Boats Afloat Show Opening With High Hopes, Big Stakes

by Deborah Bach

SEATTLE – September 15, 2009 – Yacht brokers and dealers are cautiously optimistic that the Lake Union Boats Afloat Show will reel in sales the industry has been waiting for. As the Lake Union Boats Afloat show opens Wednesday, dealers and brokers are hoping that better than expected results at last month’s boat show in Seattle bode well for the annual September event.

The Seattle Boat Show at Shilshole Bay Marina, held in early August, surprised organizers and exhibitors, exceeding attendance goals and resulting in sales of both new and used boats. Show producer Bonnie Bergquist said optimism fueled by the earlier show has prompted exhibitors to fill the space available for the Lake Union event, which will include about 200 boats. “We are out of space,” Bergquist said. “I’m surprised. We’ve had a lot of last-minute entries.”

In another sign the industry may finally be on the upswing, Bergquist said she’s had to shift display space for about half a dozen of the show’s exhibitors after the boats they planned to display sold.

“I haven’t seen that happen in two or three boat shows,” she said.

Kay Woltman, marketing manager for Lake Union Sea Ray, said sales at the Shilshole event makes her hopeful about the prospects for the Boats Afloat Show. The company sold a range of boats at the August show, Woltman said, from trailered runabouts to yachts larger than 30 feet.

“The interest level was certainly there,” she said. “If (Boats Afloat) is anything like the show that we just came out of, we’re very much looking forward to it.” Started in 1977, the Lake Union Boats Afloat Show is put on by the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association and includes yacht brokers, dealers and other marine businesses from around the region including British Columbia. Described by the NYBA as the largest floating boat show on the west coast, it’s perceived as an event that draws more seasoned boaters than the Shilshole show.

This year's Boats Afloat Show includes a larger than usual percentage of used boats. Accordingly, it tends to have a greater number of bigger, more expensive boats. This year’s show features four megayachts larger than 100 feet that are sure to draw crowds of gawkers. The biggest is the 143-foot Devotion, which has six staterooms with private bathrooms and is listed at $8.9 million.

Also on display is the Hotei, a 115-yacht that can accommodate up to 75 for dinner and has entertained celebs including Princess Di, Sidney Poitier and Eva Gabor. Asking price: $3 million. Bergquist said it’s unusual for the show to have several yachts over 100 feet. “Usually we have one boat that’s that large,” she said.

The show also has a higher than usual percentage of pre-owned boats, Bergquist said—around 70 percent, compared with the typical 60 percent—reflecting a current preference among consumers to buy used rather than new. Included in the mix are 30-plus sailboats, a few catamarans, plenty of sport boats and, this being the Northwest, a good number of trawlers.

Fans of the “Deadliest Catch” can tour the Sea Star, one of the fishing boats featured on the popular reality show, with members of the cast and crew.

Both adults and kids will have opportunities to get out on the water during the show. Free rides are available on Lake Union’s electric water taxi, and Puget Sound Sailing Renaissance, a grassroots group formed earlier this year to promote sailing, will be offering free rides on 30- to 40-foot sailboats. The rides last about 45 minutes and will run continuously every day of the show. Check in at the Discover Sailing booth in front of Chandler’s Crabhouse restaurant. Life jackets are provided.

Sail Sand Point is providing free sailing lessons (life jackets included) for 8- to 16-year-olds on 14-foot Hobie Wave catamarans. The lessons start with a 30-minute dockside briefing to go over the basics of sailing. Students then take the boats out on the water themselves, accompanied by instructors following alongside in powerboats. Space is limited; to sign up in advance, email showinfo@boatsafloatshow.com.

The lessons benefit both youngsters and parents, Berguist pointed out. “We get the kids out on the water learning boat skills, getting excited about boating, while mom and dad have 90 minutes to walk the dock by themselves and seriously shop.”

Much rides on the 33rd annual Lake Union Boats Afloat show. It will be viewed as a barometer of the health of the region’s boating industry, which has struggled through a prolonged, painful recession. It will help gauge whether the pent-up consumer demand that boat brokers and dealers have anxiously been awaiting is finally starting to materialize.

Regardless of the show’s outcome, Bergquist, the NYBA’s executive director, said it promises to be a good time for anyone who loves boats. “It’s just a fun experience to walk the docks and look and dream,” she said.

The Lake Union Boats Afloat Show runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Tickets are available online or at the show. Online ticket purchases include a $25 gift card redeemable at Daniel’s Broiler or Chandler’s Crabhouse and a free ride on the Seattle Streetcar.

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