The mood was buoyant, the days were sunny (if a bit too warm), and sales were hot — blisteringly so — at the 56th Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Though attendance at the Nov. 5-9 show was down 2.7 percent overall from 2014 — likely because of hot weekend weather — it was up 10 percent for key sales days Thursday (Nov. 5) and Friday (Nov. 6), says Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, president of Show Management, the event’s producer.
Many who came were primed to buy. “It was a high quality of traffic,” says Ken Clinton, president of Intrepid Powerboats of Dania, Fla. “We did fantastic,” he says, selling nearly $17 million in product. That was 36 boats sold.
Last year’s show generated $14 million for Intrepid. Clinton, who has no dealers and sells factory-direct, builds most of his boats to orders taken at the Fort Lauderdale and Miami shows. He says he has a backlog of 16 months to two years.
Regulator Marine of Edenton, N.C., says it sold a half-dozen center consoles — two 41-footers, which were debuting at the show, a pair of 34-footers and two 28-footers. “We’ve never had a Fort Lauderdale show like this,” says Regulator president Joan Maxwell. “We were surprised. I think the 41 has made us more of a household name.”
“For whatever reason, people were in a buying mood,” Zimbalist says. “They had their checkbooks out. Consumer confidence has a lot to do with it. Timing has a lot to do with it. People have been waiting a long time to buy a boat. The product has a lot to do with it.”
Since the Great Recession ended, builders have brought a lot of new features and technology on line, Zimbalist says. “There are a lot of good reasons to buy a boat right now.”
One is the economy. Now that it’s reviving, people are ready to enjoy life again, says Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show. “People like boating. They want to enjoy their lives — whether they are a 12-year-old dreaming of going fishing with his dad or a 50-year-old entrepreneur who has been successful in his business and wants to take his family out on the water.”
The single largest event in Florida, this year’s show was the biggest ever. There were 1,500 boats on display — including 4 percent more in the water than last year, 2 percent more under 80 feet and 14 percent more from 80 to 100 feet — and there was a 1 to 4 percent increase in all other categories, says Zimbalist.
“Dayboats are just exploding,” he says, “boats 25 to 40 feet in length, both outboards and sterndrives. They are beautifully designed with barbecues, fridges, space for 10 to 15 people. They’ve got the latest technology — joysticks. Everywhere I went — Cobalt, [Boston] Whaler, Sea Ray — these boats had big crowds around them.
“It’s good to see growth across all categories,” he says.
The show also hosted 137 yachts larger than 100 feet and five larger than 200 feet. “We’ve got the big boys here, too,” he says, and the deep-pocketed clients who can buy them. Among the sales, in addition to yachts: a $1.4 million automobile and a $4.1 million helicopter, Zimbalist says.
Taking it to ‘another level’
The show also had the biggest footprint ever, at 3 million square feet of exhibit space at seven venues: the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Pier 66 Marina, Hall of Fame Marina, Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Greater Fort Lauderdale/ Broward County Convention Center, the Sailfish Pavilion outside the convention center and the Las Olas Marina.
“The show has gone to another level this year — the scope, the content, the complexity, the size of it,” Zimbalist says. “The team rose to the challenge and pulled it off.”
Big as it is, the show continues to evolve, with a new catamaran section at Pier 66 that Zimbalist expects to grow; board sports and toys at the convention center; and the MyBoatShow Events app to keep visitors apprised of activities. There also were VIP Boat Show Experiences packages offering valet parking and access to the Windward Club, which included a premium open bar, gourmet food, a concierge service and private yacht tours.
The show drew lots of European exhibitors eager to capitalize on dollar exchange rates favoring their luxury imports. The Italian yacht builder Benetti said at the show that eight of its 18 sales worldwide this year have been in the Americas. “Florida plays a very important role in yachting for South American clients, and the opening of Benetti Americas in Fort Lauderdale last year was strategic,” the company says.
Purcell says the show also is becoming a nexus where employers can meet job seekers (at a marine job fair Nov. 4 at the convention center); successful entrepreneurs from around the world can meet local businesspeople and find out about South Florida (at the International Marine Hub Luncheon on Nov. 5); members of the industry can meet politicians (an impromptu speech by presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the MIASF yacht on Nov. 7, and a Florida Yacht Brokers Association meeting with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel on Nov. 9 to talk about federal law barring sales of foreign-flagged yachts to U.S. citizens in U.S. waters.)
“We’ve got the best and brightest from around the world coming to this show,” Purcell says. A thousand private planes carrying movers and shakers land at local airports during the event. “We pay attention to them and educate them about what a great community we have here,” Purcell says.
He introduces them to area universities and marine research institutions that they could help support. They might even be persuaded to open a business in South Florida, or at least move a boat there so they can enjoy its waters.
The show does not just sell boats. It also sells the Florida lifestyle, Purcell says.
On the docks
If there was a theme to the exhibits, it’s that manufacturers are riding the extended economic recovery with a wave of new product. Bigger was still clearly the emphasis among perennial exhibitors, but other major players showcased entry-level boats or filled out middle spots in model lines.
Boston Whaler brought a fleet headlined by the new 330 Outrage center console, which has options for Mercury Joystick Piloting and Skyhook station-keeping.
After introducing several new boats at the 2014 FLIBS, highlighted by the L650 Express, Sea Ray this year premiered two new models — the 400 Sundancer and 400 Fly sport yachts. The new designs continue Sea Ray’s focus on “harmoniously” incorporating indoor and outdoor space with expansive saloons and an abundant use of windows.
Viking Yachts premiered its 80 Convertible and announced several yachts that are “coming soon” — a 48 Convertible, 80 Enclosed Bridge Convertible and 82 Cockpit Motor Yacht. Viking also is expanding its New Jersey manufacturing plant and its Riviera Beach service center.
Everglades showcased its new 360LXC, which the builder calls “our official luxury cruising model.” Like many builders known for fishing boats, Everglades is producing more hybrid models that can be fished or cruised.
Sailfish brought its new 325DC, a versatile dual console that combines fishing features and day cruising comforts.
On the smaller end, Four Winns brought three new models — the Vista 255 sport boat, TS 242 ski boat and HD 270 deckboat — and its sister company Wellcraft showcased the new Fisherman 221 bay boat, among several other new models.
Scout Boats debuted its new 231 XS bay boat, a model that complements the 251 XS.
Grady-White brought an enhanced version of its popular Freedom 275 dual console, with an expanded helm area, reconfigured seating for more space in the cockpit and a new deck design. Grady-White also showcased its 33-foot Canyon 336 center console, now with a triple 300-hp outboard option.
The presence of European and other international builders was unmistakable. The Ferretti Group had a fleet of boats that included the American debuts of the Ferretti 550 and Riva 88 Florida.
Azimut/Benetti Group showcased a 19-vessel fleet that featured several yachts making their American debuts, including the Azimut 72, Azimut Magellano 76, Azimut Atlantis 43 and the Azimut 77s, and from the Benetti brand, the Veloce 140 and Delfino 93.
Great Britain’s Sunseeker showcased six of its performance yachts, highlighted by the new Predator 57, which the builder says is its fastest-selling model to date. More than 50 orders have landed in the past six months.
From Australia, Riviera premiered three yachts in the Americas: the 57 and 52 Enclosed Flybridge and the 6000 Sport Yacht.
A sampling of sales
MarineMax had 98 boats over 12 displays, both in the water and at the convention center, including manufacturer displays.“We wrote 110 contracts. That was just under a 20 percent increase year over year for contracts written from last year’s show,” says Paul Cummings, regional president at MarineMax Florida S.E. “I’ve been doing that show for over 20 years, and that was the best Thursday customer traffic we’ve ever seen.”
Boston Whaler, Sea Ray and Scout all brought new boats, and all experienced comparable bumps in sales from the 2014 FLIBS, he says.
“Sales on large outboards were incredibly strong across all brands among customers looking for a combination of comfort, usability and ease of use,” says Cummings, who notes that smaller entry-level boats from Sea Ray and Scout and Scarab jetboats also found buyers at the convention center.
“People are comfortable and confident that things are always getting a little bit better, and they don’t want to waste any more time to take advantage of it.” That’s Cummings’ take on today’s consumer. “They’ve worked very hard, so they are rewarding themselves and their families.”
The Viking Yacht display is always one of the largest and busiest at the show’s Bahia Mar location. “We have activity on 12 boats, including a couple of 66s, and a 55 and a 42 Sport Tower that were sold out of inventory because the buyers didn’t want to wait to build a boat,” Peter Frederiksen, communications director at Viking, said days after the show. “The remaining eight are boats to be built, including an 82, an 80, a pair of 62s and a 52 Sport Tower, then a scattering of others, so it all adds up to a healthy backlog.”
Frederiksen says several people expressed interest in the new 48 Convertible, which is coming to Viking’s VIP gathering in January and to Yacht Miami Beach (formerly known as the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach) in February.
“I think the mood was upbeat in our display, in part because of the 13 boats there,” he says. “I really sensed that people spending this kind of money want to invest in a builder that is on financially sound ground, based on the questions they asked about after-sale service. Customers are looking for value in the money they spend, not in what they think they can save by cutting corners.”
George Hetzel, vice president of sales and marketing for S2 Yachts (parent company of Tiara and Pursuit), says the company’s exhibit spaces were so busy that much of the staff had trouble getting away for a bite to eat.
“We had nonstop traffic in both the Tiara and Pursuit displays,” he says. “Although we don’t share sales numbers, we exceeded last year’s show numbers, which impressed us then,” Hetzel says, noting that 25 to 30 percent of the company’s sales tied to FLIBS are closed in the seven days after the show.
“So far, we are significantly stronger than last year’s show,” he said two days after the show closed, “and sales probably match what we were doing the first quarter of the year, which was 25 to 28 percent better than 2014 Q1. We are extremely happy with the show.”
Hetzel says the new Tiara 39 Coupe did well with consumers, but the company saw significant interest in the 44 and 48 Coupes.
Boston Whaler “sold well over $10 million in boats at the show,” says Jeff Vaughn, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service. “Our sales were up, for sure,” he says. “I can’t tell you specifically how many boats we sold, but I can say it was dozens. The larger-boat segment, from about 25 feet and up, continues to be strong at this show. The 420 Outrage continues to draw attention. And some of our older models, like the 370 Outrage, did well. There was also more activity with our cabin boats than we anticipated.”
Whaler introduced a new 330 Outrage at the show. Consumers are still highly interested in outboard power, he says. “It is not just the brand-new boats that are benefiting from the outboard’s strength. It is good for all of our boats. Offshore fishing boats are selling.”
Sightseeing from the docks
Walking around the big stage that is FLIBS, there was no shortage of news. The iconic Bertram brand is re-emerging with a new owner, new leadership and a new design inspired by the legendary Bertram 31.
“We only have one chance to get this right,” Susan Davids, general manager of Bertram, said at a press conference that featured a high-energy video promoting the Bertram 35, which is slated to debut at FLIBS in 2016.
Davids and Tommy Thompson, head of product development, unveiled a rendering of the new boat, which Thompson describes as a “35-foot Bertram 31.”
Thompson also acknowledged the high expectations that are involved in bringing back the revered deep-vee design that founder Dick Bertram made popular five decades ago. “We are being held to a very high standard,” he told the gathering. “This can’t be just any boat. It has to be a Bertram.”
The boat was designed by Michael Peters Yacht Design of Sarasota, Fla., and will initially be available in two configurations — one for sport fishing and another for cruising. The prototypes will be built by Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding in Thomaston, Maine.
Last March, Bertram was purchased from the Ferretti Group by Argo Finanziaria, a division of the Gavio Group, a family-owned Italian industrial company headed by Beniamino Gavio, who says the new Bertrams will be simple and strong.
Regulator Marine unveiled its new Regulator 41 — and a redesigned Regulator 34. “We really had this Florida market in mind when we designed the 41,” says president and co-founder Joan Maxwell. “Regulators are known for their ride — not their speed — but this boat delivers both, with a top end of 63 mph with quad Yamaha 350s and a full tower.”
Zodiac Nautic, the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of RIBs and inflatables, said at the show that the industry and consumers should expect a significant revival of the venerable brand.
“Zodiac is a wonderful brand. I am no miracle worker, but Zodiac is a sleeping giant,” says CEO Dominique Heber-Suffrin, who assumed ownership with partners in July after years of financial trouble for the iconic French builder.
Heber-Suffrin says the U.S. market accounts for 40 percent of Zodiac’s global business and that under his leadership “accelerated growth here in the U.S.” will be a priority.
Zodiac has manufacturing plants in France, Tunisia and South Carolina. Heber-Suffrin promised new-boat introductions at the Miami International Boat Show in February, a renewed marketing campaign, new incentive programs for consumers and a reintroduction of the Avon brand.
Hatteras Yachts made a splash with its new 70 Motor Yacht and a pledge from CEO John Ward that the builder’s goal is to produce two new models each year. “We’re very excited about the progress we’ve made since the company was sold two years ago,” Ward told a press conference. “We will continue to make significant investment in new product because that’s what drives our industry.”
Ward says Hatteras already has sold hull No. 5 of the new 70, a smaller version of the 100-foot motoryacht the company introduced last year, and he promised a 90-foot model for the 2017 Miami shows.
“We all know Hatteras is a great brand with a wonderful history, and it’s our job to keep that at the forefront going forward,” he says.
S2 Yachts debuted new models for its Pursuit and Tiara brands. With 19 Tiara and Pursuit boats at the show, including four new models, S2 Yachts CEO Tom Slikkers says it was the “biggest, baddest display our company has ever had.”
On the Tiara side are the new 39 Coupe and the Q44 Adventure Yacht, which was introduced this spring. On the Pursuit side are the OS 355 and the C 238, a 23-footer that will bring “new vitalized content to the center console market,” Slikkers says.
The company also unveiled a model of its S 408 center console with triple 350 Yamaha 4-strokes that will debut in February in Miami. A DC 295 dual console also will be introduced there.
Chris-Craft unveiled a new range to its lineup — its first dual console, the Calypso 26. “When Steve and I bought Chris-Craft 15 years ago, the company was really just runabouts and center consoles,” Chris-Craft Corp. chairman Stephen Julius says of business partner and president and CEO Stephen Heese. “Since then we have proven that with our brand name, we can ride multiple horses.”
Julius says the company is already working on a Calypso 30. “We will continue to work up and down [in size], with both dual consoles and center consoles,” he says, hinting at the 40-foot mark. “You could see some with a “4” in front of it in time.”
The Calypso 26 at the show was powered by twin Yamaha 200s. Joystick control is an option. With a single 350-hp engine, the boat should top 50 mph, Julius says.
Active Interest Media, whose titles include Soundings Trade Only, announced plans to bring the pages of its acclaimed quarterly Anglers Journal to life with a television show. Launched in 2014, Anglers Journal celebrates the best writing, photography, illustration, design and sporting art on fishing.
Longtime fisherman and magazine editor John Brownlee will host Anglers Journal Television, which is in production and is expected to debut June 26, 2016, on Destination America, part of the Discovery Channel networks.
“The show will feature the same high production value that Warren Miller Entertainment is known for producing,” says Brownlee. “Like the magazine, it’s going to be as much about the people and the places where we’re going as the fishing. Viewers can expect strong storytelling from a fast-paced show that’s really fun to watch.”
The first 30-minute episode was to be shot in November in Hopedale, La., which is known for big redfish. “We are planning to shoot other episodes in the Carolinas, three or four in Florida, including the Keys, one on Rhode Island’s Block Island, and we’ll shoot one in Cuba in coordination with the Gamefish Grande Championship, set to debut in June in Varadero and Havana,” Brownlee says.
The time slot for first-run Anglers Journal Television shows is 9:30 a.m. EST.
Arawak, a 1996 Grand Banks 42 being restored by the AIM Marine Group and sponsoring partners for a project known as My Boatworks (betterpowerboat.com), made its FLIBS debut. The project boat is taking shape with the help of partners that include Aqualuma, Awlgrip/Interlux, ESI, Michigan Wheel, Northern Lights, Simrad, Vetus-Maxwell and Yanmar. Arawak is expected to make appearances in 2016 at Yacht Miami Beach (formerly known as the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach) and the Palm Beach Internaional Boat Show.
The Bahamas Billfish Championship, which AIM purchased last year, will return with four tournaments in 2016. A new marlin tournament is also planned for Cuba.
The BBC dates are as follows: Guana Cay Championship, May 2-6; Nassau Championship, May 16-20; Harbour Island Championship, May 29-June 3; and the Cape Eleuthera Championship, June 13-17.
The new Cuban marlin tournament, known as the Gamefish Grande Championship, is slated for June 20-25 in Varadero and June 27-July 2 in Havana. Varadero has more than 50 resorts and hotels on the peninsula. The base for tournament boats is the new Marina Gaviota, the largest marina in the Caribbean, at 1,160 slips, and one of the largest on the U.S. East Coast.
For the second leg, anglers will fish the “Hemingway Mile” off Havana, where legendary author and fisherman Ernest Hemingway landed some of his record catches. Marina Hemingway will serve as the base and is the location of Gamefish Grande partner the Hemingway International Yacht Club. AIM is running the Cuba tournaments in partnership with the Billfish Foundation, the Hemingway International Yacht Club and Marina Gaviota.
Managing Editor Rich Armstrong contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue.