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Why I Go to the Boat Show

Boats are only part of the fun

It’s a Melamud family ritual 30 years in the making. I announce I’m planning to go to the Annapolis Boat Show. My wife gets a puzzled look, then reminds me that our current boat is perfectly adequate and we are certainly not looking for a new one. I explain that the Boat Show is not just for people planning to buy a new boat; there are other reasons to go. I then promise not to buy a new boat. She wishes me a good time, and off I go.
    The last couple of years, explaining the other reasons has been easier. This year, well in advance of the annual discussion with my wife, I called Paul Jacobs, president of the Annapolis Boat Shows, for the key to winning all arguments (except political ones): facts and data.
    “The show keeps getting bigger as the economy improves and people have more discretionary income.” Jacobs told me. “We’re also making the show more interesting and more interactive, doing more to involve the consumer.”
    A look at the Boat Show programs (or the web site) demonstrates what Jacobs is talking about. In the old days, the program was a map of the show and a listing of manufacturers and vendors plus their locations.
    Today it’s that, plus special programs and attractions, like Brokerage Cove, the place to browse used boats; Vacation Basin, the area devoted to those seeking boating-oriented getaways; First Sail Workshop, an introduction to sailing; Take the Wheel, hands-on boat comparisons for buyers.

About the Economy
    The dollar and the economy are stronger, Jacobs also explained, making the U.S. market more attractive to foreign manufacturers. Exhibitors prove his point. Brig Inflatables from the U.K. is bringing 10 craft to a huge floating dock display for the first time this year. At least nine new sailboat manufacturers will present this year, including Solaris from Italy, Diam from France, Southerly from the U.K. and Elan Yachts from Slovenia. The Powerboat Show also has a long list of new (to the show) manufacturers, including familiar names like Bertram, Larson, Carver Proline and Albemarle. In all, the Powerboat Show is expecting a net increase of about 35 boats; the Sailboat Show about 10 more.
    Another effect of the improving economy is the return of middle-class boat buyers.
    “After the 2008 recession, the boat-buying market changed. Boat shoppers were buying in the 50-foot-plus range,” Jacobs said. “Now that the middle-income group is coming back, manufacturers are producing smaller boats, and more will be at the shows. For example, the Sailboat Show has 30 sailboats under 30 feet to accommodate these buyers.”

It’s Different for Me
    I’m not looking for a new boat, nor learning to sail or cruise. I’ve taken most of the free seminars multiple times. For me, the Boat Show is about spending a pleasant day by the water, surrounded by happy, enthusiastic people, eating pit beef at the Fleet Reserve Club and looking for ideas.
    A few years back I was talking to electronics vendors, trying to get ideas for how to hook up my aging but very effective GPS to a soon-to-be purchased DSC radio. Instead I discovered that Standard Horizon had just released a new radio with the GPS built in. That revelation alone made the trip worthwhile.
    Last year I noticed a lot of boats now using pop-up line cleats. Very appealing, I thought, popping up for tying my boat while fueling, then recessing to avoid interfering with fishing.
    This year’s show will be a search for a mundane but necessary boat accessory: an indestructible, fold up drink holder. I’ve been using a plastic model that lasts about half a season before I bump and break it. If one exists, I’ll find it at the U.S. Boat Show.
    With logic like that, how can my wife object?