Hey, boaters and fishers, does this sound familiar? Your powerboat cruises across a choppy bay, so you have to hold on tightly as you bang over waves and water sprays in your face. The initial excitement quickly turns to frustration, because your arms grow tired, your back starts to ache and you wish the ride were over. Welcome to boating fatigue.
But that jarring and noisy experience can be minimized thanks to the latest innovations in powerboats. New hull designs, engine advancements and other technological changes make all types of powerboats, including bass boats, coastal boats, pontoon boats and runabouts, easier to handle and more comfortable to ride than they were 4 years ago.
And in some cases, manufacturers introduced features without increasing the price, which means that today’s smoothest powerboats won’t necessarily sink your budget.
SMOOTH SAILING. The most comprehensive approach that any manufacturer took to reduce vibrations and loud noise levels comes from Sea Ray Boats, which makes runabouts, among other boat types. In February 2012, Sea Ray introduced what it calls Quiet Ride technology, which is a combination of changes that are designed to reduce or eliminate noise and vibration.
For instance, all doors and hatches on a Quiet Ride boat have positive-locking latches—they clamp the hatch firmly in place when it’s closed—and routered-in gaskets, which are compressed when any compartment is closed. These measures prevent the doors and hatches from vibrating.
In addition, Sea Ray redesigned its bulkheads (the walls beneath the deck level) in a way that seals off the engine, so the engine noise won’t travel throughout the boat. The only other boats that have this feature typically are large luxury models that cost at least $250,000. Sound-deadening foam insulation is added under the deck, which a few other manufacturers also do. But Sea Ray is the first to redesign the transom to absorb noise and vibrations instead of transmitting them. And Sea Ray added a paperlike fabric between layers of fiberglass that are in the hull, which also reduces vibration throughout the boat. (Sea Ray wouldn’t tell Consumers Digest which fabric is used.)
The combination of these changes produces dramatic sound reduction, according to Kevin Falvey, who is editor in chief of Boating Magazine. When Falvey tested Sea Ray’s prototype 250 SLX, which was the first boat that incorporated Quiet Ride, he recorded noise levels at cruising speeds that were reduced by 9 decibels (dB) on average when compared with another 250 SLX that had the same engine but didn’t have Quiet Ride. (Editor’s Note: A 10-dB decrease reduces sound levels by half to the human ear.) We had yet to take the 250 SLX for a test drive at press time, but we evaluated the hull construction of that model by striking it with hammers and golf balls, and we found that the sound is deadened considerably when compared with the noise that a traditional hull makes.
Rob Noyes of Sea Ray says it’s unclear whether Quiet Ride will be added to all Sea Ray models, but separate features that are part of Quiet Ride, such as the added insulation and improved bulkheads, are being incorporated into other Sea Ray models at press time and could be added to all models in the future. For now, you’ll have to shell out $91,286 for a runabout that has the full complement of Quiet Ride features, which is nearly twice as expensive as our premium Best Buy in runabouts. But we determined that the price difference has nearly everything to do with the more expensive model’s larger size and little to do with Quiet Ride.
We expect other manufacturers to follow Sea Ray’s lead, but we believe that it will take as many as 3 years for other manufacturers to deliver models that produce similar noise-reduction results.