Miami: Still an industry measuring stick

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Even with attendance down, the big boat show had an impact, emphasizing innovations and affordability

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Though attendance was noticeably down at this year's Miami International Boat Show and Strictly Sail Miami, a heightened emphasis on affordability helped drive sales at this bellwether event.

The show, which ran from Feb. 12 to 16 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center and Miamarina at Bayside, saw a drop in attendance of 26 percent, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces the show. There were 96,736 visitors, compared with 130,496 in 2008. Attendance at Strictly Sail Miami was down 13 percent from 2008, at 19,723. (The 21st annual Yacht & Brokerage Show, sponsored by Show Management, ran concurrently with the NMMA show along Collins Avenue.)

"The reports from the show are pretty good," says show manager Cathy Rick-Joule. "I think a lot of dealers, of course, adjusted their expectation levels. We're hearing some really good stuff. Mako told us they sold 28 units, and they had sold 32 last year. MarineMax said they were slightly ahead of last year, which was a real surprise to them."

NMMA president Thom Dammrich called the Miami show a "barometer" of both the industry and the consumer, though he had said before the show he was hoping for a drop of 15 percent or less in attendance.

"The Miami show ended up exceeding what we expected in regards to unit sales," says Bill Davis, the Florida sales representative for boatbuilders Sea Fox and Mariah. "The majority of what we sold were Sea Fox fishing boats in the 23- to 28-foot range. Between Sea Fox and Mariah, our dealer, Legacy Fisherman in Dania Beach, Fla., wrote 31 deals. The numbers were lower than last year, but we sold larger boats."

Mariah and Sea Fox offered show-goers a $6,000 signing bonus, which Davis says worked well in getting consumers to commit to buying at the show. He did say attendance was "noticeably off, especially when it came to all the families that normally attend." He says many of the shows he's attended in Florida have seen drops in attendance of 25 percent this year.

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Rick-Joule says she noticed more exhibitors stressing affordability; the show included an "Affordability Pavilion" located outside the convention center that highlighted boats that could be financed for less than $300 a month. "We put a real spin on affordability," she says. "Some of the dealers are commenting that they think they did as well as they did because they dropped their prices, and their new-boat pricing was lower than it's been in many years."

One consumer she spoke with said it was the first time he didn't have to negotiate with a salesperson, and that he felt he'd never get a better value if he didn't purchase the boat at the show, Rick-Joule recalls.

Signage throughout the convention center touted the deals to be had. For example:

  • Robalo's "Wow Now Sales Event," where customers could "Receive up to 'WOW' $16,800 in consumer retail incentives." Chaparral offered $18,800 in retail incentives with extended engine warranties.
  • Boston Whaler advertised its 170 Montauk with an MSRP of $29,660 for a special boat show price of $28,660, and its 320 Outrage with an MSRP of $212,378 for a boat show special of $183,376.
  • Zodiac highlighted its trade-in program, in which consumers could upgrade and get a $5,000 trade-in allowance.
  • Yamaha offered an extended service contract or up to $2,000 credit toward the purchase of goods/services from a Yamaha dealer.

Rick Keorting, national sales manager for Godfrey Marine, says his company stressed affordability and had two boats on display — a deckboat and a pontoon boat — as "Smoking Hot" deals. The first boat sold at the show was the "Smoking Hot" deckboat.

"Had we not had that there, I truly believe that we wouldn't have sold those boats, as well as some of the other boats," he says, claiming sales were up from last year's show. "The people that were there were very serious. We are still getting residual sales after the show is over, which is very encouraging.

"I think a lot of these people can afford to go to the moderate or upper end, but right now they're just wanting to get on the water. And the way the state of the economy is, they're being very prudent and just want to get out there with a reasonable purchase," he adds. "It seems like every other day we get a sale because of the show."

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Amy McDonald, spokeswoman for Tracker Marine Group, which includes Mako, says she also noticed traffic was off, but there were still sales to be made. "Unit sales at the show were not too far off the pace of the last two years, but we would always like to see more," she says. "In looking beyond the show, our Web traffic and our surveys tell us that there is still a good amount of interest. Economic uncertainties are still affecting our customers, and their purchase horizons tend to be longer."

But beyond the attendance and sales data, panel discussions and industry predictions, the same sprawling multisite boat show hummed along like any year, under an especially nice stretch of weather, with hundreds of exhibitors offering a variety of new products.

New boats

With its speckled metallic gelcoat, tinted glass hardtop and joystick steering, the new MasterCraft 300 drew consistent attention from show-goers. Powered by twin 350-hp Cummins MerCruiser Diesel inboards, it's MasterCraft's first entry into the cruiser market.

"We want to be known as more than a ski boat company," MasterCraft senior design engineer Kurt Bergstrom says, noting that the boat should appeal to owners of express cruisers in the 50-foot range looking to move down without forfeiting luxury and styling.

The power plants are linked to ZF Marine's Joystick Maneuvering System, which brings joystick control to conventional inboard boats. LED lights rim the glass hardtop, and the boat in Miami was equipped with mist sprayers that cool the crew. Other design features on deck include a port-side windshield walkthrough with oversized steps and a large bow platform to work with ground tackle. System maintenance and monitoring can be done in an "equipment bay" under the bridge deck. "We were able to achieve a space not typically found on a 30-foot boat," says Bergstrom. "You have access to all of your pumps, seacocks and fuel system controls."

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Base price is $289,000 with twin gas inboards. With CMD engines and JMS setup, the price is $370,000.

The MasterCraft was one of two boats at the show equipped with the ZF Marine's joystick technology. A Tiara 3900 Open outfitted with JMS was berthed at the Sea Isle Marina on Biscayne Bay. Twin 600-hp CMD diesels provided the power.

Turkish boatbuilder Vicem, noted for its traditional cruisers with elegant joinery, introduced a cold-molded 72-foot, 34-knot express cruiser with twin 1,550-hp MAN diesels at the brokerage show. It also debuted a cold-molded 92-foot raised pilothouse cruiser with twin 900-hp MANs and a cruising speed of 18 knots. The boats were for sale at $3.45 million and $4.995 million, respectively, fully equipped.

Vicem also announced plans to build an updated 63-foot Trumpy, based on original drawings of the classic motoryacht, for Trumpy Yachts, a new company with sales offices in Newport, R.I.

Sanko Holdings, one of Turkey's largest industrial conglomerates, purchased a majority interest in Vicem two years ago and is funding construction of a new plant and the development of a line of custom megayachts starting with a 155-footer that should debut at the Monaco boat show in 2010, according to Michael Landsberg, Vicem president. "They understand we're in a bad time worldwide in this market, but they're patient," he says. "We're building. When people are ready [to buy], we'll be ready."

EdgeWater Power Boats, which made its name with center consoles, introduced its largest express cruiser, the unsinkable 34-foot, 6-inch 335 Express, designed for twin outboards (available with Yamaha F250 or F350 4-strokes). As with all of its larger boats, the 335EX is constructed with the company's proprietary Single Piece Infusion construction process that simultaneously infuses the grid and laminate into one piece. The boat is being offered with an optional Garmin electronics package. MSRP is $360,852 with twin Yamaha F350s.

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Another unsinkable boat unveiled at Miami was the Boston Whaler 370 Outrage, the storied builder's largest boat to date. Designed for fishing as well as entertaining, the 370 features a topside refrigerator/freezer, grill and freshwater sink. The live well can be replaced with an optional electric stove top. The console cabin features a two-person berth/settee, sink with mirror, microwave and coffee maker. MSRP for the base boat with standard triple 250-hp Mercury Verados is $384,030 ($393,888 with triple 300-hp Verados).

Pursuit, known for its hardcore fishing boats, is softening its image a bit with the S280. The 28-foot center console is designed for fishing or day cruising, or as a yacht tender or family fun boat. The watchword for today's designs is flexibility, says Pursuit president Tom Slikkers. The days of the basic take-it-out, come-back and hose-it-down center console are "getting less and less," he says.

"People see the advantage of the center console boat, but they also want some of the amenities of the cruising boat," he says.

The S280 has a bolstered cockpit, teak trim, iPod and MP3 jacks, plush back-facing fold-down bench seats abaft the helm, molded split-bow seating forward, transom door and boarding ladder, refrigerator, and stand-up head in the console. With twin 250-hp outboards, the boat can do 34 mph and has a range of 350 miles. The boat was selling for about $178,000 at the show.

"We're showing a softer side to appeal to the female," Slikkers says.

Sessa Marine, the 50-year-old Italian boatbuilder that opened a sales office in Dania Beach, Fla., in 2006, continues its push into the North American market, displaying seven models at the brokerage show. Sessa showed its C46 with Volvo IPS propulsion, which it introduced last fall at Fort Lauderdale (it also offers a 43-footer with pod drives), and will debut the Open 30 this spring. It plans to unveil the flagship C68 (already introduced in Europe) in the United States at this fall's Fort Lauderdale show.

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The Radice family says Sessa is committed to the U.S. market, despite the tough economy. "These are difficult times, but every sale is a victory," says Ricardo Radice, who serves as deputy adviser and marketing director.

Australian builder Riviera's new 43 Offshore Express with Volvo Penta IPS pod drives headlined an on-water display of 12 boats at the brokerage show. The boat is the second of the builder's so-called "sport utility vessels," following the 48 launched at the 2007 Fort Lauderdale show, and the first designed for IPS (twin 370-hp IPS 500s). Price is $658,787.

Kadey-Krogen's new Krogen 55 Expedition incorporates the pilothouse from the trawler builder's discontinued Whaleback 48, noted for its full-beam saloon. Powered by twin 158-hp John Deere 6068 TFM M1 Tier 2 diesels, the 55's range is estimated at around 2,800 nautical miles at 8 knots and more than 7,000 miles at 6 knots, with its 1,800-gallon fuel capacity. Base price is $1.895 million.

Other boats of note included the Doug Zurn-designed mJm 40z, a light, narrow (12-foot beam) fuel-efficient Down East-style power cruiser from Bob Johnstone and mJm Yachts. The boat features joystick control (CMD Axius with twin sterndrives and Volvo Penta IPS with pod drives) for low-speed maneuvering. Standard power is twin 320-hp Cummins QSD 4.2 D4 diesels with MerCruiser sterndrives. Hull No. 1, with twin Volvo IPS 370-hp D6s, achieved a top speed of 38 knots and, at its most efficient speed of 20 knots, burned 17 gallons per hour. Base price is $786,500, with electronics.

Jupiter Marine introduced its newest flagship, the 39 Express, at the show. Designed in-house by president Carl Herndon's team, along with naval architect Donald Blount and Associates, the boat is the center console builder's first express model. The boat is engineered to accommodate twin or triple Yamaha 4-strokes, and base pricing is as follows: $459,770 (twin Yamaha F350s), $476,490 (triple Yamaha F250s), $499,990 (triple Yamaha F350s).

Jeanneau continued the expansion of its Prestige line of flybridge power cruisers with a new flagship, the Prestige 50. The French-built boat features three cabins, each with private head and shower compartments, and was named "Croatian Boat of the Year" in its class size. Base price, with twin 575-hp Volvo diesels, is $791,496.

Buzzword: 'efficiency'

At Sea Isle Marina, Pro-Line displayed a lightweight 22-foot bare-bones center console ready for testing. The boat is part of Pro-Line's Pro-Lite fleet of economically priced boats. They have no deck liner and minimal on-deck equipment, which keeps the price down, and can be powered with single or twin outboards. With a 150-hp 4-stroke, the boat cruises at 20 mph and gets nearly 4 mpg. Weighing in at 2,187 pounds and powered with a 150-hp Suzuki outboard, the boat ran smoothly through a choppy inlet during a 45-minute sea trial.

Retail price for the Pro-Lite 22 with a 150-hp Suzuki is $26,234. At press time, Pro-Line was offering the package at a special price of $21,862.

Another boat built for maximum fuel economy is a 26-footer from a new boatbuilder, Aspen Power Catamarans of Snohomish, Wash. Larry Graf founded the company after leaving Glacier Bay Catamarans.

The L80 Launch runs on a single 110-hp diesel in the starboard sponson. The shape of the sponson offsets the pulling power of the right-hand propeller to maintain straight tracking in what Graf calls Hydro-Warp tracking. Graf had a clear 1-gallon fuel container on deck to show how little diesel his boat consumes. The Yanmar burned about a half-gallon during a 20-minute trip. The full displacement cat has a top end of 24 mph. At 17 mph, the L80 gets an estimated 5.6 mpg, according to Graf. Price is $93,900.

Walker Bay introduced its Generation line of 13- and 14-foot high-end RIBs. The West Coast builder is touting the 390 ($23,000) and 490 ($25,000) - with such features as LED navigation lights, four stainless steel hand rails and bow/stern steps with teak laminate inlay - as fuel-efficient, low-maintenance boats.

Walker Bay also added four new models to its Airis line of inflatable kayaks, targeting anglers, yachtsmen, adventurers and couples. The company's AirWeb construction, which incorporates polymer-coated fabric joined to thousands of drop-stitch fibers, won an NMMA Innovation Award last year.

Christoph Ballin, a managing partner for German electric motor manufacturer Torqeedo, was on the convention center floor demonstrating the new Ultralight 402, a true kayak motor. At just 15 pounds, it's the "lightest drive in the marine industry," Ballin says.

The motor combines a rechargeable lithium battery with an integrated GPS that enables the display of battery charge level, speed over ground, and estimated distance remaining on battery power. Ballin says the Ultralight 402, which is the equivalent of a 1-hp gas outboard and is meant to supplement paddle power, provides a range of 12 to 15 miles at slow speed and can propel a kayak at 5 to 6 mph for about a half-hour. Kayak anglers can use it to troll, touring kayakers can use it to fight through strong currents, and older and younger paddlers can use it to help tired arms. The Ultralight 402 retails for $1,799.

A PWC with 'brakes'

Bombardier Recreational Products representatives were on hand to showcase the new Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR) system for personal watercraft. A brake lever on the left handlebar controls the braking system by cutting engine power, dropping the jet nozzle reverse gate, and reapplying power to increase reverse thrust.

"It's a very intuitive system, very natural and easy to learn," says BRP president and CEO Jose Boisjoli.

Most conventional PWC lack off-throttle steering. A PWC's waterjet not only provides power, but also steers the craft, so when it's disengaged the operator loses steering control. Operators instinctively release the throttle to avoid collisions, rather than engaging the throttle and steering away from the danger. Now the operator has another option - to slow down. Use of iBR significantly reduces stopping distance without throwing the rider over the handlebars, according to Boisjoli.

The Coast Guard recognized BRP's effort by giving the company its annual Boating Safety Award at the show. "In a very short period, I was able to stop the vessel and turn around in about half the distance of any other [PWC] I've ever ridden," Coast Guard Capt. Mark Rizzo said after the presentation. "I never once felt like I was in danger."

New 'modest' outboards

Both Honda and Suzuki introduced 60-hp outboards with electronic fuel injection, filling gaps in their second-generation of midrange 4-strokes. The engines will be a good fit for pontoons, aluminum fishing boats, large inflatables and inshore center consoles.

Specifications and performance data for the Honda BF60 will be available this summer, when the product hits the market, says Sara Pines, Honda public relations southeast regional manager. "This is an all-new entry for us, not an existing engine that has been converted from another model," says Pines. "We now have quiet, reliable power in the entire midrange from 40 to 75 hp."

Honda replaced its carbureted 40- and 50-hp 4-strokes with lighter, more efficient EFI versions last year. And in 2006, the engine manufacturer came to market with slimmed-down EFI 75- and 90-hp outboards.

Suzuki's 60 will be available to consumers in early 2010. Specifications were unavailable, but Suzuki did say the DF60 will be lighter than its current 40-hp model, which weighs 243 pounds. Suzuki also showcased its new 8- and 9.9-hp models, both of which utilize an inline 2-cylinder 12.7-cubic-inch engine. The shift mechanism is now located on the throttle (instead of the face of the engine) for better access and easier operation. Pricing for the Honda and Suzuki engines is not yet available.

John Deere introduced its most powerful diesel - a 750-hp 6-cylinder 13.5-liter PowerTech that the company expects to be available in September. The new engine should be a good candidate for powering large trawlers and sportfishing boats, said Thomas C. Lekar, manager of John Deere marine engineering.

Gear and goods

Night vision and thermal imaging specialists FLIR Systems introduced its M-Series control unit. The gimbal-type mount delivers 360-degree continuous pan, 90-degree vertical tilt, new image enhancement algorithms, and the capability to switch from thermal to low-light video or show both simultaneously on separate displays for seeing at night.

FLIR puts one of its systems on BMW automobiles, says Andrew Tich, the company president. "Drivers can see five times farther with this than with their high-beam headlights," he says. "It turns night into day."

Pricing ranges from $5,000 to $20,000.

West Marine displayed a half-dozen new products covering safety, electronics and maintenance:

  • Pettit's new Vivid Eco is a copperless multiseason ablative antifouling paint that comes in bright colors. "We have seen results as good as those with a 65-percent copper paint," Pettit general manager John Ludgate said at the show. Price is $270 a gallon.
  • ACR's newest EPIRB, the GlobalFix iPRO, features a digital display that allows the user to see all operational activities, including GPS lat/lon, transmission bursts and battery power, as well as operating instructions and usage tips. It's the first EPRIB that offers dual GPS technology, according to ACR. When interfaced to the on-board GPS, your location is stored inside the iPRO, so coordinates are transmitted in the first data burst, according to ACR. It's also smaller than the original GlobalFix and has a non-hazardous battery. Price is $699.
  • Garmin's GMI 10 digital instrument display uses plug-and-play NMEA 2000 networking to monitor navigation, heading and environmental data - from depth, speed, and wind and water temperature to detailed GPS readout, fuel flow, engine data and rpm, trip odometer, user alarms and more. Information is shown on a 3.5-inch screen. Price is $499.
  • The West Marine Class B AIS-1000 will help you avoid collisions at sea. AIS (Automatic Identification System) transmits boater identification, position, speed and heading to similarly equipped vessels in your area. The vessel's chart plotter or nav PC is alerted to this information and provides up-to-the-minute status displays. Price is $699.
  • The Blue Sea Systems VSM 422 Vessel Systems Monitor feeds critical information to the skipper. Status reports of as many as 22 different vessel measurements can be monitored, including electrical (voltage, amperage, battery charge) and fuel level. Users have three mounting choices, three display modes and 15 programmable alarms. Price is $499.
  • Marinco GalvanAlert Shore Power Corrosion Detector fends off corrosion caused by stray currents that occur when boats come in contact with poorly insulated shore power supplies or faulty wiring. It detects corrosion activity or reverse polarity that can cause a shock or fire hazard. The device connects to the 30-amp shore power inlet and cord set. Price is $149.99.

Editor's note: Senior writer Jim Flannery, managing editor Rich Armstrong and staff writer Chris Landry contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.

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