In-water fall shows open in Great Lakes region


A new brand and major upgrades will be the highlights when the Progressive Chicagoland In-Water Boat Show at Michigan City opens for four days this Thursday, starting off the fall in-water show circuit.

From the shores of Lake Michigan to the last show at St. Petersburg (Fla.) in December, there will be nearly two dozen major in-water shows along the nation’s coastlines this year. “This is the only major in-water show in the Midwest,” new show manager Bryan Ralston said, “so it’s a very important marketing platform for dealers from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.”

From the name (formerly the Michigan City Boat Show) to the family attractions, Ralston has redesigned it with an emphasis on creating a boating rendezvous atmosphere.

“Today’s events are all about the experience,” he said. “Everyone feels short on time now. So if people are going to use valuable time to attend, they want a fun experience. That’s what boating’s all about and that’s what we want this show to be — fun.”

When Ralston was appointed the new show manager last spring, he was challenged to create a fresh event. “After talking with major dealers, looking at some attendee surveys and examining every aspect of the show, we determined it was no longer exciting or inviting,” he said, “so we wiped the board clean and built our new plan from there. We’re going in believing it will make a big difference.”

To get it done, Ralston has revamped the show’s footprint; scheduled musical shows starring singer-songwriter Jeff Tucker (“Oh Condoleezza” and “Going Home to Graceland”); created the show’s first interactive Kidz Zone that includes bringing back Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel after a five-year absence; improved the floating Party Barge program; established fishing clinics and casting challenges; added new food choices including the popular Blue Chip Casino food trailer, and more.

The boating rendezvous atmosphere will complement a fleet of about 200 new and select used boats heading for the show from dealers in the area, highlighted by the first public showing of many 2017 models from builders like Prestige, Formula, Azimut, Regal, Sea Ray, to name just a few.

Upwards of 10,000 boaters from the three surrounding states are expected to attend this year. The show is produced by the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. When the Chicagoland event winds down on Sunday night, the team will quickly dismantle it and move on to stage the industry’s second fall show, the Progressive North American In-Water Boat Show, the largest in-water show on the Great Lakes. It’s slated for Aug. 24-28 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

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