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Boat show photo 1

Chris Bentley/MEDILL

The 81st annual Chicago Boat Show features hundreds of new boats and RVs, as well as an antique boat display and wakeboarding "rail jam." 

Tech lovers dive into boat show

by Chris Bentley and Lauren Biron
Jan 12, 2011

boat show photo 2

Chris Bentley/MEDILL

The show runs at McCormick Place through Sunday, Jan. 16.

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Chris Bentley/MEDILL

Goran Majdandzic displays the new touch screen computer system from Raymarine, which allows users to monitor weather, maps, infrared data and fuel usage.

boat show photo 4

Chris Bentley/MEDILL

The "SCUBA Breather," is a tankless scuba diving system that uses an electric air compressor to supply divers with an unlimited supply of oxygen.  

From GPS to infrared imaging, new technology is making a splash at the 81st annual Chicago Boat Show.
Open now through Sunday, Jan. 16 at McCormick Place, the Midwest’s largest outdoors show will display hundreds of boats, RVs and marine accessories, in addition to activities ranging from a wakeboarding “rail jam” to camp cooking seminars.

But the real show is tucked away inside the glossy hulls that crowd the 300,000-square-foot North Building hall.

“The technology is unbelievable,” said show manager Keith Ogulnick. “It evolves every year.”
In sharp contrast to the mahogany paneled antique boats on display across the aisle, Boston-based MJM Yachts showed off their latest fuel-efficient powerboat, the 36z.

Scott Smith is principal of MJM’s licensee, Boston Boatworks, which built the 36z. They use epoxy resins and thin layers of Kevlar to cut back on production materials. The result is a lighter hull using fewer resources during construction that can be propelled using less fuel.

“Our whole process is geared toward a lower carbon footprint,” Smith said.

At just over two miles per gallon, the 36-footer might not sound like the “world leader in fuel-efficient powerboats.” But powerboats typically get about half that, said MJM founder and CEO Bob Johnstone.
Johnstone says the lightweight design gives this boat an edge over competitors using the same engine. And in an industry fond of luxury automobile analogies, powerboat manufacturers are loath to sacrifice performance.

“Instead of both drives operating the same way at the same time, now [computers] control each drive separately,” Johnstone explains. By independently controlling the two propellers, the computer-driven joystick control can move the boat at right angles.

“Your car can’t do that,” Johnstone says. The 36z is also the first boat of its kind to feature an infrared camera for low-light navigation.

Elsewhere in the convention hall, New Hampshire-based marine electronics manufacturer Raymarine boasted a dual-monitor display system to integrate infrared images — such as those from the 36z — alongside traditional GPS mapping and sonar.

“This is the equivalent of having GPS in your car to know where you’re going, and where you are,” said Raymarine’s owner Goran Majdandzic. The touch-screen display system can also monitor fuel consumption in real-time with the help of a sensor on the motor.

Also on display was the “SCUBA Breather,” a tankless scuba diving system that uses an electric air compressor to supply divers with an unlimited supply of oxygen. Operations manager Robert Sankey says the system’s gasoline-free compression unit makes it safer than other tankless diving apparatuses.
“You could spend all day underwater if you wanted to,” he says.

Admission to the Chicago Boat Show is $10 for adults, and free for children 15 and younger. For more information visit