cost between Vinyl ester and Polyester resins is as much as 50%.
Later we will spend some time on hull lay up and how savings are available here as well to the builder. In the 29 years of being in the marine business…not one person has asked for any information on this subject of floatation foams….just assume that it is all the same! It is also possible to utilize polyurethane foams in hull lamination in place of fiberglass cloth or roving ( much more expensive) which in this case this is a negative for hull strength when becoming part of the hull laminate schedule but this for the builder reduces costs but if the same polyurethane foam is utilized for sound suppression on the inner surface of the laminate ( not part of the laminate) this foam can provide quietness and assist t the boat to meet the required floatation standards.
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