SARASOTA, Fla. — The 33rd annual Suncoast Boat Show wrapped up Sunday with boat manufacturers, dealers and marine vendors confirming that “the buyers are back” as they reported strong sales and promising follow-up business.
“At this show, you have a high number of quality buyers in a small venue, “ said Steven R. Stevens, a yacht broker at Sarasota Yacht & Ship who was closing a deal on a 2005 Meriden 368 motoryacht. “It’s a multifaceted show that has everything from center consoles to trawlers to motoryachts. It has great variety.”
Buyers are less cautious about spending money these days, said Jimmy Rogers, a yacht broker at Tom George Yacht Group. “We are seeing the impulse buyer come back,” he said. “People are coming to buy instead of kicking the tires or just out to spend a nice day at a boat show.”
Case in point: Rogers said he sold a Cobalt R7 27-foot bowrider to a “gentleman who just came up to the boat and said, ‘I want that boat — I will buy it for whatever it takes.’ ”
Chris Juall, founder of Lazy Bunz water floats, was enjoying robust sales after coming off a successful Palm Beach International Boat Show.
“The quality buyers are here,” said Juall, a vendor for the last three shows. “We are seeing a lot of repeat buyers.”
MarineMax, one of the world’s largest boat retailers, sold 15 boats Friday at the show.
“Last year at the [Suncoast] show we set a target of 17 boats and sold 30 boats [during the show],” said Jason LeFevre, MarineMax Sarasota general manager. “Our goal this year is to sell 30 boats.”
This year MarineMax brought 23 boats to the show, several more than last year.
Although most of the boats MarineMax sold Friday were Boston Whalers, the retailer featured a range of sizes and brands along its docks, including Boston Whalers, Sea Rays, Meridians and an Azimut 55S.
MarineMax featured the Boston Whaler 320 Vantage and the 420 Outrage at the show. The 32-foot boat won a National Marine Manufacturers Association Innovation Award in the deckboat category at the Miami International Boat Show in February. The 420 is Boston Whaler’s largest model.
Galati Yacht Sales brought 22 boats to the show, its largest number ever. The show’s Galati fleet included a 40-meter (130 feet) $16.9 million Westport, the largest yacht at the show. Other Galati boats were from the Tiara, Prestige, Viking and Grand Banks brands.
“We are very confident in what’s happening in the market right now,” Galati vice president Darren Plymale said. “Not only are our sales growing, but our size is growing.”
Galati has added staff and now has seven locations on the Gulf Coast and one in Costa Rica. “Our business mirrors the stock market,” Plymale said. “When it goes up, so do our sales.”
Plymale said Galati markets to its database before the show and encourages consumers to attend the show.
This year’s show, which opened Thursday, offered for the first time three days of seminars and hands-on skill training for powerboaters, organized by Discover Boating. Seminars included Advanced Docking; Powerboating Made Easy; Close Quarters Powerboat Handling; First Mate Skills; Open Water Skills; and Anchoring.
‘We’ve put 5,000 people out on the water through these seminars,” Discover Boating’s Tom Knighten said. He said the seminars have exposed people to powerboating and sailing from San Francisco to Miami.
Capt. Mike Singleton of the Cruising Florida Powerboat Academy said Friday morning’s seminar was well received. Singleton told five participants during the Close Quarters handling seminar that close-quarters control is all about managing inertia.
“We’re just managing energy,” he said.
The boaters practiced back and fill maneuvers on a Sea Ray 300 Sundeck. Paul Oaks joined Friday’s seminar to learn more about different types of boats. Oaks said he has a pontoon boat on Lake Windward in Alpharetta, Ga., but he’s building a house on the Manatee River and would like to buy a second boat. On-water experience during the seminars and exposure to many types of boats at the show will help him make his decision, he said.
This show is getting bigger every year, said Show Management’s Danny Grant. It has physically expanded to the south side of the marina.
There is a strong mid-range boat selection, Grant said, but consumers found all types and sizes of powerboats at the show — trailer-size boats, flats boats, cruisers and 40- and 50-foot motoryachts. The largest boat at Suncoast last year was a 110-foot Broward. This year the 130-foot Westport was the largest, Grant said.
The Discover Boating seminars help new boaters alleviate apprehension by working with a Coast Guard-licensed captain. Some charter boat options are also present at the show, he said.
“We are bringing different kinds of boating and different elements to this show,” Grant said. “Everything from 15-foot affordable skiffs to $16 million megayachts. There are a lot of different ways to get into the boating lifestyle. Each different element can bring in people who may turn into customers and buyers.”
Active Interest Media owns show producer and owner Show Management and Soundings Trade Only.
— Executive editor Chris Landry contributed to this story.