The Seattle Boat Show is the largest of its kind
on the West Coast and, for boaters, is a dream come true.
// By Lisa Samuelson
This year, the Seattle Boat Show (January 27, 2016 to February 4, 2017) celebrates 70 years of showcasing the best of all things boating in the Pacific Northwest. From humble beginnings, it has grown into one of the most important boat shows in the country. In 1947, 13 marine dealers who were interested in promoting boating in the region formed the Pacific NW Marine Retailers Association and membership was $10. Now called the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) with 700 members, it’s the largest marine trade association in the country. One of their first acts as a group was to pitch a tent on the shores of Lake Union and hold a boat show. Fast forward 70 years and that show is now the third largest in the U.S. and the largest on the West Coast with two locations – indoors at CenturyLink Field Event Center and on the water at South Lake Union – and over 400 exhibitors. Last year it attracted more than 52,000 visitors from 36 states, three Canadian provinces, one Canadian territory, and as far away as Sweden, Australia, Great Britain, and China.
Along the way the show has had many locations. By 1950, the show had moved to what was then called the Washington National Guard Armory. By the end of that decade the show was annually crowning a Seattle Boat Show Queen, a tradition that lasted until the mid-1970s when it was replaced by the more politically correct Seattle Boat Show Family. The show moved again into the Seattle Center Coliseum in 1963 and by then had grown from the original 13 exhibitors to 87. Some may remember the runabout hoisted by a crane high above the Coliseum to mark the spot. The show stayed at the Coliseum until the opening of the Kingdome in 1977. After a 23-year run there, it moved in January of 2000 to its current home at CenturyLink Field Event Center. In 2004, the NMTA joined forces with the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association (NYBA) and added the on-water component of the show.
For some families, the show is a tradition as strong as the holidays. Mackenzie Skene was eight when he went to his first show in the Coliseum with his dad in 1965. He’s been attending the shows ever since. Because of the great memories of spending time with his dad and walking every inch of the show, he first started taking his own kids when they were two and three. Then, the family activities and toy boat building were the big attraction for the family. Today those same kids, now teenagers and avid sailors, often volunteer at the show for Seattle Yacht Club and Corinthian Yacht Club. The show is in their blood too.
“They’re as excited to go as I am. It’s a family tradition to spend a day at the show together and board as many boats as possible – power and sail – even though we’re sailors. It’s also social, it’s where we see many of our friends. And invariably we end up buying something!” says Skene.
A big attraction of the show and what differentiates it from many others around the country is the wide variety of boats and accessories on display. At other shows, you may find yourself in a sea of bass boats and wakeboard boats, or find only luxury yachts on display. At the Seattle show, the boats on display are representative of the wide range of boating available in the Northwest. So whether you wakeboard, water ski, fish, kayak, cruise or race, are under power or sail on boats small or large, this show is for you.
Another important distinction is that the Seattle Boat Show is produced by two member associations, the NMTA and NYBA, which represent a wide variety of members, so it attracts all segments of the industry. Additionally, some shows are put on by either dealers or manufacturers so you don’t get the broad cross-industry representation that you do at the Seattle Boat Show. Without a doubt, there’s no better place in the Pacific Northwest to shop for a boat, talk with a factory rep, and see the latest models and brands all in one place–well, two actually, indoors and on the water.
Given the size and prominence of the show, it’s no surprise that it’s a not-to-be-missed show for many manufacturers and dealers, and very often the place where they choose to debut their new models. The 70th annual show is no exception with many model debuts, new boat brands, and brands returning who have been absent from the show for several years.
New brands include the Princess 52 Flybridge. Not only is this the West Coast debut for this model, but it is the first new Princess Yacht to be displayed in the Pacific Northwest in over 10 years. Built in England, Princess Yachts are known as the Bentley of the yacht industry. Also making a first-time appearance is Bavaria Motorboats. JK3 yachts recently became the exclusive West Coast dealer, and they will be showing the Bavaria Sport 400 and Virtess 420 Fly. Homer, Alaska-based Solas Boats, arguably the first American manufacturer of rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RIBs), will be exhibiting for the first time. Another first-time exhibitor is Port Townsend-based ACI Aluminum Boats. They will be introducing a new line of fast, stable, and trailerable aluminum catamarans. Back after a hiatus of more than a decade is Elan Yachts, represented by Seattle Yachts, who will have the Elan E4 and Impression 40 on display.
New model debuts number in the dozens. Lake Union Sea Ray alone has 16 boats making Pacific Northwest debuts including the Sea Ray 230SLW inboard wakeboat which has been a secret project and will be unveiled in New York on December 15. The Seattle Boat Show will be one of the first shows nationwide – and the first show on the West Coast – to display the boat. Another debut is the Sea Ray 350SLX OB, a triple outboard sport boat that the factory built early specifically for Lake Union Sea Ray so that it would make the Seattle Boat Show. Other debuts include the Nordic Tug 40 with new tooling never in production prior to this year; the Campion Explorer 632 OB SC with a new seating configuration; Beneteau’s Gran Turismo 46 with both a protective and open cockpit thanks to its electric side windows; the Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40 Sailing Catamaran, the only 40-foot sailing catamaran that includes four heads; and Malibu’s 22 MXZ, which was completely redesigned for 2017 starting from the hull bottom up to the deck.
Insider tip #1. Weekends are a natural time for many to come to the show, but also the busiest. If your schedule allows, plan to come midweek and you’ll find dealers, brokers, and factory reps have more time to give you their undivided attention. Extra bonus this year: anyone bringing a non-perishable food donation for Northwest Harvest will get in free at CenturyLink after 1700 hours on weekdays. Also, parking is only $5 after 1700 hours.
What if you’re happy with your current boat? You’re not alone. 47% of attendees already own a boat and are at the show to purchase accessories or equipment for their current boat or plan their summer. That’s why 75% of the exhibitors are accessories exhibitors spread out over three acres indoors.
This year, attendees will be able to check out the latest in technology such as Garmin’s new Fantom radar featuring MotionScope technology, which uses the Doppler effect to detect and highlight moving targets in radar overlay to help you avoid potential collisions. Or Simrad’s new, incredibly user-friendly chart plotters. FLIR‘s new systems produce high resolution images so clear and sharp they’ll allow you to pick out a seagull on a log. Being seen for the first time anywhere is Vancouver B.C.-based Interactio’s Optio Fuel bluetooth wireless fuel flow sensor, which allows you to view real time boat fuel flow, consumption, and range information using your smart phone or tablet. For the fishermen, today’s new depth sounders almost don’t let the fish stand a chance. Not only can you see what depth they’re at, but you can distinguish between a school of herring and the salmon pursuing those herring.
Insider Tip #2: Keeping up with technology can be daunting. Not just what’s new with the latest in marine electronics, but what about all those apps? The free boat show seminars are a great resource for sorting it all out and should not be overlooked. And we all know that if you want to figure out a technology issue, ask someone much younger than you. I’m betting that Sam Landsman’s seminar, iPhones, iPads, and Boats: Tips from a Twenty-Something Cruiser, might be just the ticket for anybody who’s not a twenty-something.
It’s not all about technology. Judging by what I see carried out of the show every year, it seems like everyone always needs a new crab pot, boat hook, or dock lines. Another hot item this year might be new exhibitor Ugo’s 100% waterproof pack to protect your cell phone and essential items. It’s billed as the first waterproof lifejacket for your phone designed by boaters, for boaters.
Speaking of seminars, there are more than 200 free fishing and boating seminars at the show and something for everyone of all skill levels. The information ranges from enlightening to entertaining. Some of the seminars can even save your life. Think you’ve covered all the seminars you need to in previous years? Think again. This year there are 37 new topics and 17 new presenters.
There are too many to mention here (check the show’s website for a complete list), but of interest to anyone thinking or dreaming of sailing off into the sunset will be the new two-hour Offshore Sailing Forum. A panel of local, experienced offshore cruisers will share their tips on preparing for taking that left turn at Cape Flattery and having a safe passage down the coast to tropical destinations and beyond. The moderated conversation will cover everything from safety to budgeting to choosing crew to staying fit onboard.
Boat Show University offers lengthier and more in-depth seminars for a fee. Several new ones this year that look intriguing are Preparing for and Surviving the Race to Alaska (R2AK) by organizers of the event and Understanding Pacific Northwest Weather for Safe and Comfortable Cruising by Jeff Renner, everyone’s favorite weatherman (or at least my
favorite weatherman). Renner recently retired as the chief meteorologist at Seattle’s King 5 News after three decades on air. During his course, he’ll present an approach to finding the right weather information to help you make correct go or no-go decisions, or to understand when to speed up or delay your cruise itinerary.
Now in its third year, R2AK is one of the most challenging boating events in the world and it has garnered national and international notoriety, er, attention. As reported by Northwest Yachting’s managing editor Norris Comer in the June, 2016 issue, the event’s website raked in an astonishing 11.5 million media hits in June of 2015 as millions caught the fever. If you’ve got the fever (or maybe just want the second-place prize of a set of steak knives) you might want to attend this all-day session with R2AK Race Boss Daniel Evans, Inside Passage veteran and Waggoner Guide editor Mark Bunzel, and Katy Stewart, a past R2AK participant. If you plan to enter the R2AK, this could well be the best $100 you spend.
Insider tip #3. Download, print out, and study a copy of the fishing, boating, and Boat Show U seminars in advance of the show. You may find there are seminars on multiple days that you want to attend in which case a five-day pass for $28 will be your best deal.
Of course, there’s more to the boat show than just the serious business of shopping. It’s a social affair – the place where you can reconnect with your cruising or racing buddies from the summer, meet up with yacht club mates, or make some rendezvous plans for next summer. Boaters would do well to note a few key dates conducive to all that socializing.