Overall attendance at the Providence Boat Show was down 7 percent, but organizers attribute the drop to the New England winter rather than a lack of enthusiasm among buyers and sellers.
A largely dormant winter abruptly awakened, dropping several inches of heavy, wet snow on Saturday during the Jan. 23-25 show at the Rhode Island Convention Center. That made for a strong start and a strong finish, organizers say. “Overall, we got lucky with the weather, and in the end we had a strong show,” says Rhode Island Marine Trades Association CEO Wendy Mackie. “The exhibitors told me they were really happy and were committed to the show.”
Friday’s opening-day gate was up 15 percent from last year; Sunday’s closing day gate was up 10 percent. Overall, about 8,800 people attended.
RIMTA purchased the show in October of 2013 and is striving to “breathe new life into the show and grow [it] over the next three to five years,” Mackie says.
More seminars, more sponsors, more interactive exhibits, a new display of nautical-inspired art called ArtSEA, a central pavilion, longer show hours and a greater sail product presence were the most noticeable additions on the floor among 165 exhibitors and 175 boats.
Another new feature was the New England Boating Experience, showing visitors the region’s opulent menu of boating opportunities.
“We want to show the multitude of ways to get on the water, from paddleboards to high-end power cruisers,” says Mackie.
Regional dealers Ocean House Marina, Twin City Marine, Twin Hull Boats, Zim Sailing and Allied Boat Works reported signed contracts, with some customers coming from as far away as Maine and New Jersey — a good sign for a show that normally draws from a 50-mile radius.
“The quality of the show-goer was much better this year,” says Rudy Mutter of Twin City Marine in Central Falls, R.I., which brought 11 boats from its Yamaha jet boat and Chaparral sport boat lines. “I came away more encouraged than I was last year.”
Dave McShane, who founded Marshfield, Mass.-based McShane Yacht Sales just eight years ago, says he has never “goose-egged” in his six years at the show. He carries the Albemarle, Seaway, Sea Fox and Steiger Craft lines.
One of McShane’s sales reps was signing a contract on a new Sea Fox dual console 226 Traveler just hours into the first day of the show.
“I can’t keep them in stock,” McShane says. “It’s like the SUV of boats — fish, ski or cruise in it. We find today’s consumers are very value-conscious, especially those coming back into boating. They don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest. They want a good, solid boat with quality dealer backing.”
Among RIMTA’s goals is to increase the sail presence for the show to better reflect Rhode Island’s strong sailing roots.
Newport-based Bluenose Yacht Sales brought a fleet of sailboats, including the Jeanneau 409, the largest boat at the show.
“We measure a show by the number of quality leads we get,” says Bluenose’s Glenn Walters. “We got more quality leads than we have gotten at other shows.”
The show opened with a themed press conference: “Launching into the Future: Growing Rhode Island’s Marine and Composites Industries.”
Dignitaries, including the state’s new governor, Gina Raimondo, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and state Rep. Kenneth Marshall, spoke at the event, and U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed joined by video.
Each stressed the vibrant marine industry in the Ocean State, noting a new funding initiative for the Rhode Island Composites Alliance. RIMTA gave its Boater of the Year award to Bart Dunbar, chairman of the Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island, the state’s newly built tall ship — a 200-foot long, three-masted sailing school vessel.
“The Providence Boat Show is an event run by the industry for the industry,” Mackie says.
The 23rd annual show will be held Feb. 5-7, 2016, at the convention center.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue.