As always, this is the do not miss boat show. It is the largest boat show in the world, and not by a little bit. The Seattle International Boat Show is the largest on the West Coast of North America and when utilizing all the space in Century Link Field takes up about 300,000 sq feet. This year, after a few years of recovering from the global recession and a couple of drive-byes from hurricanes (including Sandy), the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) has grown to more than 3,000,000 sq ft of exhibition space, and an estimated $4 BILLION dollars worth of boats of all varieties, accessories, and services. On a stretch of temporarily installed docks outside of the Bahia Mar Hotel there is a mile of stern tied mega-yachts with 106 vessels over 100-feet with the largest vessel being the 196-ft Bennetti Swan. Then there are an amazing additional 250 vessels 60 to 99-feet. With all there is to see, you simply can’t do this show in a day.
For the media, the show starts with a breakfast press conference and as we know, members of the media will rarely miss a free meal. The most important part is who speaks at this event and every year without exception it opens with the Mayor of Ft. Lauderdale. He in turn recognizes members of the city council, people from the governors office, state senators and other high ranking officials who are in attendance. You might ask yourself “Wow, how come this never happens at the Seattle Boat Show?” The simple answer is that those folks in the Pacific Northwest have yet to recognize the value that the Boat Show and the value that the Marine Industry in the Pacific Northwest brings to the table. It is time to get our elected representatives to enact the Marine Tourism Bill. Florida did this several years ago and that, along with a cap on sales tax, have driven a dramatic increase in the number of dollars delivered to local, county, and state tax coffers. As Mayor Seiler said, “Boating is tourism.”
I digress. So what effect does the boat show deliver each and every year to south Florida? Let’s make it simple, it has slightly more than the same effect as hosting a Super Bowl! Get it? The marine industry in the south Florida region is an $8.9 BILLION dollar industry. It also has the same problems that the Pacific Northwest does in that there are not enough workers to fill demand there. As a result, the boat show also has a job fair offering over 300 jobs paying from $30K to over $100K and they had over 250 people pre-registered to take part. The industry is booming here and remember that as a region, the Pacific Northwest economy is currently doing better than any other region in the country. We have the opportunity, we just need our elected officials to get onboard.
All photos by Bruce Hedrick . Click to enlarge.
The other interesting part of the media breakfast was a roundtable discussion featuring five executives from major builders on the East Coast. The numbers that were interesting included a survey that said of the 130,000 visitors to FLIBS, 90% are looking for a vessel of 60-feet or less. Of the amazing number of boats on display, 93% are less than 60-feet. From the head of Boston Whaler came the numbers comparing the business of the past with the current way in which companies are operating. At the height of the boom period in 2006-2007, Boston Whaler was selling 55,000 units/year. In 2008-2009 that number was down to 16,000 units, it is now back up to 23,000 units, still less than half of the hey-day numbers which is actually better for builders as dealers are not carrying the inventory that they used to be forced to carry and as a result the margins are better on the lower sales numbers. Today the market is estimated that 70% of the boats sold will be less than 23-feet. 25% will be in the 24-45-foot market. The other big shift noted at this meeting was from stern-drives to outboards. Consumers are finding the modern outboards to be more efficient, more economical, more reliable and easier to maintain. With the production of even more powerful outboards, you will be seeing more vessels with four or even five huge outboards instead of stern drives. In the concluding remarks the overall attitude was one of optimism with caution. The boat market will continue to improve but it may never get back to the levels of 2006-2007. We shall see.
The Pacific Northwest builders are very well represented at this truly international Show with Christensen, Nordlund, Delta Marine, Coastal Craft, Westport, and Fluid Motion (Ranger Tugs & Cutwater) all having a multiplicity of vessels on display. There was a large contingent of personnel from the Pacific Northwest representing various companies and boat builders from around the world. It was impossible to walk for more than about 15 minutes before you saw another familiar face.
Ocean Alexander had their new 100 on display and it was constantly busy with folks who had traveled from all over to get the chance to take a look their latest amazing design. The team from the Seattle office, Emiko, Neil, and Ray, were all constantly busy either showing potential clients through the vessel or getting ready for their next appointment.
The same was true for the group from Emerald Pacific Yacht Sales who were working at the Horizon exhibit which featured the new E-88 Motor Yacht, Power Cat 60 and Power Cat 52 which was debuting at this Show. According to Brett Aggen, the Power Catamarans were being very well received because of their extraordinary roominess and efficiency of operation.
Brian Holland from Fraser Yachts had a busy schedule as did Dan Woods from Crow’s Nest. I also had the chance speak with Matt Maynard from Irwin Yacht Sales and Kevin Blake who were at FLIBS gathering information for clients on potential new vessels. Greg Allen from YachtMasters Northwest was seen in the Electronics Tent going over the new offerings from FLIR, Garmin, Raytheon, Rose Point Navigation Systems, and Simrad. This is by no means everyone I saw and talked to so accept my apology for not getting your name into this brief report.
The Super-yacht Committee of the Northwest Marine Trade Association put together a beautiful booth that was in the US Super-yacht Association Pavilion in the Yacht Tent at FLIBS. The booth touted the beauty of yachting in the Pacific Northwest and the complete range of services available to yachts that decide to spend time cruising in our region. Manned by the folks who donated to the project, there was always a knowledgeable crew on-hand to answer any question anyone may have about our amazing destination.
Friday opened with a breakfast put on by TAITRA, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, which was a summary of the very successful 2014 Taiwan International Boat Show held in May of this year and served to invite other builders and suppliers to participate in the upcoming 2016 event. I was asked to speak about my impressions of the Show and that easy because it was such an amazing event.
From there it was another long day that included visiting Outer Reef Yachts to learn more about their new Trident Series which will be built in Croatia. I hope I get called to do those sea trials! On to Hampton Yachts to see their offering which as you might expect is lovely and had a steady line of people who wanted to get aboard.
Just down the dock was the latest from Kadey-Krogen and their new leader formerly with Grand Banks Northwest, Tucker West who was all smiles talking about his latest project.
One dock over was the Fluid Motion (Ranger Tugs/Cutwater Boats) display with every single one of their product line on display and that team, led by Jeff Mesmer, were all smiles because every single one of their display vessels had already been sold by this the second day of the Show. WOW! There have also been jungle drums about yet another new boat being developed to be ready for the big 2015 Seattle Boat however every question along those lines was met with no comment. In other words, something new and something big is probably coming and considering the amazing success of the previous products in Fluid Motion line-up I, for one, can hardly wait to see what this very talented team has come up with this time.
When you have a show that is this huge it’s tough to get it all done even in five days. So I saved the Broward County Convention Center which is equivalent in size to the Century Link Complex, for the last. It had expanded again from last year with the excess spilling into the outdoor venue which included a 25-foot x 50-foot pool, three feet deep and holding about 15,000 gallons. In the pool there were all manner of demonstrations including SUP yoga, hovercraft, Hobie Cat kayaks, liferaft deployment, kayak fishing, and rov demo’s. We really need one of these in the Seattle Boat Show.
As you can probably tell, I love this show and wouldn’t miss it. If you’re a boater, add this to the bucket list, take the significant other and spend a week in south Florida enjoying what is the largest boat show in the world. Highly recommended.