Who’s Going to Take the Lead? | David Lewin, GMBA-UK

I’ve just moved our boat to a swanky marina on the south coast of England – all very smart with spotless facilities, wide pontoons and most things you could wish for in a marina. However when I went to lodge a spare set of keys with the harbour office a found myself behind a man complaining that he couldn’t park his Ferrari. He was quite opinionated about the size of the parking spaces and demanded to know what the marina was going to do about it. Not that the parking spaces were narrow, they were pretty standard size, but once you fill your carpark with SUVs from Stuttgart, Coventry and a few from Crewe there isn’t much room left to open the two doors of a red Italian supercar. A ‘first world problem’ as they say.

Photo Credit: Torqeedo Deep Blue

Much the same goes for the boats in the marina. Certainly several of the World’s leading powerboat builders use this marina as a floating showroom for their wares but the average size of the boats seem inexorably to get larger and larger so that manoeuvering in and out of the berth in any sort of weather can become quite challenging. As well as larger boats, no-one seems satisfied without a multiple outboard motor installation on the back – and not small outboards either – burning petrol (gasoline) rather than diesel.

It has become an ‘arms race’. I suppose we should be thankful that there are ever more people with enough money to support our industry and its growth in ever larger and more powerful craft as indeed I am one of those involved in the construction of some of these boats but deep down in my gut I can’t help feeling that all this is unsustainable, certainly in its present form anyway.

Haven’t the people who buy these craft and engines heard about the climate emergency? Or do they feel it doesn’t impinge or have anything to do with them? Is it still alright for them to specify twin German, American of Swedish high horsepower diesels or indeed two, three, four or even five 450hp outboards on their transom? All this must ultimately be unsustainable. Do we all secretly acknowledge this but whilst the customer is buying we are happy to ride the wave? Who is responsible for moving our industry to a more forgiving, recyclable, carbon neutral and sustainable future – the customer or the manufacturer?

There are plenty of initiatives out there. We are beginning to see some meaningful electric or hybrid power plants, there are people developing fibres such as hemp and linen to reinforce bio resins and there are low friction displacement hull shapes out there too.

But the mainstream carries on as if nothing has changed. Whilst the auto industry will have to stop producing cars with internal combustion engines by 2030 and be able to recycle their product, apart from a very small number of builders, we continue to use glass reinforced polyester and ever larger (comparatively speaking) emissions producing engines.

Now you could argue that the technology is not completely there yet. Nothing offers the energy density of liquid combustible fuels such as petrol and diesel and the cost of the newer fibre and resin systems is still prohibitive for mainstream craft. You could also argue that whilst there is still such a demand for the current vogue of craft we should continue to give the customer what they want.

But I can’t help feeling that this is the sign of an industry that has for too long followed the curve rather than being on the front edge. Apart from the adoption of GRP in the 1960s, boatbuilding has rarely been at the forefront of service or technology.

The change to a fully sustainable future must come so why not embrace it. I’m still waiting for the first leading boat brand to announce to the world that it will only be producing net carbon zero craft from some year not too far into the future. I was amazed and impressed when Volvo Cars announced that it would go fully electric a few years ago. The technology is still evolving and we may yet see hydrogen become the fuel of the future, but Volvo gained a lot of points in my mind for having made the leap and committed to the R&D that it would need to fulfil their dream.

Why can’t we do that in our industry? Where is the company that is going to lead the way? We know change is coming so let’s be helping form the shape of that change. Although I celebrate the craftsmanship and ingenuity in some of the magnificent boats in my marina I sometimes feel a bit ashamed of the conspicuous consumption I see in front of me. There are plenty of people out there willing and ready to buy boats – let’s not sell them something that will pollute our world for years to come.

28-06-2021

David Lewin, GMBA-UK
+44 7767 687 987
david.lewin@gmba.blue


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