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A Boat Show to Remember

by Norris Comer

Boat Show Origami // Photo by Ozzie WieseWords: Norris Comer // Photos: Alex Kwanten & Ozzie Wiese

The Seattle Boat Show of 2017 is behind us, and as we tuck away our trusty Northwest Yachting booth we finally have a little breathing room to reflect upon the annual whirlwind of all things boating. As an exhibitor and sponsor of the show, we enjoyed an excellent perch from which to interact with our readers face-to-face and mingle with industry professionals both familiar and new. What we saw was what we hoped to see; enthralled boaters of all ages and companies making the right connections. This year’s attendance of 51,502 visitors, down a modest 182 from last year, means that the event is holding steady as the West Coast’s largest boat show. Not only did the show roughly match last year’s attendance, but 457 exhibitors, representing a 3% increase from last year’s 445 exhibitors, participated this year.

For the uninitiated, the Seattle Boat Show is organized by the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA). The nine-day show ran from January 27 to February 4 this year and was housed where it usually is within the expansive CenturyLink Field. Local, national, and international exhibitors of the recreational boating industry were on display in full force with over 1,000 types of recreational watercraft from kayaks and paddleboards to motoryachts and sailboats. Notable was the extensive fishing theme of North Hall, which was loaded with exhibitors from Kingfisher Boats and Fish On Boats to Washington Fish and Wildlife and various chartering companies. Fishing in the Pacific Northwest is clearly big league.

What’s more, Chandler’s Cove of South Lake Union was occupied to capacity with the complementing in-water show where visitors can experience boats in their natural habitat. The CenturyLink Field and South Lake Union combination has been the standard for many years, although development of the Chandler’s Cove area in South Lake Union by Vulcan Real Estate may throw a curveball into the arrangement in the years to come.

The Goods

As far as boats, gear, services, and more are concerned, there were so many goodies of note that no single article can do them all justice. As far as our informal take on the indoor showroom is concerned, open and accessible displays like Nordic Tugs and Aspen Power Catamarans seemed very popular with visitors, who were free to explore the yachts as they desired with friendly and supportive staff on hand. Groups of bright-eyed show goers crawling over decks and cramming themselves into engine rooms were common sights. On the gear side of things, we did see a few things that perked our interest.

Basta BoatliftsBasta Boatlifts: How exciting can a boat lift be? When you talk to Bellevue, Washington inventor Sam Basta, founder and president of Basta Boatlifts, you realize that excitement appears in some unlikely places.

“These boat lifts are my life’s passion,” Basta says of his lifts, which involve several pending patents of his. “If you need a manual, it’s too complicated.” His lifts take the weld-free, assemble-it-yourself approach that seem like a great idea, especially for the buyer who played with Legos as a kid. The catwalk attachment, one of many compatible accessories, also raises and lowers with the boat, something you don’t see very often for whatever reason. If interested, get more details at bastaboatlifts.com.

Foldable Rigid Inflatable Boat, FRIB: Stowing a dinghy is always a challenge aboard, but fortunately there’s no shortage of clever solutions out there. UK-based Four Seas offers the first patented “FRIB,” the foldable rigid inflatable boat. These dinghies have been popular overseas for a reason, and we won’t be surprised if we see more of them in the Pacific Northwest as time goes on. You can learn more at fourseas.us.

Life Proof Boats: These boats from Inventech Marine Solutions out of Bremerton, Washington are just too cool. Built like a hybrid sport fishing boat and U.S. Coast Guard border interceptor, these boats are built with foam/air stabilized buoyancy collar systems to take on open coastal conditions of the Pacific Northwest. Inventech Marine Solutions has filed five provisional patent applications, which speaks to their forward-facing approach to boat building. More information is available at inventechmarine.com.

Electric Paddle

Electric Paddle’s Linda Grez demonstrates a new, enlarged electric paddle motor at the recent Seattle Boat Show.

Electric Paddle: The Electric Paddle is a portable electric motor designed for canoes, kayaks, and dinghies under nine feet in length. Not only does the motor plus battery weigh a modest 16 pounds, but the motor easily folds into a sling that one can hoist over a shoulder. What’s more, the local company is based out of North Bend, Washington. Check out the details at electricpaddle.com.

Jetsurf: We wrote about these jet-powered boards when we heard about them a few issues back, and it was great to see them in person. We’re still hoping to look out on Puget Sound and see one zipping past, maybe this summer? See them in action at jetsurf.com.

Industry Angle

The bounty of fun stuff is great for attendees, but does the show result in actual boat and product sales for exhibitors? The answer seems to be a resounding yes from the industry.

“We had a great show. The quality of the clients was excellent. People were there to buy a boat, not just dream about a boat,” says Emiko Kelly, Vice President of Operations of Alexander Marine and boat show veteran. She is not alone.

“We were up over 20% over last year’s Seattle show, which was our best show ever. We did 40 shows last year from Dusseldorf to Seattle, and this was by far the best boat show anywhere we have ever had, period,” says Jeff Messmer of Ranger Tugs.

“We couldn’t be more pleased. We wrote deals, saw a lot of good prospects, and saw a lot of people from out of town. It seems like Washington is on the map for out-of-town buyers,” says Dan Krier, Vice President of Marine Servicenter, a local dealer for Jeanneau, Lagoon, Island Packet, and Wellcraft boats.

Sponsored social events made business mingling all the easier. What better way to kick back than with a glass of West Coast wine or a Pacific Northwest craft brew? Uncorked, the show’s opening night event, was sponsored by Basta Boatlifts on the evening of January 27 and featured different West Coast wineries. A $29 ticket granted the holder admission, a souvenir wine glass, and six tasting tokens used as currency to try out wines from Kamiak, Novelty Hill, Renegade, Canoe Ridge, L’Ecole, Ferrari-Carano, Chateau St. Michelle, Firesteed Cellars, and Gordon Estate wineries.

BoatShowQuoteThe craft brew iteration of the theme, Sails and Ales, was presented by S3 Maritime on February 3 and featured beers from Hop Valley, Full Sail, Hilliard’s, Dru Bru, Georgetown, Two Beers, Schilling Cider, Bellevue Brewing, and Gilgamesh. We don’t have data to support this theory yet, but it’s quite possible that the biggest deals and best ideas resulted during these two events.

Got Jobs? Yes!

The successful third annual maritime Career Fair was on January 30 to connect job seekers with the job providers. One generally hears plenty about the lack of job opportunities and the abundance of student debt in the country, but when it comes to marine trade related jobs, the labor pool in the United States currently struggles to meet the demand. Participating businesses included yacht brokerages, marinas, boatyards, kayak companies, and more (see the complete list of companies at seattleboatshow.com). All told, 156 attendees showed up for the 300-plus available positions.

“While I was enthused to see so many job hunters show up, I was struck that there’s a gap between the tremendous positions in our sector and the inability to find both the quantity and quality of talent,” said Peter Schrappen of the NMTA, the organizer of the event. It seems as if many of the participating companies wish to participate next year as well, which is a great sign for both employers and potential employees. Seriously, if you’re unemployed or know somebody who is, check out the many opportunities the Pacific Northwest marine sector has to offer.

Year of the Seminars

This year was a big one for seminars and, with over 225 boating seminars to choose from, attendees showed up from all around the country. To our eyes, the seminar room was rather basic, but that’s not why people showed up. Visitors, specifically families, were hungry for the content.

“In my seven years of coordinating the seminars, I’ve never seen so many families and children. More than I can count!” says Alashia Wartelle of the NMTA. Stories abound, like the family from Utah who went to the show all nine days, bought 19 Boat Show University tickets, and attended every seminar possible. The plan was to buy a sailboat and apply the knowledge learned to cruise up to Alaska this summer.

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