Boston Whaler president Huw Bower says one of his least favorite things about indoor boat shows is the lack of sunlight.
“There are so many shows that you go to that you never see the light of day,” Bower said from the Whaler display at the Progressive Insurance New England Boat Show in February. “This is my first time at this show, but I really like it. We’ve got this stunning red carpet and the huge windows everywhere.”
As is typical for visitors on their first trip to the show, the immediate reaction was to the venue — the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center with its 40-foot high ceilings that easily accommodate sailboats.
The show, which ran from Feb. 22 to March 2, saw an 8.5 percent attendance gain from the previous year, with 47,115 visitors, compared with 43,424 in 2013. Some exhibitors say that’s because the show didn’t conflict with the Miami boat shows or the Massachusetts school vacation week this year. The fact that winter storms kept others away from Miami also might have worked in the show’s favor.
“I’ve seen at least half a dozen customers come through that couldn’t make it into Miami,” Bower says.
Dave Nolan of Cape Yachts and South Wharf Yacht Yard in South Dartmouth, Mass., says the light traffic in Miami was quality traffic, and agrees that people who couldn’t fly south because of heavy snow and ice were making their way to Boston instead. In addition, those who were away on family trips for winter break were all back. “When the show is timed with vacation week, our customers are away on vacation,” Nolan says.
The Beneteau dealer has had robust sales at the winter shows, including the New England show. The rebounding economy has boat buyers showing interest in the cruiser market for the first time in years, say Tim and Lou Bassett of Westbrook, Conn.-based Louis Marine, adding that the Jeanneau brand they represent has been selling well.
“People got out of big boats for a while, but now, with the economy coming back we’re seeing people buying boats,” Tim Bassett says. “We’ve already gotten two people on the Merry Fisher 855,” which comes equipped with Yamaha outboards.
There were also deals working on the Leader 40 Sport Coupe, which made its North American debut at the New England show with hull No. 4, Lou Bassett says.
“We’re seeing more interest in the 28- to 40-foot range,” he says. “It’s my smaller bowriders that aren’t getting the traffic. A lady saw the bow of the Leader 40 from the other side of the building, and she’s ready for sea trials. There’s a lot of excitement in the bigger express cruisers.”
The Bassetts ordered more large product for Louis Marine, based on the interest they say started last year. “You’ve got a 28-foot boat with two closed staterooms and outboard engines, which people want,” Tim says, gesturing toward the Merry Fisher 855. “It’s innovative. It’s different from everything else out there. People are gravitating to some of the European brands.”
Scott Lucas of Boston Yacht Sales agrees that larger boats have drawn more interest and inquiries over the past few months. “The bigger boats are getting busy,” Lucas says. “We’ve had lots of phone calls. That had been few and far between for the last few years.”
The company, which has long sold Hatteras yachts and the Sabre and Back Cove brands, among others, recently picked up Princess Yachts. “We hadn’t had a boat for that type of buyer, and there are types of buyers,” Lucas says.
Larger Hatteras boats saw a great turnout in Miami, selling two 100-foot boats, an 80 and a 60, says Boston Yacht Sales co-owner Rhonda Corey-Myers.
The New England show sold out of exhibition space and had to trim some attractions, such as remote-controlled sailboats, to meet demand, says show manager Joe O’Neal. “We were just sold out solid, with no ability to add space.”
The remote-controlled sailboats that delighted children at last year’s show were among the activities cut to fit in new exhibitors, including three new sailboat companies that displayed Dehler, Blue Jacket and Bavaria. The convention center, with its vaulted ceilings, creates an optimal indoor display venue for boats, something that more companies were catching on to, O’Neal says. “There has been some good activity in the sailboat market,” he says.
Mike Fulcher of Bosun’s Marine, with four Massachusetts locations, says the Chaparral 327 SSX and the 370 Signature Cruiser have been doing well. “They’ve both been big at the show so far and we should generate some sales from that,” he says.
“It’s been very good for both leads and sales,” says Michael Bodnar, general manager of Fay’s Boat Yard on Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire, who was sharing a booth with Bosun’s. “The weather this weekend definitely helped get people in the mood.”
Highs in the Boston area cracked 50 during the first weekend of the show, with sunshine providing a welcome reprieve from the snowy weather that has pummeled the region. “This is the best two-day start we’ve ever had,” says Chris Lufkin, who represents EdgeWater Power Boats, Hornet Marine and Ribcraft USA as president of Marine Industry Advisors LLC.
“We’ve sold nine EdgeWaters so far, and they’re at a higher price point for their size range,” Fulcher says, noting that sales were to all age ranges of people trading up, and down, and that they were seeing more families than in years past.
Larry Russo of Russo Marine says Boston Whaler, a market leader in the saltwater fish segment, also performed well during the show’s first weekend. “Whaler was just great, and attendance was way up over the weekend,” Russo says. “We had great weather. The new and pre-owned activity was stronger in the first weekend than it’s been in years.”
Greenline, a Slovenian hybrid that Russo Marine has taken on in recent years, also had a lot of traffic on Monday. Several people waited to look at the 40 and the 33. The latter had a clear panel over the engine so curious consumers could see how it worked, Russo says.
“The boat appeals to the Tesla owners,” says Larry Russo Jr., who operates the family business with his parents and brother. “They were crowded all weekend.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.