Could This be the Future

Published in the August 2012 Issue August 2012 Ask The Expert
The biggest advantage to the Autocover is being able to completely cover your pontoon with a push of a button.
Inventor Jeff Larson (standing) developed the Autocover so his passengers could enjoy boating without the hassle of needing to snap a cover back on when the day was over.
When caught in the rain or wind and far from the dock, the cover can be lowered to make enduring the elements a lot easier on the captain and his passengers.
Another time-saving idea is the retractable fenders that stay on the side of the boat and can rotate when needed.
To use the bow cover, the passenger seats fold down, which is a lot easier for inventor Jeff Larson that using the traditional cover that requires snaps and poles.

In the movie trilogy Back to the Future that began in 1985 staring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, it predicted we'd all be flying around in cars by this time. What happened? By now we were supposed to have all this new technology that was going to make our lives easier so we didn't have to work nearly as hard.

As we continue to patiently wait for our Hoverboards, there is one man who is attempting to bring the future-or at least the next big thing-to the pontoon industry.

Jeff Larson first came up with an idea of a retractable boat cover nearly seven years ago.

"I had just got back from a trip and I was tired of going through furniture because I just wouldn't cover the boat between uses," recalls Larson. "So I started doing some sketches and then I looked around and when I couldn't find anything like it, I decided it was worth pursuing."

Larson is in the machine-building business so he has the tools and resources to create nearly anything. During the slow periods over the next few years at Larson/Burton, Inc.,

he would work on his idea to help try and get it off the ground. His goal was to create a system where your pontoon could be covered and uncovered with a press of a button.

"I really do think people would boat more often if they didn't have to deal with manually covering their boat, especially when it comes to quick evening cruises," says Larson. "You might want to go out after work, but then you have to decide if it's worth uncovering your pontoon for just a few hours."

Although still in the prototype phase, the X240 Autocover is now on the water and attracting a lot of attention at the docks.

"Basically it's a frame I've designed and patented that incorporates a track in the side rails so the mooring cover can extend and retract either manually or electrically via remote control," says Larson. "This will finally end the cover battle with snaps and poles every time you take the boat out."

With the touch of a button on a remote control, the built-in cover recoils under the sundeck in the rear and under the cowl in the front. There are three moving parts to his design, two retracting covers and a control that can lower or raise the bimini top, all of which can be done while the boat is on the water and underway.

The cover system can be stopped at any point, providing an added bonus of protection from the wind or rain if you'd prefer to lower the bimini to halfway down and the front cover all the way closed.

The 24-volt DC power conveyor roller powers the system that he designed from the hull up on his 1987 Lowe SunCruiser pontoon. Other modifications were made to this 24-foot pontoon including an elevated platform for the rear bench seat. This helps with the ease of the design, but also makes it easier for those on the bench to see when the boat is underway.

Larson is not currently in the boating business and honestly doesn't know if there is even room right now for another pontoon builder. So the inventor is currently contacting boat manufacturers to work out a type of license agreement on his patented idea, hoping others will see the value in a hassle-free system designed to enhance your boating experience.

His idea started based on a concept where he wanted to make boating as easy as possible. Another time-saver idea he's added to his pontoon is retractable fenders. The fenders stay on the side of the boat at all times and are designed to pull and rotate when needed. This way you never have to search for your fenders when approaching the dock because they're always secured to the boat.

The prototype pontoon may be 25 years old, but it doesn't look like it thanks to an all-new interior design, plus updated graphics on the side. Larson's friend Rod Bradbury, who does custom designs and graphics, created the custom look and he couldn't be happier.

"The nice thing about the graphics is if you get tired of them in two years you can just replace them and have a completely new look," says Larson. "You can't do that with other boats."

In a matter of seconds Larson is able to fully cover his pontoon, not only protecting his boat, but also keeping the contents inside safer. He's always looking for another pontoon owner with a traditional snap and pole system to challenge to see who can cover their boat faster, but so far he hasn't had a single taker. So for now he'll continue to enjoy the future of what he refers to as hassle-free boating that is now just a push of a button away.

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