NEWPORT, R.I. — The Newport International Boat Show had robust traffic during the most of the four-day event, but rain on the opening day Thursday meant buyers came out Friday through Sunday instead.
“Ticket sales were on par with last year, which was a banner year at NIBS,” said show director Nancy Piffard. “With the unique situation of non-gated areas along the wharves, it is difficult to garner an exact body count, and this year we took over more of those areas with exhibitor displays due to the construction of Hammett Wharf Hotel. Friday and Saturday were by far our highest attendance.”
Though some builders forecasted a softening in the market, sales and interest in Newport didn’t reflect that.
“Definitely the growth has slowed down in general, but we’re still selling boats,” Boston Whaler president Nicholas Stickler told Trade Only Today. “Boats keep getting bigger.”
Boston Whaler sold 18 boats at the show, the “best showing in many years,” said Boston Whaler East Coast business manager Doug Nettles.
Aviara, the new brand from MasterCraft Boat Holdings, had hull No. 6 of its first model, the AV32, on display with MarineMax, and brand manager Rob Nye said the boat was hitting a unique place in the market.
“We’re in full production and it’s being very well received,” said Nye. “It’s progressive luxury, modern comfort, and functionality. We kept the helm nice and clean, and it’s very linear. We’re very happy with it. We’re trying to come in for that buyer that wants something different, but at a more attainable price point.”
The boat retails under $350,000.
The Sabre and Back Cove booth was busy, and the 37O continued to appeal to buyers at the show. The company brought the 38th hull, with 37 sold, and has orders through 60 — about a year out for production, said Sabre and Back Cove sales and marketing vice president Bentley Collins.
“We’re introducing another one, a 39-footer,” said Collins. “This time next year we’ll have the 39O here. The drawings are out there, customers are already telling us they want it. We hope to have a big backlog next year. Obviously we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing with the diesel inboard boats, but outboards are where we’re expanding.”
A new Sabre 58 is also on the horizon, and the company has already sold 12 from the drawings alone, said Collins. Still, the company is being cautious of a potential slowdown, he said.
“We feel like the market is going to cool, so we’re not going to be overly aggressive,” said Collins. “But, we’ve been restrained with production because of staffing, so I feel like things are going to level out.”
The European market has been active, but tariffs have prevented American boatbuilders from doing well there, said Collins.
“We can’t really export there, but there are no barriers to Europeans coming here,” said Collins. “But we don’t see a lot of competition; we’re in a size segment that doesn’t seem to work well for Europeans. Establishing a new brand in this market is really hard. The only way you can get into the market is by pricing competitively.”
Stickler, who had just arrived in Newport from the Cannes Yachting Festival, agreed that tariffs have created a barrier to exporting boats.
“The 42-foot Whaler Outrage was priced at 1.7 million euros,” said Stickler. “None of our competitors were there. Between tariffs and the exchange rate, it makes it tough.”
The new Sōlace by Stephen Dougherty had interested buyers and was going to go out on a sea trial with one family on Saturday, said Sōlace president Todd Albrecht, adding that the 345 center console generated a lot of interest at the show because of its versatility.
“It has to be a boat for all people,” said Albrecht. “You can’t just have a fish boat, there are enough of those in the market already. It has to be something that incorporates all kinds of activities.