The Providence Boat Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center was a day shorter this year, but saw a 10 percent increase in attendance. The Feb. 3-5 show drew more than 140 exhibitors with a fleet ranging from small paddle craft and inflatables to powerboats in the 20- to 30-foot range.
The display was coupled with free seminars on sport fishing and seamanship, brokers representing listings of pre-owned boats, boating clubs, sea-to-table food preparation demos, an indoor pool and premium learning opportunities, such as a two-hour seminar for women who want to get more involved in the sport.
“We had a real buying crowd,” says Wendy Mackie, CEO of show owner Rhode Island Marine Trades Association.
Sales were the highest they’ve been since RIMTA purchased the show in 2013, Mackie says. Several dealers reported a strong opening day that continued through the weekend for results that met or exceeded their sales targets, including Inland Marine, Lakeview Marine and Maritime Solutions. An informal survey of exhibitors by show management at the closing revealed that nearly 90 watercraft (including paddle craft) were sold at the show. Many exhibitors left with promising leads.
The show made headway on one of the industry’s biggest challenges — getting new people involved in boating. Guy Gauvin, of East Coast Paddle Sports, had 17 sales, half to current water enthusiasts and half to newcomers.
Exhibitors that marketed to a more experienced, established boater also reported strong results. For Al Elson of Striper Marina, who showcased models from Cobia, Key West and Pursuit, sales increased sharply from the previous year’s show.
Jack Martone, of Wood Boat & Motor, had a strong opening day, with two boat sales by late afternoon. Martone, who showcased models from Campion, Carolina Skiff and Clearwater, left the show with nine boat sales and multiple engine sales — “results like we used to have 10 years ago,” he says.
An industry breakfast that RIMTA hosted on the opening morning of the show was sold out, Mackie says. The crowd saw RIMTA present its John H. Chafee Award to Kate Wilson of North Kingstown, R.I., for her grassroots work in getting more Newport-area youth engaged in boating.
“She’s a young woman in her 20s trying to cultivate boating with youth, and [she] makes it all about having fun on the water,” Mackie says.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Scott Jensen, director of the state Department of Labor and Training, also spoke at the event, which included a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session about workforce challenges and solutions in the marine trades. Issues that were covered included boating’s generation gap and the seasonality of the business.
Jensen also led a conversation about taking advantage of the funds available for training. “Employers — in our state and in every state — need to understand there is money and help out there,” he said. “They just need to learn how to navigate to it. Associations across the country are really great liaisons to help them navigate some of these opportunities.”
Mackie says the show’s success “was very exciting for us because we had an uptick. The economy feels like it’s changing, and more than anything, I saw smiles.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue.