Hello again, research_help-ga!
Part of the fun of this job is turning a microscope on something
you've always taken for granted. I live (and grew up) near the water
in Nova Scotia, self-proclaimed as "Canada's Ocean Playground." From
my window I can see everything from yachting marinas, to a major
industrial shipyard, to the docks of our East-Coast naval fleet.
Although this question required much more research than I'd
anticipated when I took it on, I don't regret the time I've spent.
It's been an interesting insight into an industry that helps drive my
In the years since 1936, when William Wagner pioneered small-boat
manual hydraulics, the definition of "small-boat" has become more
flexible. Once common only on working boats or large yachts, systems
are now designed and built specifically for boats as small as 5
metres. My research over these past days has been an eye-opener; it
would certainly seem that there's a business opportunity in this
I will apologise in advance for the rough nature of this answer. In
all too many cases (to paraphrase the Chinese proverb) I've not so
much "given you a fish", or even "taught you to fish", as much as
"pointed you to the fishing hole". Unfortunately, as I'd indicated in
my initial clarification request, solid numbers are hard to come by.
Still I believe I've located sources that can provide you with better
data, which in itself is a good thing.
Let's begin by arriving at a useable definition of the "global
market". Since the lack of hard statistics is recognized and deplored
even within the boating industry, I've had a long and serious look for
some worthwhile numbers to work from. Fortunately, late in my search,
I turned up the website of the International Boating Industry News.
The IBI News has, on its website, a list of 20 "Key Markets", together
with the approximate numbers of recreational boats for each country.
These numbers are not quite "apples to apples", as different countries
use different criteria (Canada's, for example, includes canoes) but
they should be reasonably accurate. The top five countries (US,
Canada, France, Sweden, and Italy) report an aggregate total of 28.5
million recreational boats between them, with the US holding the
lion's share at 17 million. The remaining fifteen countries report
just under 4.4 million pleasurecraft. This would place US marketshare
at just over 50% of the "Key Markets", which in turn should represent
the bulk of the world market. Allowing for those regions not
represented in the "Key Market" analysis, US marketshare probably
represents just under half of the world market. The complete "Key
Market Facts" page is found here:
This is not intended to be comprehensive of course. There is no
mention at all of Asia in the list, for example. Further, the list is
based on "boats owned", rather than "boats sold". However, it is
logical to assume that the countries where the most boats are owned,
are the countries where the most boats are sold, in roughly similar
proportion. Obviously individual markets will vary from year to year,
but this assumption should be reasonably reliable.
As for "recreational boats", since this is a fairly flexible term,
I've focussed the majority of my attention on powered boats of 15-20m
(roughly 50-60 feet) and under. I've also looked at some sites geared
more toward sailing boats or larger yachts, but the following
information is targeted to the former.
1. Who are the manufacturers of hydraulic steering systems for boats
and what are their global market shares?
I have not yet come across any comprehensive lists of manufacturers,
but to judge from what I've found, these are the major players in the
hydraulic steering market.
Any survey of the market will quickly determine that Teleflex is the
dominant player in this arena. Their Canadian site claims 85%
marketshare in North America for their SeaStar and Capilano brands.
Recently they've acquired Morse and Hynautic, thereby emphasizing
their commitment to market dominance. On this page, they describe
acquisitions as a key part of their strategy. It must be working;
they claim consistent 20% growth for the last quarter-century and I've
seen nothing online to contradict this. They're everywhere!
Main Teleflex Morse website:
A summary and partial breakdown of Teleflex's 2001 earnings may be
found at this page, on IBI:
More detailed information may be found in Teleflex's 2001 Annual
Report. Their marine unit is included in the "Commercial" category,
which accounted for 41% of total revenues. The numbers you'd be
interested in are on page 24.
Vetus den Ouden is a Dutch-based company with over 35 years in the
field. They sell a wide range of other gear as well as hydraulic
systems. Founder Willem den Ouden recently sold 75% of the company to
investment firm Alpinvest Holdings, as a strategy to fund future
growth. He retains 25% of the company. Interestingly, this report at
IBI news http://www.ybw.com/ibinews/newsdesk/20011014081519ibinews.html
indicates that they are now subcontracting their manufacturing. The
company's main site is at:
IBI's overview of the boating industry in the Netherlands estimates
Vetus' annual turnover at 50 million Euros (note that this is for all
Kobelt Manufacturing Ltd. is based in the Greater Vancouver area
(British Columbia). They have been in the business since 1962, and
seem to emphasize a higher-than-usual level of craftsmanship in their
product. Their approach is to offer bronze and stainless steel
components at a price only moderately above competitive products made
of less-durable materials.
I have been unable to source any sales figures for Kobelt, but
Industry Canada lists them in the $5-$10M CDN range (click on
Hydrive is an Australian manufacturer, with a wide range of small-boat
manual and power hydraulic steering systems. Their range places them
squarely in competition with Teleflex's "Baystar" and "Seastar" lines,
focussing on craft from 5-15metres. The discussion of space
constraints in the "Outboards and Sterndrives" section of their site
is especially interesting for anyone wishing to enter the small-craft
market. I have been unable to locate financial data for them, but
perhaps one of my Australian colleagues could provide some guidance?
Marine Machine is a specialized builder of hydraulic steering systems
for racing and performance boats.
Italian manufacturer Ultraflex has a full line of mechanical and
hydraulic systems. Their American division, UflexUSA, dedicates a
page of its website to their Performax line of hydraulic steering
IMCO Marine is a family-owned business based in Nevada. They have been
manufacturing a range of products for twenty years. Their hydraulic
steering products are found on this website:
Wagner brand hydraulic steering systems are produced and sold by
Summer Equipment Ltd. of Vancouver, BC. They do not appear to be
active in the recreational boat market. Summer's Wagner Steering
website is at:
Industry Canada places them in the $1-5M CDN category:
Two other companies seem to have inherited portions of the Wagner
legacy. They appear, from their sites, to focus more on large yachts
and small to mid-sized commercial vessels, but I include them for the
sake of thoroughness. AutoNav, successors to Wagner, are headed by
William Wagner's son Paul:
Industry Canada's short report on AutoNav places them in the $5-10M
CDN sales category:
The principals of Jastram Engineering, in North Vancouver, Canada,
were all previously in responsible positions at Wagner. Jastram also
retrofits and rebuilds hydraulic steering systems.
Industry Canada places Jastram in the $1-5M CDN range:
Marol Hydraulics apparently manufactures steering systems for boats
"up to 100 feet", though they proved to have no visible footprint
online. I suspect that, like AutoNav and Jastram, their product line
is aimed mainly at large yachts and smaller commercial vessels. You
should be able to obtain information from their North American
distributor: Alaska Diesel Electric, 4420 14th Avenue N.W., P.O. Box
70543, Seattle, WA 98107 Tel: 206-789-3880 Fax: 206-782-5455
As of this time, I have been unable to verify the existence of any
other manufacturers. I am convinced that there must be more, but they
have eluded me to date. It seems unlikely, for example, that there
should be NO manufacturers of this product in Asia. I suspect that
any further manufacturers either have minimal web presence (or perhaps
a non-English web presence) or are purely regional players.
As regards market size, Teleflex's annual report, will give you a
notion of the revenues their marine division generated. Extrapolating
from their sales should give you a reasonable benchmark of total US
sales, which in turn could be assumed as 40-50% of the worldwide
market. This is tenuous, and perhaps IBI or SSI (see below) may be
able to provide you with a more closely-reasoned estimate, but it is
the best I can offer after researching the question intensively.
As for market share, revenue for Teleflex and Vetus is a matter of
public record, and may readily be compared. Although I am not
familiar with the nomenclature of Italian businesses, my impression is
that Ultraflex is a publicly-traded company, and their annual report
should be readily available. As indicated above, Industry Canada has
categorized the Canadian builders by total revenues. This is
necessarily a rough comparison, but it seems to be the best available
information for now.
2. How many hydraulic steering systems are sold on new boats in the
world per year? How many hydraulic steering systems are sold in the
marine aftermarket in the world per year?
The methodology spelled out in the following section will also give
you a rough "head count" on US sales of boats with hydraulic steering.
Aftermarket steering upgrades, however, may be the toughest "hard
number" to find. The two local dealers who were willing to offer me a
"guesstimate" placed the ratio at roughly 10 new boats for every
retrofit, but this is not a statistically viable sample by any
E-mailing or phoning a few of the larger dealers should broaden the
sample enough to answer your purpose. Had I thought through this part
of your question a little sooner (he confesses sheepishly) I'd have
done a broad-based e-mail to numerous dealers. However, given the
limited shelf life of a question at Google Answers, and the delays
inherent in waiting for replies, this is probably best done from your
It would probably be good to try a few dealers specializing in
primarily in retrofits/upgrades (rather than boat sales), as they
might also have some suggestions for you that could be incorporated
into product design. A word of caution: you may want to deliberately
choose dealers who install more than one brand of steering. A dealer
with a single loyalty is probably more likely to offer a "heads-up" to
the manufacturer of the product he sells.
3)What boat companies are the biggest users of hydraulic steering
systems? How many boats per year do these companies sell?
Sales figures for boatbuilders are not easy to come by online, either.
However, I have learned through a citing in an academic paper that
Statistical Surveys Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio, tracks new boat sales
for the US industry. A Google search on that name yields several
references in boating and RV publications, but no contact information.
They remained stubbornly invisible to on-line phone directory
searches, as well. I suspect that the NMMA must have contact
information for SSI, since their own official stats packages make
heavy reference to that company's research. If all else fails,
perhaps your nearest library would have a Cincinnati directory.
Other potential sources of hard data are the IBI News, and Boats.com.
IBI has full versions of the country reports I've linked to from this
page, with fuller data, available for sale. They also offer more
deeply detailed "Market Surveys". Currently available surveys treat
the French, Italian, and German markets, with more to come:
Boats.com is endorsed by the NMMA and the MRAA, and is intended to be
the definitive online resource of the boating industry. At present,
80% of North American boatbuilders are represented on this site. A
contact person is provided at the bottom of this page:
In order to establish a rough working baseline of which US companies
sell the most boats, while you are waiting for reports from the above
sources, you may wish to return to the Boats.com site. Their "Top
20" lists give a running history for the last year of the site's
most-searched-on brands in four categories: Powered new, powered
pre-owned, sail new, and sail pre-owned. Of course this does not
necessarily translate into sales (lots of people look at
Lamborghinis, relatively few buy them), but it should be a reasonably
good guide. The archive of "Top 20" lists, and other press releases,
may be found at this link:
Having settled on the top builders, there is a tedious but obvious
methodology for determining their reliance on hydraulic steering: 1)
Order their brochures, or visit their websites, and trudge through the
listed models. 2) Check model-by-model for hydraulic steering as a
standard feature. You may wish to follow the traditional route of
hiring a student to do this.
An obvious flaw in this method is that it will not reveal how often
hydraulic steering is purchased as an upgrade. For that information,
I'd suggest an alternative approach: contact the boatbuilders
directly. After all, you're not going to be competing with them! You
may also make some useful contacts in the process, for when you bring
your product to market.
Another point worthy of your attention is specific market niches that
might be heavier users of hydraulic steering. Waterskiing, for
example, requires both a powerful (high-torque) engine and long,
straight runs. Bass boats, also, are typically run at high speeds for
extended periods. These niches may yield good markets for you, even
if those specialty manufacturers do not show among the top 10/20/50
overall. An academic paper containing recent SSI sales figures for
the top builders of waterski boats may be found at this link:
The subject of this paper, by the way, seems like a real up-and-comer;
you may want to partner with them!
4. What is the threshold between hydraulic steering and cable steering
(i.e. Do boats usually have hydraulic rather than cable because they
are longer, heavier, faster, what?) And at what measurement would the
threshold be? (i.e. I would need an answer such as "speed determines
the steering system and any boat that goes over 40 mph would use
The "breakpoint" between mechanical and hydraulic steering is not
quite as hard and fast as it might once have been. There is general
consensus that the faster and more powerful your boat is, the more you
need it, but various sources differ on specifics.
This article at marinenews.com recommends going hydraulic after 5m (!)
or 100 horsepower. The author retrofitted a Teleflex SeaStar unit to
his own boat:
Another article, though, notes that newer and less expensive units
have brought the hydraulic option to boats of less than 6m:
This page, from a dealer of mechanical and hydraulic steering systems,
offers a useful discussion of the issues involved:
Ultraflex's website offers a useful chart for prospective customers.
In their scheme of things, hydraulic steering is recommended for
outboards over 30', and inboards or sterndrives over 35':
Raw speed is not a conclusive factor. Many fast bass boats use
mechanical steering, with hydraulic steering as an upgrade. Baja
Marine, who specialize in hot boats at hot prices, use mechanical
power steering on most of their models, in order to meet their price
points (more on the price issue later). Hydraulic steering is
standard only on the outboard versions of their Islander models,
powered by single or dual outboards totalling 225-300hp. Evidently,
outboards are more difficult to control than inboards of comparable
Having settled on hydraulic steering, the next step is to calculate
which system is suitable for one's boat. Manufacturers seem to offer
complete DIY kits and also individual components for custom systems.
For a useful discussion on the ins and outs of hydraulic steering "a
la carte", see this page at the Vetus den Ouden site (this is marginal
to our topic, but it may help you in planning your own product line):
To summarize, hydraulic steering is "more desirable" on boats of
30-35ft and up, or in power configurations in the 100-150hp range and
above. More and more, though, hydraulic steering is seen as a
desirable upgrade on smaller or less-powerful boats as well, simply as
a matter of comfort and convenience. Certainly though, the larger and
more expensive a boat is, the more likely it will be to have hydraulic
steering as standard equipment.
5. At what price range of boats does hydraulic steering become a
As mentioned in question (4) above, price is a reasonably reliable
predictor of hydraulic steering, within a given class of boat. Bear
in mind, however, that a "high-end" price tag in one class will be
"entry-level" in another. Also, companies target different
demographics and market niches. Baja Marine, for example (see above),
price their craft very aggressively. Want a 20-footer under $25K
that'll do 60mph? They've got your boat!...but it won't have
hydraulic steering, because of their marketing focus on price points.
To give you something to go forward with, I've looked at the Tracker
and Bayliner lines, which have been consistently at or near the top of
Boats.com's "Top 20" lists. The results were interesting, but you'll
want to repeat the process with a LOT of brands, to get useable
Tracker offers standard hydraulic steering only on their
top-of-the-line Deep V model, the Targa 2000, at $24995 (the entry
model in this line is priced at $5495). Tracker also sells the Nitro
brand of bass boats, which they claim is the sales leader. Nitro's
standard line of bass boats ($10595 to $22595) does not include
hydraulic steering, but their flagship "9" series ($24995 to $32995)
does. Within their SunTracker line of pontoon boats (starting at
$8695) the Party Cruiser 32 ($25695) and Party Hut 30 ($20895)
included "hydraulic-assisted" steering. Interestingly, not all of the
$20K+ SunTrackers include this feature. All prices from Tracker's
site, in USD.
Pickings were slimmer in the Bayliner brand. None of their Capri
runabouts, Ciera cruisers, or Rendezvous deckboats offered standard
hydraulic steering. Only their Motoryacht line includes hydraulic
steering, rather predictable given that they start at significantly
over $100,000. However, things get more interesting when we consider
Bayliner's "Trophy" brand of fishing boats. When equipped with an
outboard of 200hp or more, three Trophy boats include standard
hydraulic steering: the Centre Console 2103 ($33043); and Walkaround
models 2302 ($36927) and 2509 ($41524). These prices are from
Bayliner's site, and represent the lowest base price in each case for
a craft with a 200hp outboard. This would suggest that Bayliner
targets a more upscale clientele.
The above confirmed the information given to me by a local dealer,
who'd said that while some boats came in at lower price points,
hydraulic steering started to be common at around $50K CDN, which
equates pretty closely to $35K USD.
Again, generating similar numbers from a larger sample of
manufacturers will require a week or two of drudge work on someone's
part. Boat manufacturers have not been immune to the craze for Flash
animation, so some of the sites I've visited have been maddeningly
slow (pretty, though!). Before embarking on that particular quest it
will be useful to decide whether you want to work with "street"
(dealer) pricing, or MSRP.
It seems there's a definite business opportunity in this market.
On the one hand, Teleflex's ongoing acquisition of rivals creates an
opportunity to cash in on the inevitable backlash (Microsoft,
anyone?). Secondly, with the arrival of hydraulic steering in the
entry-level market, it would seem that this product is due for the
sort of boom that marked GPS, cel phones, and DVD players (to pick a
few) as they became more affordable. I make these comparisons
advisedly, because as a longtime electronics retailer I watched those
products mature. My former employer test-marketed one model of GPS,
for example, a few years ago at $799CDN. It bombed. Now they sell
numerous models starting in the low $100 range, and sales are brisk.
In terms of new-boat sales, the action seems to be in the middle and
upper size/price ranges. As a retrofit, if you are able to bring a
suitable product to market, an inexpensive upgrade for existing
smaller boats might be a good bet. If nothing else, it's a market
that's new enough not to have been penetrated extensively by the
One final word, redundant though it may be... As a former retailer, I
can tell you that in any field I know of, dealers appreciate products
and companies that don't give them grief. Make a good product, for
sure, but for best results pay special attention to your relations
with your distributors and dealers. To paraphrase W P Kinsella, "make
it easy to fix problems, and they will come".
IBI Country Reports: Online Abstracts for the "Big Five"
After doing this for a week, it feels like it might be easier to just
list the keywords I DIDN'T search on!
I've made extensive use of Google searches, of course, and the
following keywords proved most useful (not all at once, of course, and
in varying combinations):
"hydraulic steering" marine manufacturer boat boats boatbuilder sales
"sales figures" "quarterly report" "annual report" distributor
recreational boating publication authoritative pleasure craft
As I worked, of course, I would frequently stumble across a useful
reference, which would lead to new searches under the names of
I made heavy use of the websites of IBI News, Boats.com, and the
various manufacturers. Industry Canadas Strategis website was
something Id already known about, so I pounded away at various
keywords until I found the correct information. I also used Google
Directory, DMOZ, and other industry-specific directories. I have not
listed the industry directories separately, as they will come up in
vast numbers as you search on those keywords. In any case, they bred
more frustration than useable data.
I have proofread this answer until my eyes were red and bloodshot, and
I THINK I put in everything Id intended to. If Id inadvertently
referred to something thats not here, please let me know. Likewise,
in every situation where I was not able to provide information, I have
attempted to supply at least a reasonable source or workable
methodology for obtaining a good approximation. If Ive left anything
unclear in doing so, again, please let me know.
You will probably need some time to digest and follow up on this
material. If you find that Ive opened up some new areas of interest
for you (I hope I have), we would love to see you come back with some
more questions. Of course, Ill be keeping my notes in order to have
a leg up on my colleagues!
Thank you again for an interesting and challenging assignment!