ATLANTIC CITY - Boating has changed dramatically from when Bob Clark started fishing Long Island Sound from his old wooden boat back in the 1960s.
"All I had was a compass and some charts," he said. "Once I got lost in the fog. I had to listen to the sound of the horns and bells to find the inlet."
The recreational boats he shopped for Wednesday at the Progressive Insurance Atlantic City Boat Show make it easier for boaters to navigate, avoid obstacles, prevent collisions and stay abreast of changing weather from the same advanced integrated electronics.
"It's amazing. The technology today is a little overwhelming," Clark said.
He was hoping to find a 21-foot boat to his liking among the hundreds of vessels on display at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Consumers are demanding much of the same technology on the open water that they use in their luxury cars or homes, according to dealers such as Stone Harbor Yacht Sales.
The dealership was promoting Everglade's flagship vessel, a 39-foot model 355CCX that had features such as a specially engineered bow to deflect the seaspray from waves.
Sales manager Tim Keane, of Middle Township, said the amenities include integrated touch screens for navigation, fish finders and entertainment systems that rival those in their living rooms.
The boat also has a fly-by-wire electronic throttle that works like the gear shifter in today's luxury vehicles.
"These boats are all about engineering and innovation," he said.
The center-console fishing boat has an outsized hard-top canopy to provide sun protection and a retracting hydraulic-powered windscreen. "Consumers want to be out on the water but out of the sun," Keane said.
And the dealership painted its 350-horsepower Yamaha engines to match the boat's pearl-white colors. Three of them are lined up on the stern like racehorses at the starting gate.
"We have a saying in boating: A fast boat can always go slow, but a slow boat can't go fast," he said.
Egg Harbor Yachts, based in Egg Harbor City, showed off one of its Buddy Davis models with joystick controls for easy docking. The boat is designed for fishing, cruising or entertaining.
"You literally can move the boat sideways," said sales associate Mordy Miltz, of New York. "It's going to make captains obsolete."
Vendors, too, are playing up the technical wizardry behind their products.
Sea Canvas, which specializes in boat upholstery, sells and installs custom covers called EZ2CY with longer-lasting acrylic windows. The Egg Harbor Township company spent most of last year repairing boats damaged during Hurricane Sandy, owner Carl Pellegrini said.
"Orders are picking up. We
try to get things lined up now because we're slammed in April and May," he said.
Offshore Electronics, a company based at the Canyon Club Marina in Cape May, installs the latest in navigation equipment and entertainment.
"Our fish finders rely on 'chirp' technology, scanning a range of frequencies to find baitfish," said sales manager Brent Alderfer, of Lower Township.
State-of-the-art systems ranging in price from $30,000 to $50,000 offer FLIR (forward-looking infrared) that can help boaters identify dangerous flotsam while cruising at night.
The system reads the heat signature of floating objects, which are usually warmer than the ambient water temperature, Alderfer said. This can help a captain steer around a log or other debris that could damage the boat.
Modern navigation also includes the automatic identification system, which uses satellites to tell the speed, course and heading of nearby boats to help fishermen avoid collisions. The system identifies other boats by name, along with information about what type of vessel might be heading your way.
The same system can plot a long-range trip that automatically corrects for shoals and other underwater hazards, Alderfer said.
When used properly, all of this vastly improves safety on the water, he said.
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