Buying a boat and maintaining a boating lifestyle takes a certain level of financial wherewithal, and I’m not talking about the super rich and their mega-yachts—I’m referring specifically to the boating public. Boat shows can give any keen observer an indirect indicator of our financial well-being. And my perception, after attending the Progressive New England Boat Show, shows that things are improving.
I normally attend more boat shows than the average person. Each year the Newport in-the-water show is followed by a party; the local New England shows in Boston or Providence are musts for shaking off the winter doldrums; and the wooden boat shows in either Mystic or Maine are traditions. There were a half dozen years when working in the boating industry required I follow the boat show circuit around the country, including the entire weeklong show in Annapolis, as part of my job. Boat shows for me are bit of a traveling gypsy reunion, a chance to reconnect with people I know in the industry. I also get to see the new products and such, but those don’t change as rapidly as one might suppose. The number of vendors, the size of the crowds, and their respective confidence are the biggest variables.
Since I have several friends who are boat brokers, I’ve learned not to judge how things really are business-wise from what they say. I know a lot of brokers and I don’t think I’ve ever heard one go negative; they are the most cheery personalities on the planet. “How are things?” rarely gets any response other than “GREAT!”–with, Tony-the-Tiger enthusiasm. So, to get the real answers about the industry, I look around the shows: How many vendors? How much traffic, in terms of potential customers? How many new products are on display, and how broad are the products across the industry?
This year, the New England show at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was completely filled with vendors (a definite improvement over last year), and from every genre: home dock systems and marinas selling dock space to jetskis, lake boats, ocean-going yachts and everything in between. Brokers had extensive listings of used boats, builders were represented in force, and electronics were everywhere. I saw interesting new products from gyrostabilizers to the Deck-Guard Ultrasonic Bird Repeller that was a step beyond my blog on Birds and Boating.
Best of all, I saw my network of old friends. Many now work for new companies and that was a good sign too; they were able to find new jobs in a scaled-back industry. No one espoused that things were back to the “good old days” or “irrational exuberance”, but I could feel a definite improvement over the past few years, and a quiet confidence in the future.
Of course, walking around a boat show is a very unscientific appraisal of economic indicators. But buying a boat is all about confidence, and I can honestly report this boat show had much more of it than we’ve seen recently—thank goodness.