Striving for improvement can improve the sailing experience, but at what cost? Here’s the view of Don Finkle of RCR Yachts, which has served the boating community since 1972:
We often hear this question – why are new boats so expensive? The same could be said of new vehicles and many other capital goods. There are a number of reasons, but one of the more effective ones is the level of equipment and specifications that today’s boaters expect and require.
My wife found an old photo of me at the wheel of my parents’ cruising sailboat HR28 and had it framed for my last birthday. It was taken in the summer of 1968 after my junior year in college. Marinus III was by far the largest boat in my family at the time and we thought it was huge and wonderful.
I look at this photo often and it reminds me of the point we are making here. Here is a partial list of what Marinus III did NOT have that would be expected from a cruising sailboat of similar size if we were to sell it today:
Inboard diesel engine, wheel steering, self-tailing winches, propane stove, hot and cold pressurized water, cooling, 110 V shore power, double lifelines with gates and stern pulpit, opening ports, electric anchor winch, stereo, VHF radio, knot meter, depth echo sounder and usually wind speed and direction, GPS / chart plotter, autopilot, low-stretch rigging, internal traps, typical in-mast furling system, modern canvas, genoa furling system, gear-folding propeller, several batteries with charger, electric head, shower, and more.
If we were to talk about a motorboat, the same idea would apply; It’s hard to sell a boat without the bells and whistles that people want.
Of course, other factors also play a role, such as labor and material costs, inflation and more expensive equipment, transportation, but from the list above you can see that we don’t compare apples to apples when we look at the costs then and now. This becomes evident when you look at an older boat side by side with a new one.
Another important factor is the change in design over the years. Today’s boats are larger for their length as the waterline, width, freeboard, and other specifications have grown to meet the demand for more space and comfort.
While the above example applies to a cruising boat, the same, if not more, applies to racing drivers. High-tech construction, new hull and deck materials, carbon fiber mast, boom and fuel, various core materials, high-tech standing and running rigging, resin infusion all contribute to higher performance but higher costs. Add in the typical electronics suite of today and the cost of high tech sail inventory goes up and the price goes up.
Another important factor is the production volume. Boats used to be built in bulk, and the more you build, the cheaper each one becomes.
The cost is offset by the fact that new boats today offer more in almost every way. Builders build what customers want to buy, so today’s products reflect what today’s boaters want. Those that don’t adapt to changing customer preferences don’t last very long. The list of those who are no longer in business is long.