10 Great Inventions and Innovations in Modern Boating

Here are some of our top picks of things that the most innovative minds in boating design, manufacturing, and accessories have brought you through the years.

23rd December 2012.
By Lenny Rudow

Boaters are constantly coming up with new ideas, and there are a lot more than 10 of them which have impressed us through the years. But a few that popped up in the past half century or so have proven particularly surprising, yet logical and useful. These, listed here in no particular order, are the ones that leave us saying, “I wish I’d thought of that.”

crazy boating inventions

It doesn’t take a mad scientist to come up with a revolutionary new boating invention… but it might help.

1. Integrated Cupholders

Sure, this may sound like a silly way to start this list, but a few decades ago if you wanted to put down your drink it would either be atop the helm or on the deck. Somewhere around 10 trillion spills later someone came up with a real brainstorm, and started integrating cupholders all over the place. Thank you, whoever you are.

2. Flow-through Foam Seat Cushions

As is true of many things benefiting boaters, this invention had nothing to do with boats. Ranging from German chemist Otto Bayer to Dow chemical to the DuPont company, a lot of different folks have played a hand in creating that on which we now sit—not to mention the foams we depend on for floatation, deck coatings, plastic parts, and other items containing the basic building blocks of polyurethanes. Credit whoever you like, we’re just happy that with modern self-draining multi-density foams, we can now plop down in a comfy boat seat without bottoming out or getting our butt wet every time.

3. Center Console Head Compartments

Let’s see: we have this big, enclosed space in the middle of the boat. The boat doesn’t have a cabin, so it doesn’t have a head. Let’s put a portable MSD… where? This one really should have been a no-brainer, yet the center console head compartment is a relatively new development in boats, first appearing in the late 60s or early 70s. The exact date is unknown, as is the inventor, since several different manufacturers claim the credit for this one.

4. Joystick Directional Controls

Recognition for this development should probably go to Volvo-Penta; although joystick controls were used prior to the introduction of IPS pod drives, IPS was the first wide-spread application relating to modern recreational powerboats. Today, joystick systems are available for stern drive and outboard boats, as well. And as anyone who’s used one of these systems can tell you, they make those stressful dockings and close-quarters maneuvers a joy.

5. GPS

Thank you DoD, without it we’d all be lost. ‘Nuff said.

gps satellites

Of all the developments we’ve seen in boating during the past 50 years or so, GPS is certainly one of the most important.

6. Bladder Tanks and Wake Plates

The invention of these wave-creating devices may not affect all segments of boating, but they certainly became a catalyst in the evolution of a brand new segment all its own. The result? Hundreds of new models of boats, dedicated to a new sport: wakeboarding. For creating a whole different kind of boating adventure we salute you, tanks and plates.

7. Clean and Quiet Outboard Engines

Credit for the quiet-running, fume-free (almost) outboards we enjoy today should really go to the EPA; if it weren’t for government regulations forcing manufacturers to invest in some heavy-duty R&D, we’d still have those nasty oil-burners on the back of our boats. Honda, Mercury, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Evinrude should also get some credit here.

While we’re on the topic, we hate to burst your bubble, but Ole Evinrude was not the first person to invent an outboard engine. He was merely the first to develop and market one successfully. In 1881 Frenchman Gustave Trove patented the first removable transom-mounted boat motor—and it was electric, so before we had noisy, stinky outboards, there was at least one silent and clean alternative.

8. 3M 5200 Adhesive/sealant

Whether it’s holding your console to the deck, sealing the hull to deck joint, or preventing water from seeping in around screws set below the waterline, 3M 5200 is nothing short of a miracle goop. We use this polyurethane adhesive/sealant in dozens of ways and no matter what, once it’s set water won’t harm it. In fact, breaking the bonds it makes is nearly impossible—with a tensile strength of 700 psi you’ll often snap fiberglass before you can rip the 5200 free.

9. Foiling Boats

The concept has been around for a long time, but it’s only recently that foils have been applied to modern sailing. The result? Speed machines like those identified in 10 Foiling Sailboats by Boats.com UK editor Gael Pawson, boats which can travel in excess of 50 knots. That’s pretty darn fast, even for a power-boater.

10. Dramamine

This stuff was invented back in 1949, but its impact upon the boating community has been so dramatic, we just couldn’t leave it off this list. Think of how many times people have avoided the dreaded Technicolor yawn by downing this little pill—we figure around 160 million tons of food has been saved overall, so Dramamine has even contributed to helping boaters become better global citizens. (See our blog 5 Ways to Stop Feeling Seasick, for more ways to end those involuntary emulsified ejections).

Yes yes, we know—you’re upset that we’ve left out some huge innovations, like the deep-V hull design, the waterjet, and maybe even the invention of fiberglass itself. Think you’ve come up with a better boating brainstorm? Share your thoughts with the world in the Comments section below—we promise not to steal any ideas and take the credit!

-Lenny Rudow


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About the author:

Lenny Rudow

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Lenny Rudow is Senior Editor for Dominion Marine Media, including boats.com and YachtWorld.com. With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, he has contributed to publications including Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.
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