Ocean Craft Marine (OCM) and its amphibious rigid hull inflatable boats haven’t been in the recreational market long, but have been trying to gain popularity on the East Coast through demos.
So on a hot, sunny Tuesday afternoon, we met with Jo Stapleton, director of sales and marketing, to get a firsthand look at one of their new models at Lagoon Pond Landing in Vineyard Haven.
These boats are similar to any other rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), but with the twist of having wheels that can be lowered and raised with a button. These so-called AMP boats, with five different models, take the nature and lightness of a rigid hull inflatable boat combined with a built-in amphibious system to provide flexibility to boat owners and solve some of the common problems associated with being a boat owner.
OCM said the RHIB design came from Europe, but has recently gained popularity in the U.S. as it is a highly maneuverable model. These boats feature air-filled sponsons with five air chambers on each side that absorb 30 percent of the shock created from bigger waves or chop. The sponsons act as natural defenders, and have edges that dig into the water as the boat turns, adding surface area back onto the water for a smoother ride and more control. Shock-absorption seats and consoles are also available to be added.
Stapleton told The Times about the logistics of the boat, and how the design compares with other center console boat designs. He explained that OCM boats still have a full deep-v hull like any other center console, with reverse chines to create an air pocket under the boat with their concave shape. The difference, Stapleton said, is there is 30 percent less fiberglass with the RHIB design, stopping just above the waterline, and making the boat lighter and more fuel-efficient. Additionally, hypalon is used for the sponsons instead of PVC, to provide military-grade materials that border on bulletproof.
These add-on abilities are especially useful for professional boats for the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, police and fire rescue, and so on, accounting for 95 percent of the RHIB market. Stapleton also told the Times that when boaters are spending a lot of time being bounced around on the water, shock-absorption features can save their bodies from some back and joint stress that takes a toll.
When Stapleton took the Times out on the water, this smoothness was felt, as even going 40 mph, the ride felt fast but controlled, with little need to brace yourself for a hard landing coming over waves, and it was a windy day when we went out. Stapleton also demonstrated the turning abilities, making tighter loops while still going 30 to 40 mph. While there was some splashing, the boat turned with ease, and without being disturbed by chop or a need to slow down.
But that is just the RHIB. For the amphibious part, a system is built in that includes a 40-horsepower engine that runs an electronically controlled hydraulic pump that sends hydraulic fluid to its wheels, making it drivable on land. While not a street-legal vehicle, the AMP boats can go 50 mph in water and 9 mph on land. The component of four wheels is a notable addition from some other amphibious boat competitors, like Sealegs, which only has three, and the added wheel gives the boat a defined four-wheel drive.
Stapleton demonstrated how easily the boat can be taken out or put into the water using a cement boat ramp in Vineyard Haven (to see the video, go to above). It seems to be as easy as starting up the amphibious system with a button (red button on the console), then using a lever to put the wheels down, which is also used to steer the motor simultaneously. Stapleton put the wheels down while he was approaching the shallower water, then when it got shallow enough that the wheels were touching ground, he just lifted the motor up and used the amphibious system and controls to move the wheels forward. (Sure beats docking the boat, getting into a truck, and backing down the boat ramp with a trailer behind.)
At first there was some uncertainty about how well Stapleton was going to get the boat out, and more so how bumpy it would be to actually get on the ramp, but the first push forward lifted the front half of the boat out of the water with the wheels already down, and the back followed similarly.
For getting back in the water, this transition seemed even easier, with little worries about the front of the boat coming into the water at too steep of an angle, as we were reminded that the vehicle was still a boat, and the front began to float. Once the water was a little deeper, the engine was put down, and the wheels brought up. Just like that, it was just a boat again.
This amphibious technology was developed by OCM, the U.S. division of ASIS Boats, and its partner, Orion Marine, 15 years ago. They have since sold about 300 worldwide.
As far as solving issues, this boat sure does a lot for waterfront property owners who don’t have a dock or, as the Island is well aware, a limited-availability mooring. The AMP boat design allows for easy launch and recovery, with only a single operator needed to get the boat in and out of water with its own power. These abilities extend the boating season with more leeway in currents and tides, make it harder to swamp or roll in high seas and choppy waters, and rid the chance of running aground, making the boat “safety conscious,” as Stapleton put it. “Our whole Ocean Craft Marine mission is to be a marine solution provider … That’s what we are doing with the amphib, we are solving a problem.”
Just like any four-wheeled vehicle, there are some conditions the boat will not succeed in on ground, primarily thick muck that could cause the wheels to sink into it. Other than that, the half-land aspect of the boat should perform on hard-packed sand and rocky conditions, concrete, asphalt, and dirt boat ramps, or in shallow water. This makes it easier to go explore a sandbar, drive up on a beach, or transport the boat. “The nature of RHIB is that we have a high-performance boat first, then we have the added benefit of an amphibious system that is mostly for allowing you flexibility,” said Stapleton.
While obviously a useful invention for the professional field due to its versatility and quick responses, to The Times, it seems as though this boat would be family-friendly as well, especially with one of the bigger models that allows more room to walk around the console and reduce the risk of children tripping, or having to climb around on the sponsons. Stapleton also spoke about customizations that can be added to the boat to accessorize the back metal barring (roll bar) to make it more geared toward fishing or watersports, with added fishing pole holders, or a place to tie a rope for tubing, for example. Additionally, Stapleton told The Tmes that there is room and availability on the bigger models to add a sink, hose, or other amenities that would turn it into a more livable space, especially useful if a family wants to set up on a sandbar for a day, also made easier without worries of beaching the boat.
What is not as flexible with this boat, however, is the price, retailing for close to $300,000, with $90,000 being made up of the amphibious system. When asked how this price tag compares to its competitors, specifically Sealegs and Iguana, Stapleton said they are “competitively priced,” but added, “We have more choice based on your needs and individual boating mission.” Stapleton also said that these boats are about value and “cost savings in terms of ownership is better than any boat on the market I can think of.”
Stapleton did mention that OCM is starting to offer financing in hopes of taking the boats into a market that is a step below what they are finding themselves to be in, which is centered around high-net-worth individuals who can afford them. The hope is to expand reach and incentivise a buyback program to create a second market of used boats. With that, a three-year warranty is offered for the boat and engine, and an extended warranty is also available, giving the customer five years of free maintenance, after which the boat can be bought back at market value and the customer can be put in a new one.
As far as repairs and maintenance, the first scheduled maintenance on the amphibious system is 100 hours. Using this system 5 percent of the time, it could be two to three years before the first maintenance on it. But if the hydraulic engine needs servicing, Stapleton said, there are many ways to do that, including flying a crew out directly to the customer to get it fixed.
With mass control over their supply and production, electronics and engines are the only things OCM do not make in-house, and the only things they have to worry about getting. With that, OCM is also an international Mercury engine dealer, so they have engines in stock and can get an engine sourced anywhere while getting a U.S. manufacturer’s certificate of origin (MCO). Normally, according to Stapleton, companies are 14 months out from delivering boats because of the delay in getting engines and other electronics.The only thing that can throw off delivery times, Stapleton said, is if the engine computer chips are delayed.
In the U.S. boat business, OCM and its AMP boats are in the beginning stages, but they have plans to build a full production facility. Stapleton speculates that it will be somewhere on the East Coast, possibly in South Carolina or Maryland, with headquarters in Annapolis, Md. Until then, it will continue to demo the boats, currently in Florida, Chicago, Lake Michigan, and New England, with plans to add more locations this year where there is interest in these boats and where they would perform well.
OCM currently has five models for its recreational AMP boats: 320 Chesapeake (9.98m), 310 Captiva Beachlander (9.33m), 300 Bonaire (9.10m), 280 Estero (8.57m), and the 230 Cabo (7.4 m). Stapleton is especially fond of the 300 Bonaire, calling it “the best value in boating, in general, at all in the marketplace,” adding that it is great for families because of its size. The 280 Estero was demoed for The Times by Stapleton.