The Newport International Boat Show is viewed as a bellwether for the boat show season in the Northeast. The show’s 45th iteration was held Sept. 17-20 at the Rhode Island destination port and again drew a diverse fleet and mix of local and international vendors.
Post-show indicators were positive from exhibitors and show producers. “We were up over last year for attendance, we had an increase in exhibitor guest tickets redeemed, more two-day passes sold, and most important, exhibitors reported that attendees were qualified and enthusiastic,” says show manager Nancy Piffard.
Because the show’s Bowen’s Wharf land space is not gated (there are retail shops and restaurants on the site) people can just wander in, making precise attendance numbers hard to come by.
When they spoke about the show, exhibitors were quick to consistently tie their enthusiasm to the way sales have been strong for most of the year heading into the fall. “USWatercraft went into the Newport show feeling very optimistic once again this year,” says president Randy Borges. “Consumer confidence seems to be on the rise, and we had some real buyers. Couple that with numerous prospects who tell us they plan to buy in the next three to six months, and it makes us feel good about the products we are selling.”
USWatercraft acquired the Alerion, True North and North Rip brands in 2012, along with the rights to build C&C sailboats. “Newport is always a strong venue for our brands,” says Borges. “We are starting to see the past two-and-a-half years’ worth of marketing and sales efforts bear fruit.”
Powerboat builder Grand Banks Yachts also found success tapping into its market niche. “Our results were by far the finest Newport show we have ever enjoyed,” says Grand Banks sales and operations director Dave Northrop. “Our companies [including Palm Beach Motor Yachts] place the Newport show nearly on par with Fort Lauderdale and Miami for our category of yachts. We left with more than 10 new contracts, including five for the exciting new 44 Eastbay and three for the stunning 55 Palm Beach.”
Newport is among the largest in-water shows in the country, with 750-plus exhibitors, more than 400 boats in the water and another 150 on land. The show is historically a big draw, but the weather is typically a wild card. This year, however, the event enjoyed wall-to-wall sunshine throughout its four-day run, matching the disposition of dealers and vendors.
“Last year was terrible until July, while this year has been more consistent,” says Ben Wilde, owner of Wilde Yacht Sales, a Nordic Tugs dealer in Essex, Conn. “People must be feeling better about the economy. We’re selling 44s like crazy and are seeing a clear trend that people are looking for bigger boats.”
Wilde says he had more scheduled appointments with potential buyers at this year’s show than at any in recent memory. He says he delivered the first of the redesigned Nordic Tug 44 in July and has contracts to have three more built, with the fourth to be delivered next June. “I have five sold without even have a finished one to show them,” he says.
Wilde says another encouraging sign is the age of his customers. “We are getting some younger customers, finally,” he says, noting a 30-something businessman who recently bought a Nordic Tug 39 Flybridge. “We’re seeing more ‘non-retired’ people coming to us.”
The Hinckley Co. earned trophies from a panel of judges at the show for its Bermuda 50 sailboat, which was making its debut, and for its new Hunt 32 center console. “We saw boaters who had serious intent to purchase and were using the show to make final assessments,” says marketing director Roe O’Brien. “We expect to close sales within weeks as a result of our efforts there.”
Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales at Sabre Yachts, calls Newport 2015 the “best-looking, best-feeling” show in recent memory. “The weather was one thing, but the quality of customers was impressive,” Collins says.
On the lower end of the price spectrum, Bruce Perkins, director of sales and marketing at Eastern Boats, spoke with numerous potential customers for the 2016 Seaway 24 Sport, another model in the small-to-mid-size boat niche where the company has made its name.
“It’s a very affordable family boat that’s great for the bay or sound,” says Perkins. “Everybody wants outboards, and that’s been our niche all along.”
The Seaway 24 Sport was named the best new powerboat under 30 feet by a panel of judges. “We’re still following up with a few good people, sold a couple of Eastern Boats 248 Islanders and expect more stuff to come together,” Perkins says.
Several years ago, Eastern purchased the tooling and molds for the Canadian pocket trawler builder Rosborough, and the company used the show to launch a redesigned Rosborough RF-246.
“We had a great show,” says Peter Brown, who leads the new Rosborough Boats. “We were introducing a new layout of our well-proven and tested pocket trawler, the Rosborough RF-246, and were thrilled with the response to it, both from boat owners who came aboard and from people seeing it for the first time.”
Brown says he has a “long list of leads” and plans for several potential customers to visit the manufacturing shop in Milton, N.H.
For its NorthCoast brand, C&C Marine displayed the 27-foot pilothouse boat it introduced earlier this year at the New England Boat Show in Boston. “We sold Hull No. 1 at the Boston show,” says dealer Ken Hilton of Standish Boat Yard, “and although we didn’t write anything up at Newport, we did line up sea trials on our 27 and 23.”
The 2016 Newport International Boat Show is scheduled for Sept. 15-18.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.