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U.S. Powerboat Show back to its former glory

The United States Powerboat Show is back. Not that it went anywhere or skipped a year. It’s been an October happening at the Annapolis City waterfront for the last 42 years. For year 43, it returns with its former size and glory.
    When the recession hit in 2008, the boating industry was devastated. With people more concerned about jobs and paying their mortgages, buying a boat became a distant last priority. Boat sales plunged, manufacturers tightened their belts or went bust and related activities, like the boat shows, suffered major drops in exhibitors. In 2009, 25 percent of the show was gone.
    Interestingly, attendance wasn’t much off; apparently, people still liked looking at boats, even if they could no longer afford to buy them. The exception was big expensive boats; their sales held well even in the downturn.
    Much to everyone’s delight, as the economy recovered, so did the boating industry. In the five years since the bottom, the show has been growing steadily at five percent per year. Now it’s back to pre-crash size.
    The middle class makes the difference. “People are buying boats again. We’re seeing a resurgence of the small — under 35 feet — market,” reports Paul Jacobs, president of the company that runs the shows. The show is still 10 percent smaller than its historical peak in 2004, but at the current growth rate, it won’t be long until we’re seeing record size shows again.

New and Not New
    Veteran show-goers will see a familiar show, improved by new features and new model introductions. New ownership of the company that produces the shows did not bring significant changes to the time-proven model. This is the first powerboat show since that change in the fall of 2013. Jacobs is careful to stress the change is ownership, not management. The same team that has produced the shows for years is still there, as is the same game plan and the same subcontractors.
    Expect no major differences, only the gradual improvements regular visitors have come to expect.
    This year brings two interesting innovations. The Luxury Pavilion features high-end boats like Grand Banks and Fairline; high-end products from companies like Tesla Motors and Porsche; high-end vacations from companies like Marine Max; and high-end real estate from Sotheby’s. Fortunately, you don’t have to prove your net worth to visit; the Pavilion is open to everyone, so you can come and dream, even if you can never buy.
    Also new: a demonstration dock where serious buyers can do sea trials.
    In years past, if you fell in love with a boat, you had to arrange a test run with the dealer for a subsequent weekend, frustrating both buyers and sales people.
    So how can dealers do sea trials when the 250 boats that make up the main body of the show are packed in like sardines, entering and exiting in very specific order and not going anywhere until the show is over?
    This year, certain dealers are bringing extra boats that will be docked on the outskirts of the show where they have access to the harbor. Patrons who visit one of these manufactures’ main exhibits can make an appointment to demo the boat they like or a model like it.
    An innovation that worked last year is back and bigger: Brokerage Cove features used boats for sale. This area is around the corner from the main show and can be reached by water or land shuttle. Admission is included with your ticket. Fifty-eight boats participated last year; 80 are expected this year.
    Always new at the show are debut boats. This year at least six models make their first appearance: The Princess 43 by Princess Yachts; The Talaria 43 by Hinkley; The True North 38, the Ocean Yacht 64 by Makaira; and cabin-style 28-foot and 35-foot RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) by Fluid Watercraft.
Your Writer Is a Boat Show Fan
    I’ve been going to the Powerboat Show for 28 years. A few years work kept me away, but mostly I was able to keep my priorities straight. I remember the decimated 2009 show and the graphic image of the state of our economy it provided. Now I’m looking forward to seeing the show return in its former glory.
    I’m not in the market for a new boat, but I enjoy browsing and seeing the accessories. This year the show is expecting almost 600 exhibitors in the tents and booths; I don’t think I’ll go home empty-handed.
    Last year I saw a number of boats with retractable line cleats. I realized this was the solution to a long-standing problem with my boat, and they were my first addition last spring.
    On my agenda for this year: my first trip to Brokerage Cove and a new seminar called iNavigation on using smartphones and tablets on board.
    As always, I will have pit beef for lunch at the Fleet Reserve Club (ordering “rare” is recommended), followed by an ice cream cone from Storm Brothers.
    Of the boats premiering at the show, I am most interested in those Cabin RIBS from Fluid Watercraft. I have always pictured RIBS as open boats, so this notion is intriguing. It’s doubtful I’ll ever buy one, but I do still buy lottery tickets every now and then.

The United Sates Powerboat Show: Th Oct. 16-Su Oct. 19 at Annapolis City Dock. Park at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and take the free shuttle: