The Progressive New England Boat Show, which ran Feb. 10-18 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, wrapped up with 50,997 visitors, the highest attendance at the show since 2010.
Attendance was up 9 percent from 2017, which had a snowstorm on opening weekend, and was up from the previous record attendance in 2016, which was 50,706.
Exhibitors reported strong sales, with some saying it was their best show yet in Boston, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
“Someone came in on Friday and bought a 38-foot Sabre,” said Michael Myers with Boston Yacht. “It was unexpected; the buyer was not on our radar. He’s had boats before but never had bought one from us.”
Show-goers were talking about Boston Yacht’s brands, which include Back Cove, Hatteras and Sabre, Myers said: “I’ve not heard one person talk about the stock market. I’ve not heard one person talk about the geopolitical situation. It’s nothing but positive.”
February was a wild month for the stock market, with two 1,000-point plunges for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but boat buyers were not deterred.
“After the stock market crash of 1987, Hatteras had the best year in history,” Myers said. “I feel very confident for 2018.”
Wally Eastman with Monahan’s Marine in Weymouth, Mass., which sells Achilles and Highfield inflatables along with Hobie, NorthCoast and Tidewater boats, said the show’s opening weekend was much stronger than in 2017.
“It’s been a very good show,” Eastman said. “There are no worries about the stock market; nothing about rates is making people nervous. Business has been strong.”
Nat Bryant with Burr Bros. Boats and Nauset Marine, a Boston Whaler dealer with a location in Marion, Mass., said, “Yesterday and today we’re fighting them off.”
The “Touch a Boat” tour for kids had about 1,850 participants, and Boston’s ABC TV affiliate covered the show, interviewing winter-weary attendees. Organizers also promoted the show’s first Boating Career Day, which drew about 100 students.
During the event, 3A Marine founder Ed Lofgren told students that the marine industry is desperate for service technicians, mechanics and manufacturers.
“We have a very successful boat dealership,” Lofgren said. “I learned along the way it was all based on service. Even my sales were based on service.” Lofgren had intended to blanket the south shore of Massachusetts with two additional dealerships, but has been unable to attain his dream, he told about 90 students from Cape Cod, Boston and Maine. “It did not happen — not because I didn’t have the expertise, not because I didn’t have the financial resources — I did not have you,” Lofgren said. “I did not have enough marine technicians to do the service that is necessary in the boat dealership. So, I fell short of my dream.”
The marine industry is important to Massachusetts, said state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta, who addressed the students on February 12
“We are in a state of full employment,” Acosta said. “That means employers are looking for workers. They are willing to train you, pay you, make you happy so they can keep you. Thirty percent is technical skill.”
The other 70 percent of what employers look for is “soft skills,” she said:
“They want to know that you want to be there.” Acosta emphasized that careers often take new paths, and that although kids had career opportunities without needing four-year degrees, they might choose to obtain one later, and potentially return to the industry in a different capacity.
Students of all ages, from high-schoolers to adult learners, seemed engaged in the stories from panelists and speakers who explained their sometimes-meandering paths into the marine industry. Massachusetts Marine Trades Association Executive Director Randall Lyons said he’d cleaned heads at a marina during summers before moving on to other positions.
Panelists also included Alyssa Linkamper of Brewer Onset Bay Marina, who began her career in the military; Stephanie McLaughlin of Brewer Plymouth; Goose Hummock, lead service manager John Bernier; Lofgren; Tim Moll, regional vice president of New England and East for Safe Harbor Marinas; Scott Smith, principal at Boston BoatWorks, which builds MJM Yachts; Boston Whaler regional sales manager Doug Nettles; and Larry Russo with MarineMax Russo.
They outlined pay scale and opportunities for advancement in the industry to students who seemed surprised to learn they could earn six figures as a marine technician.
The students came from The Landing School in Maine, the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School and the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School,
“This is a great opportunity,” Lofgren said after the event. “It’s rare to be in front of all these students. I liked the way the secretary said you can come back to the industry even if you decide not to stay. Fourteen people work at 3A in marine service. Half of us have degrees.”
Lyons hit a similar note. “I was impressed with the overall attention span of the students in attendance and the many different questions as well,” Lyons said. “I thought it was a great collaborative event and nice to have the students, schools and hiring businesses in the same room collectively.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue.