If you can’t make money in the boat business these days, you might consider a career change.”
That seemed to be the consensus of exhibitors at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show that wrapped up another big year yesterday. While final attendance figures are expected from the National Marine Manufacturers Association later this week, I had the privilege of manning the Discover Boating & Hands-On Training (HOST) Center for 5 days and experienced first-hand the big crowds.
Among the biggest successes of this year’s event, however, was the relocation of the Strictly Sail Show from the downtown Bayside location to Virginia Key, a major move that finally brought all segments of the industry together on one site.
“We’re very pleased this move has enabled us to design and build unique in-water dock layouts and displays for our sail exhibitors,” said Kevin Murphy, the veteran Strictly Sail manager who orchestrated the big move and the use of the new floating docks system. “Our sailing traffic has been excellent and our exhibitors have boasted of very good sales. We’re already looking at physical expansion plans for next year.”
Catalina Yachts, for example, signals the expansion needs, announcing good sales and plans to more than double their exhibit next year. Meanwhile, Jeanneau reported an opening day sale of a 63-footer, adding another 63-foot model during the weekend, among several other major sales. Similar good reports came from Beneteau.
But if anything “ruled” the Strictly Sail docks, it was clearly the catamaran fleet boasting dozens of models from exhibitors like Seawind, Leopard, Fountaine Pajot, Bali, CNB Lagoon, Royal Cape, among others.
Interest in and sales of cats were reported good by virtually every cat exhibitor. That was also reflected in the Discover Boating Center where the 39 Lagoon cat was the most requested boat by show visitors participating in the Hands-On Sail Training we offered daily.
“All our HOST boats, both power and sail, were booked solid this year” said Tom Knighten, director of the HOST program referring to the fact that both monohull and cat sailboats were used along with outboard boats for the powerboat training sessions. “Of all the boats, the waiting list for a spot aboard was definitely longest for the catamaran training,” Knighten added.
It’s important to recognize the HOST program in Discover Boating Centers at boat shows like Miami is actually less about the training sessions conducted and more about showing people how easy and fun it is to be boating. “We try to take the mystery out of it and teach them how easy it is to be a boater and take the helm,” explains Knighten. To that extent, while the HOST program is billed by the shows as a feature attraction, it’s really a prospect development tool that has proven its worth in many shows.
More specifically, of the 112 show visitors reserving space aboard the HOST sailing sessions last weekend in Miami, 50 percent were current boat owners while the other half were not. Many of the current owners indicated they were seeking some hand-on training to become more confident about their boating, with docking skills most frequently cited.
Most important, however, 21 percent (24 visitors) of this group was at the show actively shopping for a new sailboat. Another 29 percent (32 visitors) expect to buy within 6 months. Only 10 percent of all the sailing participants indicated no plans to purchase.
Of the powerboat participation, 62 percent (50 participants) were current owners and 38 percent (31) were not. Interestingly, 88 percent of this group indicated a desire for more skills training. Of this group, 26 percent (21 visitors) were at the show actively looking to buy; 7 percent expected to buy within 6 months; and 32 percent (26 participants) indicated their purchase to be 12 or more months away.
Overall, the Discover Boating HOST program succeeded in training more than 100 power or sail visitors in boat handling, docking, safety and, most of all, how easy and fun it is to be at the helm.