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Back on the Docks

With shows making a comeback, I’m looking forward to checking out new boats
The new season of in-person boat shows kicked off in Newport, R.I.

The new season of in-person boat shows kicked off in Newport, R.I.

I have a confession to make. When the 2020 Palm Beach boat show was canceled because of the pandemic, I wasn’t all that upset. The team and I were coming off a whirlwind travel schedule that included multiple international shows. Sure, trading March snow in the Northeast for Florida warmth would have been nice, but just this once, I was content to sit on the bench and rest my blistered feet.

Of course, what I didn’t know at the time was that the boat show dominoes would continue to fall. Virtual shows of varying degrees sprung to life, and video presentations of new boats became increasingly important to buyers. Our geographically scattered team continued to get aboard boats one at a time to keep consumers informed.

This past fall, the team returned in force to the boat-show circuit. And I have to say, the comeback felt good. First up was the Newport International Boat Show in Rhode Island, which was slightly diminished in size courtesy of supply-chain issues, but that didn’t dampen the experience. New models and boats we had previously tested gleamed, and boaters swarmed the docks like gulls.

I’ve been talking to colleagues in the industry about how boat buying has changed since the pandemic and subsequent supply chain and labor shortages. The consensus seems to be that buyers are coming to boat shows more educated than ever. In the past, it was not unusual for a buyer to look at a dozen boats at the Fort Lauderdale show, go home to do more research, then visit the boat again in Miami or Palm Beach and sign a contract. Today, because some builders are a year (or two or three) out in production, most buyers have done their homework; they came to Newport and Lauderdale to see their finalists and confirm their research.

Boatbuilders endure great costs to attend shows and sell boats. For some, a single show can make or break their year. And with so many buyers clamoring for such little inventory, I picked up on a palpable disdain for tire-kickers, those people who want to climb aboard boats with no intention of buying. I understand all the forces at play here, but as a professional boat show tire-kicker myself, it’s a bit disappointing to see.

Boat shows are perhaps the best place to check out what the industry has to offer.

Boat shows are perhaps the best place to check out what the industry has to offer.

What I love most about boat shows, and what can never be captured virtually, is the ability to climb on an array of models. In Newport, I went from revisiting the Summit 54 to getting aboard the Wheeler 38 and Huckins 38, both of which I only saw in build. I then revisited the MJM 3z before hopping in a new electric boat for a test on the bay. That was all within an hour.

At the Lauderdale show, that feeling of exploration is many magnitudes greater. One minute I’m aboard a Viking or a Riviera and the next I’m inside the elevator of a custom Nordhavn 80. Minutes later I’m dreaming of the Great Loop on the new Cutwater or of bumping music on the new Solaris on the way to the sand bar. The reality is, I’m not in a position to buy any of those boats. But builders put up with me because they want me to tell my friends about what I saw. And by friends, of course, I mean Power & Motor­yacht’s print, digital and social media audiences, but some of us could be friends, right?

Climbing aboard a wide range of boats is first and foremost a lot of fun. Second, getting aboard boats from five continents in a single afternoon helps expand an understanding of boatbuilding, design trends and builder values. Even those who are attending the show with a check in their pocket for the boat of their dreams should walk the docks and see what else catches the eye.

The Power & Motoryacht team will be heading to the reimagined Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show. I look forward to catching up with colleagues on the docks. And if you’re at the show, keep a lookout for us. We’ll be the ones climbing aboard, well, everything.

Daniel Harding Jr. is editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.

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