While the standard combustion engine has worked pretty well for wakeboarding over the years, new technology advances, environmental concerns, and high gas prices make us wonder if wakeboard boats will see some new engine technologies in the coming years.
To help solve the mystery, we interviewed Mike Shirley, the head of engineering at Skier's Choice. Skier's choice manufactures both the Supra and Moomba boat lines.
WB: Has Skier's Choice and your engine supplier looked into the possibility of using any kind of power besides the standard combustion engine?
MS: Skier's Choice is continually looking for new and inventive ways to approach all aspects of our business. We have ventured into alternative power sources as well.
WB: Which potential alternative power seems like it would have the best chance for success in a boat engine? Hybrid gas/electic? Solar? Something that runs on a different type of fuel?
MS: A hybrid power source is logically the next step in power source conversion, it gives us the best of both worlds. Anything other than hybrid, at this time, would be much to big of a step, and the technology of these individual systems has not evolved enough for our needs. But innovations in this area are progressing rapidly.
WB: What problems do you foresee with the alternative power options on the horizon? Is it even possible to use any of these options to provide enough power for a boat such as a Supra Launch?
MS: The primary problem we run into is torque and acceleration. Boats must have enough torque and horsepower in the low rpm range to overcome the friction of water on the boat bottom. In addition a boat must also have the acceleration to be able to pull wakeboarders out of the water quickly.
A secondary problem is getting this power in a weight sensitive form. Boats are much more weight sensitive than vehicles in a variety of ways.
I believe the future does hold the possibility of a Supra Launch, or even a new Moomba Mobius XLV, of being powered by an alternative power source, although there will be several stepping stones to get to that point. A revision of the Moomba Outback using alternative power would likely come before converting bigger boat.
WB: Does the boat industry just follow the auto industry in this regard? For example, the auto industry is just now starting to get hybrid gas/eletric models out in the mainstream. Will boats just follow the same path on a delayed basis using the research and development done by the auto industry? Or does the boating industry have an opportunity to do it's own research because of the differences between land and water?
MS: Since our current power source is based off of an automotive base engine, following the auto industry is a likely scenario. After all, they have the mass quantities of production to allow for more extensive development in this area.
Even though we do follow the auto industry on a delay basis, we do not always follow them step for step. Some things that work well on automobiles, do not necessarily work well on boats, for example, automobiles can use huge battery banks to store potential energy and they also can use down hills and braking to create energy, all of these things don't work well with boats.
On the other hand boats have some advantages that the auto developers don't take into consideration, for example, boats have an unlimited supply of cool water that can be used for cooling or maybe extracting power from.
WB: As wakeboarders continue to want bigger boats with bigger wakes while also not wanting to pay a fortune for gas, what sort of things does Skier's Choice do to try and make their boats as fuel efficient as possible?
MS: We start by designing our boats to create bigger wakes without having to add as much weight, weight increases wake size and fuel cost. Bottom design is a major factor in wake size and shape, and Skier's choice designers spend months refining and testing bottom designs.
Our engine supplier, Indmar Engines, works with us on creating more torque where it is needed as well as making engines more fuel efficient. We also continue to do research in other "outside the box" areas to make the boating experience as fun and cost effective as possible. But Skier's Choice will always keep the safety of the consumer as the highest priority, and we will not offer wake size increasing alternatives that compromise the safety of the people.
WB: What other environmental factors are considered in the construction of a Skier's Choice boat?
MS: Skier's Choice continually works with our suppliers and our processes to decrease any possible environmental effect that our manufacturing process might have, as well as search for uses of recycled materials in our material. We are currently in the process of moving into a new location that has "state of the art" air recirculation system, and this will help us to capture any negative impact on the quality of the air in our area.
Thanks to Mike Shirley for spending some time with us, and if you'd like to discuss these issues further, please visit our Boats Forum.