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The Show Must Go On

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In 2011 I hit 11 boat shows, both domestically and abroad. And trust me, 11 was enough.

I know many of you look forward to boat shows, and actually I do too—at least at the beginning of the season. I just think there are too many of them. Admittedly as a journalist my motivation for going to them is different from yours: You shop and buy (hopefully); I do research. Still I question whether seemingly every city and sizable town in the world needs its own boat show—or maybe two—each presenting essentially the same boats
and information.

Brickbats aside, I learned a lot at those 11 shows. One thing is that, as counterintuitive as it may sound, the principal industry topic is no longer boats; it’s the world economy. Boatbuilders have come to the harsh realization that, by occupying the top of the economic food chain, their fate is not so much in the hands of designers and dealers as it is in those of politicians and policymakers. Once, I’d visit a builder and the first thing he’d talk about was his newest model; now it’s the economic crisis in [insert current country here]. There’s a realization that today a builder can design and build the finest boat in the world but if boaters are fretting over their financial future, few will buy it.

The second thing I learned is that the once-dominant American boatbuilding industry is dormant at best, in decline at worst. I saw some very nice new models from U.S. yards, but I saw far more from foreign builders, many of which now routinely introduce groups of new boats instead of just single models. At a time when are there are so many bargains in late-model used boats, any builder who doesn’t have boats that are truly new and different—not just refreshed—is going to be at a major disadvantage.

To conclude on a positive note, the third thing I learned is that wherever it’s being created, a lot of innovation and clean-sheet thinking is coming your way. In 2012, you will see boats that break the rules: They’re faster, more maneuverable, and more fuel efficient—all at the same time. And you’ll see styling and interior features and materials you never imagined. This is going to be a very exciting year for boaters—whether you attend a boat show or not.