Despite a persistent blanket of clouds, rain held off and the Newport International Boat Show got off to a strong start Thursday with a solid turnout for the VIP day.
The Rhode Island show opened to a quality field of attendees and, with a blue-sky forecast for the weekend, optimism was high among exhibitors and show organizers.
“Activity was extremely strong in our office and on the docks,” Newport Exhibition Group director Tom Delotto said. “Early indicators are that sales are looking strong.”
The show was expanded this year. An additional basin was opened for exhibitor boats.
“And we filled it, which is a testament to the industry,” Delotto said. “From everybody I’ve talked to so far, I’m hearing the same sense of optimism.”
NMMA president Thom Dammrich was among three speakers at the show’s annual State of the Industry press conference, and he presented reams of data to support his positive industry forecast.
“The industry has turned around and sales are improving,” Dammrich said after his talk. “All indicators are that sales are going to increase over the next couple of years.”
The show opened to the general public at 10 a.m. today and will run through Sunday. Nearly 750 exhibitors displaying equipment, accessories and boats from 15 to 85 feet are along America’s Cup Avenue in downtown Newport.
Delotto said another early indicator of re-emerging interest in the boating lifestyle can be found in the numbers of the Discover Boating Hands On Skills Training program, which offers daily introductions to sail or powerboat training classes by Coast Guard-licensed captains.
“Pre-registrations are 250 percent ahead of last year, the first year we held HOST,” Delotto said. “Since it’s a pay-for-play program, the fact that people are willing to pay $100 for a three-hour training session tells me they are committed.”
About 200 people had registered for training as of Friday morning, up from less than 70 at the same time last year. Walk-ups and website registrations are still coming in each day, Delotto said.
Three powerboats and three sailboats are being launched from the outer dock as training platforms.
“We find that hands-on skills training sells boats and sells boats at boat shows,” Dammrich added.
— Rich Armstrong