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A FLIBS driven by innovation

The big Fort Lauderdale show was busy throughout, as exhibitors rolled out a dazzling array of new products and racked up sales
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Consumer confidence is up — and so was attendance, by 5 percent.

Consumer confidence is up — and so was attendance, by 5 percent.

“Bonkers.” That’s how one exhibitor at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show described the pace of sales at this year’s show to Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III.

“I haven’t heard that word used in years,” says Zimbalist, CEO of Show Management, the show’s producer. Translated into today’s English, it means “very good.”

All of the pieces came together Nov. 3-7 to make for a very good show indeed — an “excellent” one, says Zimbalist. Except for some rain on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 5), the weather was autumn in Florida at its finest, and ongoing investment in innovation across the industry added up to an exciting menu of offerings. “There was a lot of new product out there,” Zimbalist says, in boat designs, engines, equipment, new navigation gear, technology.

MarineMax CEO and president Bill McGill said at the media breakfast on Nov. 3 that new product is vital to the industry’s growth, and he credited new boat models with fueling his chain of 56 dealerships’ unprecedented growth since 2008.

Exhibitors came buttressed by projections of continuing industry growth into 2018. Consumers arrived more confident than they previously had been about their jobs, the economy and the world despite the uncertainty of a presidential election a day after the show concluded.

“Each year people get a little older,” Zimbalist says. They’re saying, “If not now, then when” do I buy that new boat I’ve been dreaming about.

Boston Whaler displayed three new 2016 models — the Outrage 23, 25 and 28. “This was our most successful show ever, both in units and in dollars,” says Jeff Vaughn, Whaler’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer service.

Sales were especially brisk in boats larger than 35 feet — the 420 and 370 Outrage in particular. “There was a little less activity in the smaller boats,” he says. Most of the sales were to buyers from Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Marquis-Larson Group also posted good results. “Overall, we are happy with the outcome of this year’s FLIBS,” says Matthew Vetzner, the group’s vice president of marketing. “After an extremely slow start on Thursday, both of our displays — Striper in the convention center and Carver & Marquis Yachts at Bahia Mar — had strong traffic, very interested prospects and sales. Our participating dealer partners at both displays are currently working deals and have many leads to follow up with.”

Vetzner says consumers overall were upbeat, engaged and interested in the boats.

“Brokerage boat sales were strong, as well,” says Zimbalist, but new-boat sales were stronger. “People were out looking for that new boat to buy.”

Volvo Penta global president Björn Ingemanson introduces a new diesel inboard (and IPS drive) to journalists at the show.

Volvo Penta global president Björn Ingemanson introduces a new diesel inboard (and IPS drive) to journalists at the show.

Attendance was up 5 percent from 2015, the Show Management CEO says. The company doesn’t release exact figures, but pegs visitors at about 100,000.

The 2016 show was the biggest ever, about 3 million square feet at seven sites, Zimbalist says, and although the number of exhibitors — about 1,000 — was down slightly, many bought more space, accounting for the event’s growth in size.

Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show, described it as “amazing.” He and Zimbalist see it as a kind of melting pot that throws all kinds of people together to the benefit of the community, the boating industry, local business and ocean research.

Among those walking the docks: SpaceX co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, retired college and NFL football coach Jimmy Johnson, actor Keanu Reeves and JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, but also the presidents of four ocean research universities — Nova Southeastern, Florida International and Florida Atlantic universities, and the University of Miami.

Purcell is using the show to help brand South Florida as an ocean research hub and to bring researchers together with wealthy yacht owners and philanthropists who can fund research and might see the area as a good place to live, retire or locate a business.

“We’re not just introducing people to boats,” he says. “We’re introducing them to the South Florida brand. Maybe they’ll invest in a home here or set up a business here.”

Purcell notes, too, that the show’s impact extends beyond the five days it is in town. “This show funds 360 days a year of economic activity,” he says. “We are the middle-class job creator of this community.” Its economic impact on South Florida is $857 million, bigger than a Super Bowl, he says.

Purcell says the community rallies around the show to make sure it comes off well through the involvement of the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, fire and police departments, the Broward Alliance business group, the Florida Inland Navigation District and others. “The whole community embraces it,” he says.

Zimbalist says he was particularly pleased with the way the Show Management team performed this year in setting up the show and settling exhibitors into their displays. “This show gets more and more complex every year,” he says. “The exhibitors are all upping their games. They’re building bigger and more complex booths. We’ve got a new food court this year with three restaurants. We’re equipping those. Yet this was by far the most seamless setup we’ve had. It’s a tribute to the whole team.”

Zimbalist says Show Management won’t be resting on its laurels, but is looking forward to more show improvements: working with Broward County to expand the convention center, expanding the sailboat and catamaran show at the Pier 66 Hyatt Regency Hotel & Marina and drawing more visitors from Russia and the Middle East.

“I think the show has come along beautifully as we wanted it to, but there’s still a lot of room for growth and improvements,” he says.

On the docks with Chris Landry

Boatbuilders debuted everything from center consoles to motoryachts to jetboats at the show. Most press introductions took place on Thursday, which got the show off on a positive note. The number of new-boat introductions for the past three years has reflected the industry’s vitality and continued developments in technology and boat design.

The new powerboats from Groupe Beneteau have been coming fast and furious for several years now. And from all indications, it’s not stopping any time soon, especially now that Beneteau owns four American brands (Four Winns, Wellcraft/Scarab and Glastron.)

The group brought a team of executives to its press conference to update the media on its worldwide growth, market share in North America and new models. About 100 journalists packed a large conference room at the Bahia Mar (standing room only.)

Beneteau outlined a list of facts about the company. The French builder has 32 new models and is investing $100 million in North American operations.

The company offers 161 models of powerboats and 47 models of sailboats. Powerboats account for 60 percent of its products, and sailboats 40 percent. North America now accounts for 31 percent of the group’s revenue. It has 7,000 employees worldwide and 25 production sites in five countries.

Eight of the company’s 10 brands were on display, including 10 new models. Beneteau introduced the Gran Turismo GT40 and GT46, stepped-hull boats with Volvo Penta IPS. The Swift Trawler 30 made its Fort Lauderdale debut here, too. The American-made brands were well represented with the new Four Winns HD220 — in inboard and outboard versions — and the Scarab 195 Open and Open Fish jetboats.

“This is a new boat for the millennials,” Christophe Lavigne, vice president of engineering for the group’s American-made brands, says of the Scarab boats. “It’s not so much about the boat, but what you do with it. It’s the experience they’re looking for.”

Pretty tough cat

Over at the convention center, the leaders of World Cat, based in Tarboro, N.C., were pumped up about their new 280CC-X — a boat that marks its next generation of power catamarans. This and future World Cats will meld improved aesthetics and advanced features with a proven seakindly performance.

So monohull owners might want to take a closer look at today’s World Cat, says president Andrew Brown. “We don’t want to just compete against other catamaran companies,” says Brown. “This boat is making a statement. We no longer want to be a niche. We want to go after anyone looking for an outboard-powered boat.”

World Cat has given more shape to the sheerline, with a broken sheer. It also has a reverse transom with tumblehome. The rubrail has been moved higher to give it a sleeker profile. High-end features include C-Zone digital switching; the Optimus 360 System with electronic steering, SeaStation and joystick; an aerodynamic hardtop; and a through-hull bow anchor holder with an internally mounted windlass.

Formulas with outboards

Enthusiasm was brimming at the Formula dock display back at Bahia Mar. The Indiana builder announced its first outboard-powered boats in decades — the 430 SSC and 350 CBR (Crossover Bowrider). Standing in the cockpit just forward of four Mercury 400R outboards, Formula president Scott Porter and John Adams, the company’s exclusive designer, explained the benefits of the 430 SSC to about 75 media representatives.

“We think we’ve defined a whole new type of boat while also expanding the Formula DNA,” says Adams.

The boat has an open bow and a flush deck with huge seating areas. The company used Facebook Live to allow its employees back in Decatur, Ind., to watch the boat-show introduction of the 430 SSC. That was pretty cool, I thought.

“It was a team effort, and they deserved to be a part of this,” Adams told me.

Sunseeker's display at the show.

Sunseeker's display at the show.

Numarine 60 Fly

Responding to consumer demand for flybridge yachts, Turkish boatbuilder Numarine introduced its 60 Fly, showing this sporty long-range cruiser alongside its new U.S. sales and service partner, Bradford Marine. Bradford, a family-owned business in Fort Lauderdale, will handle sales and after-sales service for Numarine in the United States and Canada. Third-generation Bradford Marine family member Jack Nitabach has taken the helm of Numarine USA.

“We’ve had a great response from consumers at the show,” says Nitabach, who sold a 60 Fly on the first day. “Sometimes they’re leery of buying overseas; that’s why this partnership is going to be effective. It will build consumer confidence and help grow the brand.”

The last five Numarine yachts sold in the United States have been flybridge models, says Antonio Caviglia, the builder’s sales and marketing director.

The 60 Fly runs with a standard propulsion package of twin IPS950s. Optional power includes the IPS1200s or 1,000- or 1,200-hp MAN diesels. The boat at the show had the 1,200-hp MANs, which push the yacht to a top speed of 37 knots and a 31-knot cruise. She holds 845 gallons of fuel and has a range of as much as 450 nautical miles.

Regulator’s ‘sweet spot’

Regulator Marine has a new 31-footer that “hits the sweet spot between the 28 and 34,” company president Joan Maxwell said during a press conference.

The boat is a hard-core fishing machine that gives owners more space without sacrificing performance, and it has every amenity a boater needs for a day on the water with family and friends, said Maxwell.

Regulator has powered the new boat with twin Yamaha F300s on an Armstrong bracket. Like the Regulator 41, the 31 is built with a starboard dive door and integrated forward seat backrests. It’s a Lou Codega design with a 24-degree deep-vee hull. Would you expect anything else from Regulator?

Maxwell also took the opportunity to announce that the builder has an exclusive electronics partnership with Garmin.

Albemarle’s 29 Express

Center consoles loomed large at the show, but the market segment that wants the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin in a fishing and cruising boat is still a healthy one, says Ted Haigler, director of sales and marketing for Albemarle. The company’s new 29 Express addresses that market, he says.

“People get tired of hanging on to the T-top [of center consoles] and want to sit in an air-conditioned enclosed space,” says Haigler. Twin 300- or 350-hp Yamaha outboards power the ruggedly built boat. With the latter, it can cruise at more than 30 knots with a range of nearly 400 nautical miles.

Propulsion and electronics

Garmin, at its press conference, confirmed its partnership with Regulator.

“We have seven or eight exclusive partnerships with OEMs, and we will continue to cultivate more,” says David Dunn, Garmin senior manager of marine sales and marketing.

Dunn’s presentation highlighted several new products in all three major electronics categories — chart plotting, sonar and radar. The introductions included radomes for its Fantom radar and the GPSMAP 7X2/9X2, 7X2/9X2 XS touch-screen chart plotters and combos. The same units with larger screens of 10 and 12 inches also are new, he says. Garmin has a new VHF radio — the 110/120 AIS marine radios and a new forward-looking sonar for navigation — the Panoptix PS S1-TH FrontVu narrow-beam, forward-looking sonar. “It is primarily for collision avoidance, but can be used secondarily for fishing,” he says.

Volvo Penta held the U.S. premiere of its joystick helm control system — Joystick Inboard — for conventional twin inboard-powered boats, in addition to another model of its Inboard Performance System.

The new IPS couples a new pod (IPS 15) and a new diesel, the D8, which is offered in 600- and 550-hp models. The IPS700 uses the 550-hp D8, and the IPS800 is paired with the 600-hp D8. An 8-liter is an inline 6-cylinder diesel that was put into production on Volvo trucks and buses in 2013. The IPS700/800 bridges the gap between the IPS600 (435 hp) and IPS950 (725 hp).

“The great thing about this system is the inboard joystick can be used across the entire diesel inboard range,” says Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas.

The company also took the opportunity to highlight its strong OEM relationship with Cruisers Yachts. The Cruisers 54 Cantius was designed around the Volvo Penta D8 power plant, says Mark Pedersen, president of KCS international, the parent company of Cruisers.

He calls the Volvo Penta-Cruisers relationship the “ultimate partnership for superior customer satisfaction.”

On the docks with Jim Flannery

Not to be ignored

Demographic projections tell the story, National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich said at a meeting of the Marine Marketers of America.

More than 52 percent of American homeowners will be Hispanic by 2030, and the number of Hispanic-owned small businesses will grow 47 percent during that period. This group accounted for $1.3 trillion in buying power in 2015.

Meanwhile, the income growth of African Americans is outpacing non-Hispanic white income growth, and their buying power will increase to $1.4 trillion in 2017.

The Asian population is growing four times faster than the white population in this country, and 54 percent of adult Asians have a bachelor’s degree or better, compared with 32.5 percent of the general adult population.

All three groups are young, compared with the general white population. “The data is clear,” Dammrich said. “There is a seismic shift in the demographics of this country, and it’s a great opportunity” for boating businesses to reach out to new markets and reverse the decline in boat ownership, which is attributed to an aging boating population.

However, an October 2016 Boating Industry magazine survey found that 73 percent of marine businesses are “not concerned” or “somewhat not concerned” about increasing diversity, although 32 percent say they are “very concerned” about the aging boating population.

The obvious question: “How are we going to grow this industry if 73 percent of us are not interested in reaching out to a more diverse community?” Dammrich asked.

It’s your problem

A word to the wise: Run at customers’ problems, not away from them, and don’t try to shift blame, Bill McGill, CEO and president of MarineMax, the largest U.S. recreational boat and yacht retailer, said at the boat show media breakfast at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center.

“Whether the customer creates the problem, the manufacturer creates the problem or we create the problem, we have to deal with that problem,” McGill said, answering Bill Sisson, editor-in-chief of Soundings Trade Only and Anglers Journal, in a Q&A.

McGill, whose chain of 56 dealerships showed a 22 percent increase in same-store sales and 25 percent growth overall in fiscal 2016, said he keeps people in boating by immersing them in the lifestyle — offering them boating getaways and charter vacations, and showing his customers that boating really does bring friends and family together.

One of the biggest challenges to growing boating is time, he said. “I hear that from our customers all the time. They’re not able to use their boats as much as they’d like to.” Getaways help his customers cut loose and get on the water.

Another is the cost of boats. “A boat that cost $50,000 10 years ago costs $150,000 today,” partly because of all the electronic gear and technology, McGill said.

He credits MarineMax’s unprecedented double-digit growth each year since 2008 to the avalanche of new product. Boatbuilders “have come out of their cocoon,” he said. “New products are the most important single thing” that has driven sales.

Artist and entrepreneur

Marine artist Guy Harvey, who was at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show for a 30th straight year, was recognized by Broward County Mayor Marty Kiar for his success as an artist and entrepreneur and for his contributions to marine education, research and philanthropy.

Harvey received a key to the county as local dignitaries looked on at a press conference at Fort Lauderdale’s 15th Street Fisheries. The dignitaries included U.S. Rep.Ted Deutch; Dania Mayor Walter Duke; Marine Industries Association of South Florida executive director Phil Purcell; Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, CEO of Show Management, which produces the Fort Lauderdale show; MIASF president Danielle Butler; and Bob Swindell, CEO of the Broward Alliance, a business group.

Starting out at the show selling his art and T-shirts from a cut-out shipping container he shared with another exhibitor, Harvey used it as a launch pad for his art and business. Seventeen years ago, as his success and profits soared, he founded the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and donated money to set up the Guy Harvey Ocean Institute at Nova Southeastern University to study and save the world’s fish resources.

Purcell says the presentation was intended to highlight the importance of entrepreneurs to the show — men such as Harvey and Frank Denison, Broward Yachts’ founder; Henry Burger, of Burger Boats; Roy Merritt, of sportfishing boatbuilder Merritt Yachts; and Bertram founder Dick Bertram, who have navigated “through the good times and the bad times.”

Connectivity service

Designed for yachts 23 meters (75 feet) and larger, e3 Systems’ hybrid communications technology automatically switches the user between 3G/4G cellular and VSAT and L Band (Inmarsat, Iridium) satellite systems so the yacht has connectivity anywhere in the world, says Erik Nieuwmeijer, e3’s group sales director.

“It’s for the professionally crewed yacht,” he says. Connectivity is 99.9 percent, whether the yacht is at the dock, hauled out or in the middle of the ocean.

The crew “doesn’t have to do anything,” he says. “As far as they are concerned, it works. You don’t know why. You don’t need to know why. It’s very difficult for them to be expert in all of this. It takes the worry away. They can just be assured the owner is connected.”

Based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, e3 provides 24/7 tech support. “If there’s a problem, we will have it fixed before the customer knows there’s a problem because we are continuously monitoring the system,” he says.

e3 provides data, voice, TV and Wi-Fi Internet, and it is secure, he says. The hardware consists of an antenna and a console about the size of a desktop computer.

The service price is fixed — about $7,000 a month. The hardware cost ranges from $15,000 for the basic system to $350,000 for a super-sophisticated one, Nieuwmeijer says.

It sounds expensive, but superyachts often spend $10,000 monthly for communications, Nieuwmeijer says, and e3 helps an owner avoid snafus that can plague big yachts, such as the child who downloaded a movie on a charter yacht in Greece where there was no roaming agreement and ran up a $75,000 bill for the owner.

To save money, e3 keeps the yachts’ communications connected to 3G/4G as much as possible and only switches to more expensive satellite service as needed.

e3 Systems’ U.S. headquarters is in Coral Springs, Fla.

Miami mega-marina

Island Gardens Deep Harbour on Miami’s Watson Island is fully operational now with electrical and pumpout hookups, in-slip diesel and gasoline fuel service, Wi-Fi, courtesy cars, parking, 24-hour security and water taxis to Miami and Miami Beach.

“We’re seeing more boats staying for longer periods,” says marina manager Marieke van Peer. “There’s such a shortage of dock space for larger boats in South Florida.”

Just 10 minutes from downtown Miami and South Beach, the megayacht marina has room for 50 yachts and accommodates lengths of as much as 550 feet and drafts to 21 feet. Dockage is both Mediterranean-style stern-to-dock and side-to berthing.

Island Gardens will host the megayacht portion of the Feb. 16-20 Yachts Miami Beach, co-owned by Show Management and the International Yacht Brokers Association, and will offer captains, crew, owners and prospective buyers food, drink and entertainment at The Deck at Island Gardens, the marina’s latest addition.

Developed by Miami nightlife entrepreneurs Michael Capponi and Eric Milon, The Deck is an outdoor lounge that offers music, gourmet cuisine, entertainment, and health and wellness (yoga and exercise) regimens, and a spectacular view of the Miami skyline. The Deck has been hosting Friday-night dinner parties, wellness Saturdays, Sunday brunch and special themed parties.

“We have a lot of fun stuff going on here,” van Peer says, but the marina’s biggest selling point for captains, crews and charter visitors is its proximity to Miami and South Beach and their Latin and cosmopolitan flavor.

“The vibe here is completely different than in Fort Lauderdale,” she says.

A smoother Miami show

The Progressive Miami International Boat Show faced “some challenges” in 2015 at its new venue at Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin on Virginia Key, but “we’ve learned a lot,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which owns the show.

Speaking at a Marine Marketers of America meeting at the Fort Lauderdale show, Dammrich said the Feb. 16-20 NMMA show is “sold out” on land and has expanded its in-water capacity 40 percent, to 550 to 575 boats. It is permitted for 830 in-water boats, he says.

Transportation — bus and water taxi — was the biggest challenge. The water-taxi system was designed to carry 25,000 people to the show last year; it carried 52,000. Dammrich says the NMMA will increase the number of water taxis by 50 percent, boost their capacity and dispatch them from four sites instead of seven to increase the frequency of departures and reduce waits.

“Our capacity will be 25,000 persons a day,” he says.

Show Management, which produces a separate boat show, Yachts Miami Beach, on Collins Avenue on the same dates as the NMMA show, will run shuttle buses between the two shows. No water taxis will link the shows in 2017.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.



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