Boat show season is upon us and early indications are that 2023 is going to be a banner year for boating. If I had to pick one word to describe the offerings for the new year, it would be “big.” Bigger has always been better in America, so let’s take a look at 2023.
Ole Evinrude invented the outboard so that he didn’t have to row 2 miles to get his girlfriend ice cream on a picnic, but he never envisioned a behemoth like the Mercury 600-horsepower Verado. Start with a V-12 block (think Ferrari or Lambo) of a whopping 7.6 liters, then frost this cupcake with a supercharger.
If you’ve owned a V-12 (and particularly one from Italy), you’re probably thinking “maintenance nightmare.” Au contraire. You don’t even have to remove the cowling to change the oil: It goes in through a hatch atop the engine. Plus, all the service points are clustered right up front. Your mechanic will kiss you.
Here’s another innovation: This big outboard has a two-speed transmission. Yep, it’s entirely automatic. No, you don’t get to shift, but it provides a combination of sheer power to yank water skiers out of the water while still getting good fuel economy at higher speeds.
If that wasn’t enough, only the lower unit steers. The upper engine doesn’t move. It’s a weird feeling (yes, I’ve tested several of the new Merc 600s) to spin the wheel, look back and the outboards haven’t moved. Yet the boat is curving into a turn. Get used to it, folks, because other outboard builders aren’t going to be far behind.
But if 600 horses on the stern aren’t enough, boatbuilders are offering the choice of two, three, four, five and — wait for it — as many as six of these monsters hanging on the back for a total of 3,600 horsepower. Yeehaw! Big engines lead us to big boats.
There was a time not so long ago when a center console was a pure fishing machine. At the end of the weekend, you’d hose out the potato chips and fish parts and it was not particularly family friendly, either.
For 2023, center consoles have even more fishing amenities (built-in lure trays, bait tanks, immense pole storage and rod holders everywhere). But the 2023 class of center consoles now includes all the luxuries expected on a yacht: one or two staterooms, air conditioning, gourmet galleys and my personal favorite, large stall showers.
They’re getting bigger too. But Dick Fisher had no idea that center consoles would now top out at 65 feet (the HCB Estrella at Tampa’s Ultimate Marine), with its six outboards, queen-sized master stateroom and an astounding 8-foot headroom. Slightly closer to Fisher’s original center console concept is the HCB 53 Suenos (dreams in Spanish) with five kickers on the transom, a fishing platform in the bow and an air-conditioned cabin with queen-sized berth for snoozes.
Today’s boat designers are using that console for more than just stashing jackets and sandwiches and are creating surprisingly luxurious accommodations, often with two private cabins and a head compartment with a stall shower. That’s civilized enough to encourage my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, to spend a long weekend at Bimini, even though she considers roughing it to be slow room service.
Conventional boats are jumping on the big interior bandwagon too. Consider the Jeanneau NC 1095, a competitively-priced, French-built 34-footer that has not one, not two, but three private cabins. Granted, one is smaller and best for the kiddos, but having separate staterooms allows an owner to take a second couple for a weekend getaway with a semblance of privacy. Even better, the master stateroom has a round bed that would make Hugh Hefner drool with envy. But interior space is just one trend to watch in 2023, which takes us to big exterior space.
Big Exterior Space
Every boat designer wants to fit as much into a particular length as possible, which has led to some interesting arrangements. The boats of 2023 will have far more usable space than boats of just 25 years ago.
Deck space, for example, is always at a premium because you need comfortable seating for your friends and family (including largish Aunt Edna), while an outdoor galley with a grill allows you to torture burgers and steaks. And you just need space for playing around the water.
One feature you’re going to see a lot in 2023 are cockpit sides that unfold like an origami flower to expand the usable deck area immensely. Take the Sea Ray SLX 400, for example, where each side folds down to create not only a wider boat and more usable deck space, but “beach terraces” at water level that add to the fun at dockside or at the sandbar.
The popularity of outboards is due to several things, not the least of which is that it moves the engines out of the way. No more big engine boxes to eat up space which, when combined with folding terraces, can easily stretch the width of the cockpit from 14 feet, 6 inches to an astounding 22 feet, as in the Cruisers 50 GLS.
Builders and designers have also recognized that the forward deck on a boat is essentially wasted space. Except on center consoles, it’s been hard (and dangerous) to reach and once there, a bare deck isn’t much fun.
For 2023 however, expect the foredeck to become a second living room afloat, with wrap-around seating, folding tables for munchies or alfresco meals and amenities ranging from fridges to cell phone chargers to sunpads with adjustable backrests. To make access to that inviting forward seating safe for all ages, walk-through folding windshields keep everyone in the boat, even in choppy seas.
You can expect builders to start blending all of these “bigs” together for 2023. Take the Scout 530 LXF, a big center console like nothing ever envisioned by Dick Fisher. It has safe walk-around decks with high coamings to get to the forward seating with tables and sunpads, and you can hang up to five outboards on the transom for all the speed you crave. In the cockpit, winged terraces fold out on each side, fishermen will delight in all the usual amenities and at the end of the day, two private staterooms await with the luxury of a private head with Euro-style sinks and a large stall shower.
Yes, “big” is my definitive word for 2023’s boating offerings. To use an old cliché on a new year, now it’s up to you to “think big.”
Chris Caswell is an award-winning writer and the former editor of several yachting magazines. He has appeared on Oprah as a boating lifestyle expert and hosted the Marine Voyager series on the Speed Channel.
Want more options? Check out our 2022 Tampa Bay Boating Guide.