Do you know that old saw about Ginger Rogers needing to do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels? Think about what is asked of every new Sea Ray model and the product development specialists charged with creating them.
These complex pieces of functional art must work perfectly in so many different ways. They must perform flawlessly in a wide variety of sea states; stand up to a harsh environment; be safe, comfortable and accommodating; offer the latest features and technology; retain their outstanding quality and value for years; and, of course, be stylish and beautiful. The product development team must achieve all that, plus keep Sea Ray focused on what better boating looks like. Makes backwards in heels sound like a walk in the park, doesn’t it?
The development of each successful new Sea Ray model requires the inspiration and diligence of boat builders from multiple disciplines. It’s oversimplified, but you can divide these product development specialists into groups covering brand, engineering and design, with more than a little crossover between them.
An enjoyable ownership experience also depends upon a good sales process, of course, a great dealer relationship and reliable post-purchase care, including comprehensive customer service, a strong warranty program and ready access to parts. But here we are exploring the disciplines involved in the initial development of new boats: the brand, engineering and design teams who ensure the quality and innovation contained in those new models.
The brand group includes everyone charged with guiding Sea Ray to succeed in the market, from the marketing team that defines how the brand message is communicated and heard, to the researchers who collect the voice of the consumer, to the sales team and their unique insight into competitive products and what is happening on dealership sales floors, to customer service reporting on warranty issues and other feedback. All of these inputs are interpreted and captured in the charter documents that designers and engineers use to help guide the development of new models.
Sea Ray’s engineers have a wide range of responsibilities in the product-development process. They define materials requirements to ensure finished product quality—for example, specifying stainless-steel screws even where no one will ever see them because they hold up longer, or verifying the quality of the gel coat resin to guarantee it will look as good in year 10 as when the boat is first sold.
The engineering team also includes the naval architects who specialize in perfecting hydrodynamics, power-to-weight ratios, and balance issues that every model requires to perform fantastically. Technology decisions, from engine and electronics specifications to development of Next Wave solutions like Quiet RideTM and Dynamic Running SurfaceTM, also sit with the engineering group. Finally, engineers drive development of the build process, determining how boats come together on the production line, from specifying how cabinets, helms or wiring are built out to the integration of robotics and computers on the assembly line.
Sea Ray’s engineers get to work with sophisticated software to ensure the quality and precision of everything from ideation to build. They have access to the latest production systems to raise the boat-building enterprise light years beyond the haphazard state it’s been in for more than a century. But Sea Ray’s concepting through prototyping to manufacturing process relies on talent at its core.
Sea Ray’s designers are responsible for the aesthetics of every new model. Designers take the hull and space requirements defined by the charter document and by engineers and mold them into the sleek and sexy shape that everyone recognizes as another beautiful Sea Ray. They designate the color palette of each boat, from gel-coat options to the bedding and pillow fabrics and vinyl upholstery. Surface decisions, like wood and counter choices and the finish of all materials, show a designer’s hand, as well. Finally, designers specify everything that impacts ergonomics and placement, from how easily the throttle falls to hand to the perfect social spacing in a cockpit.
“When someone pays for the premium experience of a brand like Sea Ray, they need to feel like the value is there as soon as they come aboard,” says Melissa Sikorski, a senior interior designer who has been with Sea Ray for nearly a decade. “Designers certainly have to adhere to technical and build concerns and must honor the tenets of the brand, but we also deal with emotional questions, like ‘how does something make you feel?’ and we try to figure out why it feels that way.”