IBEX 2021 Recap: 5 Hot New Boating Products And Tech Innovations

Every September, the boating industry meets to in Tampa, Florida at IBEX to showcase the latest in boating technology. This isn’t a boat show and it isn’t open to consumers. Instead, this is an industry sneak peek at new engines, electronics, systems, deck gear, furnishings and soft goods that are likely to eventually impact boaters.

The Innovation Awards – Winners And Honorable Mentions

Each year, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) organizes the Innovation Awards (IAs) that are judge by members of Boating Writers International (BWI). The judges, all marine writers, test products and boats most of the year and they bring their combined expertise to the awards program to determine what is true innovation in the industry.

In 2021, there were 98 products entered in 14 categories and 11 winners plus three honorable mentions were named. As usual, the breadth of products was extensive. The judges evaluated paints, composite manufacturing methods, hard top designs, lighting, thrusters, audio entertainment and more. Highlights included Vision Marine’s E-Motion 180-hp electric outboard, Yamaha’s electric stern drive, numerous lithium battery applications and Suzuki’s new micro plastic filter that cleans the waterways as you motor around.

Many of the entered products are component parts aimed at the boatbuilders who incorporate them into new designs, but others are available to consumers for aftermarket applications. Either way, let’s look at five of the winners that will soon bring more joy to your day on the water. These 5 hot new boating products are gadgets you’ll likely to see on the water soon.

Super Fly By Hydrofin

Pontoon boats are the fastest growing segment of boating and that’s because they’ve changed quite a bit from those your dad used to drive. First, pontoons became tritoons with a third tube that helps carry more weight and creates better stability. This enabled manufacturers to increase horsepower and soon, we saw these boats loaded with twin 150-hp outboard motors or higher. Now, there’s another development: twin tube pontoon boats have become foilers. Yup, soon, you may see a Super Fly by Hydrofin coming at you at 30 mph and it will be riding on foils.

Before your imagination runs away with you, these aren’t America’s Cup racing monsters. In fact, you’ll never actually see the foils because the boat doesn’t come completely out of the water. Two nearly horizontal foils are mounted on the inside of the tubes with supporting struts leading up to the underdeck. Additional curved foils are added near the stern. The results are impressive. First, expect a speed uptick of 20%-40% depending on load. Heavier boats actually benefit more as the front of the boat lifts 6-12 inches while the back rides 3-5 inches higher and that means less drag through the water.

Next, get ready for some fuel efficiency – like 30%-50% more. That means you’ll pay less at the pump or may even be able to add a smaller (less expensive) outboard. Finally, expect better handling, especially in tight turns at high speed. The shape of the foils makes a pontoon feel more like a V-hulled boat so it slices through the water without skidding across the top.

The foils are the work of designers Morrelli & Melvin (M & M) of America’s Cup and Gunboat fame. The foils are a fixed system (once installed, they’re not coming off) that has no moving parts so there’s little to break. They’re designed to sheer off without damage to the tubes in case of high-speed contact with an immovable object like a rock.

M &M’s foils will fit any U-shaped logs with a diameter of 23-27 inches so the system will likely make an appearance on other pontoon boat brands soon. They can be installed in about six hours and add about $4,000 to the cost of the boat.

Sentry By OSCAR

Radar just got smarter. The OSCAR Sentry from Austria has brought AI-based awareness that covers a gap that both radar and AIS receivers miss. The new scanning and panning device looks like ET’s head as it scans the horizon and identifies small craft, buoys and even floating objects like crew-overboard. The 360-degree detection capabilities include collision avoidance with mapping of obstacles and early warning systems with an augmented reality view. There’s also object tracking to warn of something like a dinghy approaching at high speed even if you’re below napping.

The system is a combination of GPS, AIS, and thermal and RGB cameras. The secret sauce is the software that drives artificial intelligence, so the system learns from millions of on-water events and makes boating safer underway and at rest.

LED+ by RideController
You may have seen lights on a boat that are synchronized to music on speakers and even cup holders and they seem to “dance” to the music. There are lots of RGB controllers on the market, however, most of those controllers function on volume so all the lights will dance and change colors together.

Now, RideController has developed the LED+ platform that brings concert-level lighting control to the marine market. Featuring up to four RGB/WW and four digitally addressable zones, this controller uses audio frequency processing to synchronize various zones and that means different colors will go with different parts of the music. This creates a heightened visual experience and you’ll be able to pimp your ride in a whole new way while you’re cruising around on a sultry Miami evening.

The Vault By Inteliplug

This is a head-smackingly simple design that solves two real problems. The Vault by Inteliplug is a drain plug like one you’d use on a tow boat or inflatable dinghy but unlike traditional round metal plugs, this threaded one is made of polymer and triangular. The shape lets you tighten it easily and the material makes it float so you’ll never lose another plug to the depths. It also has an added backup o-ring for a secure, watertight fit. The Vault is a super simple solution to what has been an annoying problem since there have been boats with drain plugs and that’s why the judges awarded it an honorable mention.

Kanvaslight by Guardtex

For the perfect boating ambience under your Bimini, you’ll need Kanvaslight, a luminous textile with woven optical fibers. The system includes two components – a light injector and a luminous fabric that work together to create perfectly diffused light (in white or color-changing options).

The light injector creates a light beam that is polarized by an optical coupler and injected into fibers in a sleeve that then glows with light and can be integrated into soft tops. It provides mood lighting that is waterproof to IPX6 standard and consumes only 3-15 watts. You can bend or loosely roll the sleeve in two directions so it’s perfect for installations in various locations and the finished look is quite upmarket. The lighting is so soft and subtle and it’ll make you want to upgrade your gazebo back home too.

Assisted Docking by Volvo Penta

Docking can be terrifying and that keeps many boaters in their slips and would-be boaters off boats altogether. To address this, Volvo Penta has been working to reduce the anxiety that comes with docking for a while and now they’ve come up with a solution that is less ambitious than the original plan, but it will certainly bring a smile to many boaters’ faces.

Helm Station Controls On Azimut A45

Above: The main helm control station onboard a 2022 Azimut A45 with Volvo Penta Assisted Docking. Photo by Azimut and Marine Max Pompano Beach, FL.

Assisted Docking isn’t a panacea. You can’t just come close to a dock, push a button and settle in with a cocktail while the boat docks itself. However, the system does simplify the process and most importantly, it adds time to the decision-making involved so it lowers the freak-out factor.

The system is fully integrated from helm to prop and works with Volvo’s IPS pod drives. Volvo has basically taken high precision GPS data and integrated it with a DPS (Dynamic Positioning System) and then added a human-machine interface and a bunch of sensors. Glue all this together with a layer of software and you have a boat that can dock and undock quickly and easily with minimal input from the driver. The side push feature will even put (and keep) the boat right next to a dock while you leisurely step off to secure the docklines.

The joystick is a snap to use as you move the boat in two planes (side-to-side or forward-and-back). If you’re unsure of where you’ll end up, simply let go of the joystick and boat will sit as if glued right in place regardless of wind or current. Basically, the system slows down time and lets the driver evaluate her options and keep her cool. The biggest hurdle to boating just got smaller for IPS pod-driven vessels.

The five products above are just a sampling of the technology that was recognized at this year’s IBEX. For a full list of winners, check here.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.