Based on lots of feedback, the National Marine Manufacturers Association says most of the rough spots in last year’s Miami International Boat Show were ironed out during the show’s second year at Virginia Key.
For many, in fact, the Feb. 16-20 production at the Miami Marine Stadium venue was the best ever Miami show for sales, says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. It featured $3 billion worth of product, with 1,300 boats on display, including 550 in the water. Attendance was up 7 percent, reaching nearly 100,000 from an estimated 30 to 35 countries.
“It was a good show,” says Dammrich. “There’s always a few who are disappointed, but overwhelmingly people were pleased with the show. We received almost unanimous comments that the issues we had [during our inaugural year at the show’s new location] had been resolved. A lot of product sold, a lot of boats sold, people were happy.
“We had a couple of hot days Saturday and Sunday, and the air-conditioning units were not quite up to task in a couple of the tents,” Dammrich says. “We certainly have things to work on for next year — we expected it would take two or three years to iron out all the wrinkles. But we’ll put the same effort into the issues that arose this year into those that arose last year.”
The number of water taxis increased by more than 47 percent from 2016, and higher-capacity vessels were used. At the same time, the number of water-taxi pick-up and drop-off locations was streamlined from seven to four to further meet the high demand for water transportation. “We had one line in the morning at Bayside, where people had to wait 45 minutes for a water taxi, but a big one came and cleared the line,” Dammrich said. “Other than that, I don’t think anybody waited more than 15 minutes.”
The shuttle bus operation was streamlined, as well, from six to five, with one fewer departure location than in 2016, boosting the frequency of trips at all five pick-up locations. The net result was fewer boat show-related car trips on the Rickenbacker Causeway, which connects Virginia Key with the mainland. Overall, attendees again embraced the park-and-ride model. The show counted nearly 90,000 water taxi and shuttle bus rides by attendees who went to or from the show from designated offsite locations.
“We still have some things to work on,” Dammrich says. “The path they put in to Whiskey Joe’s is supposed to be twice as wide as it is. We’ve got to work with them on that.” The widened path would create more space for the drivers who carried people from one end of the show to another to navigate more easily around foot traffic. “There are other things we’re talking to the city and county about that would just improve the whole flow of traffic.”
Great Performances, the new food vendor for the event, “did a great job — we do have to find more seating,” Dammrich says. “But we’ll do that, too.”
Despite the challenges, boat sales are increasing and are expected to ride that momentum for the coming two years, Dammrich said during his annual state-of-the-industry address at the Industry Breakfast. He addressed a crowd of roughly 500, saying consumer confidence is at a 10-year high. “Real disposable income continues to grow,” Dammrich says. “Consumer spending continues to grow. Gasoline prices remain low. We’ve got two, two and a half years of real prosperity ahead.”
The industry still needs to make gains in reaching a younger and more diverse audience, Dammrich says. “The interesting thing is that research is showing us people between the ages of 25 and 34 have a very high interest in the boating lifestyle. In fact, [they have] a higher interest than any other age group.”
Another challenge is getting people to actually buy a boat. Only 2 percent of people who research the purchase of a boat end up pulling the trigger, Dammrich says. That is, in part, attributable to “a lack of transparency of what the real cost of boating is,” he says — people aren’t put off so much by the extra costs, but are repelled by the fact that those costs are not made clear to them. “This is a challenge we’re going to need to deal with,” says Dammrich.
“We have a prospering industry, and a bigger and better show to serve it,” Dammrich says. The industry was up 6 percent in unit sales in 2016 and had an 11 percent increase in dollar sales. It has seen “an acceleration in growth in the last several months,” Dammrich says. According to data from ITR Economics, the industry is expected to peak in the first quarter of 2018, continuing to the first or second quarter of 2019.
Here are a few highlights of events and debuts at the show:
Groupe Beneteau discussed its mix of sailboats and powerboats, ranging from 16 feet with its Scarab brand to 150 feet for its CNB semicustom line, on the first day of the show. The company brought seven brands to the show, including 49 models and 10 new-model debuts. It also had two brands at Yachts Miami Beach, with 12 models and two new debuts, according to Groupe Beneteau Americas CEO George Armendariz. The group brought three brands to Strictly Sail at Bayside, including 18 models and four new-model debuts.
Turnover in 2016 was a little more than 1 billion euros, roughly $1.07 billion at today’s exchange rate. About a third of the company’s turnover is in North America, Armendariz says. Capital expenditures were $100 million for model year 2017 alone, Armendariz says. “Half of that was in new product,” he says. “This year we will have 32 new products across all our brands. Some of them are here, and some you learned about at the presentation. Some are still in prototype phase.”
The rest of the expenditures were used for facilities, Armendariz says. That includes a new factory in Bordeaux, France, as well as a facility in Poland that will be online within 18 months. Christophe Lavigne, vice president of engineering and customer service for the four American brands purchased in June 2014, said the company has been investing in the development of new products.
“With Scarab jet boats, we have something very unique and special this year in Miami,” Lavigne says. “For the first time, we asked millennial designers to design a boat for themselves. They used to design boats for their parents, but we have renewed interest in this generation. We told them — OK, we want to create something new, easy to use.”
The result was the center console jet boat, “a boat for people who value moments more than objects themselves,” Lavigne says. “We wanted simple boats that you don’t have to trim. That was the idea on the Scarab 195 Open.”
Also part of Groupe Beneteau, Jeanneau has substantially grown its display at the show and had 10 North American representatives and 10 South American dealers working the exhibits. “This is one of the only shows where we bring our entire line of inboard boats,” says Jeanneau America president Nick Harvey.
This year the company brought 10 inboards and five outboards, compared with eight inboards and two outboards last year. This year the group brought two Prestige models (zero last year) to Miami Marine Stadium, in addition to the seven it displayed on Collins Avenue at Yachts Miami Beach.
The new Prestige 460 made its debut at the show. “This is a nice surprise,” Harvey said during a press conference. “We kept this boat under wraps until the very last minute. It takes its cues from larger Prestiges like the 630 and 680.”
There is a lot of interest in the NC (New Concept), a “pocket cruiser” that used to be called Merry Fisher but was renamed last year, Harvey says. The NC range comes in 9-meter, 11-meter and 14-meter versions, he said later on the docks. “Those are probably still the most popular boat in the North American market” in regard to the Jeanneau lineup, Harvey said. “I call them transformer boats” because of their versatility and ability to adjust, depending on use. “The NC 11 has been one of our top sellers.”
Sea Ray Boats is hoping its newest Sundancer will spur the industry’s lagging cruiser segment. The Sundancer 320, which made its world debut at the show, is meant to reinvigorate a segment that has flailed since the Great Recession.
Jason Turner, product development and engineering director of sport boats and sport cruisers, was showing the press around some of the new Sea Ray models under 40 feet. “Cruisers used to be the bread and butter for Sea Ray,” Turner says. “Because of that, there had been a lot of product in the used market. But it hasn’t evolved in a long time. That’s what the motivation was to bring something new to the cruiser market. The customer has been telling us they don’t use the conventional cabin the way they did in the past, so we shrunk it to expand the bow area.
“There are two different aft seating configurations, massive storage and a sunpad option,” Turner says. There’s more living space than in the new SLX 400, for example, because the Sundancer is in the cruiser segment, Turner says. The new SLX, dubbed “The Entertainer” by Sea Ray, already has generated huge interest.
“With the 400, you know it’s a hit. This one, [the Sundancer 320], we’re hoping it’s significant to the industry to recharge that cruiser market,” he said. “We’re not trying to take that market; it’s a different demographic we’re after.”
The SLX 400, introduced at the New York Boat Show before it came to Miami, was shown for the first time on the water, with its fold-down patio extended. “The platform swivels out,” says Sea Ray president and general manager of sport boats and sport cruisers Brad Anderson. “You can fit 22 people on this boat.”
Water interaction and entertainment were the keys in designing the new Sea Ray SLX 400, Turner says. “Water interaction is the key, with the articulating platform and the paddleboard storage,” Turner says, opening up a deep storage compartment. “A lot went into that 12 feet of storage space. We didn’t want it all on top; this is all hidden and out of the way.”
That would give boaters more space to enjoy when the toys are aboard, Turner says. “That may be the biggest innovation of the whole boat,” he says.
FLIR Systems announced its new products during a press event on the eve of the show, as well as a new logo and tagline: “Simply superior.” The company unveiled two new compact additions to its popular M-Series marine thermal cameras for recreational boating — the FLIR M100 and M200 — and let marine journalists test its latest generation of Raymarine multifunction displays. “We’ve been focusing on improving our personal interaction,” FLIR general manager Gregoire Outters says.
FLIR’s maritime revenue in 2016 was up 4.4 percent and operating income was up 13 percent, Outters says. The company says the M100 and M200 thermal cameras provide enhanced awareness while fishing, sailing or cruising at night. The Raymarine Axiom MFDs include built-in RealVision 3D sonar powered by the Raymarine Lighthouse 3 operating system.
FLIR’s most compact pan-and-tilt marine thermal cameras to date, the FLIR M100 and M200 are engineered with FLIR’s Boson high-performance thermal camera core, which features an integrated multi-core video processor that the company says delivers superior image quality and artificial intelligence features.
When the M100 and M200 are combined with a Raymarine Axiom MFD, the company says users can take advantage of FLIR’s new ClearCruise intelligent thermal analytics, which bring boaters an advanced level of awareness and safety by visually and audibly alerting the operator when “non-water” objects, such as boats, obstacles or navigation markers, are identified.
“It’s the smallest compact camera we’ve ever made,” says Lou Rota, FLIR vice president of global maritime sales. “This is the most significant lineup of thermal launches that I’ve seen.”
Prices for the Raymarine Axiom MFD Series range from $649.99 to $3,349.99; the new FLIR M-series thermal cameras start at $2,499.99.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.