For most Michigan boaters, winter is boat show season. It’s the time of year to research and review the latest accessories, technology and new models from the many manufacturers on display in venues across the state.
Michigan is home to some of the most well-known boat builders in the marine industry. Based in Holland on the West Michigan shoreline, Tiara Yachts continues to produce some of the most desirable boats in the world. Cadillac is home to Glastron, Wellcraft and recently has seen the rebirth of the Scarab name. And though it is not the same brand as the powerboats made famous in the 1980s by Don Johnson and “Miami Vice,” Scarab still is a top-notch example of the speed, handling and beauty expected in a high-performance powerboat.
Many manufacturers now offer entry-level boats for first-time buyers. These lower-cost models feature modern materials and designs that can dramatically reduce cleaning requirements and maintenance costs.
According to Nicki Polan, executive director for the Michigan Boating Industries Association, the MBIA shows — which include the Detroit Boat Show in January, the Novi Boat Show in March and Metro Boat Show later in the year — all are intended to introduce people to the boating lifestyle.
“We focus on bringing new people to boating. We try to reduce the barriers to entry by showing that boats have become easier to handle, more affordable and need less maintenance,” Polan said. “Many people don’t realize that you can finance a boat for 15 years or more.”
Boat shows also are a convenient place to see the latest marine industry trends. Jet drive technology, usually found in smaller ski boats, now turns larger cruisers into fast, nimble sport boats for wakeboarding and tubing. Big boat manufacturers are building luxury bowriders measuring more than 40 feet in length.
Although pontoon boats still represent one of the best-selling sectors in the market due to advancements in speed and handling, center console sales are rapidly increasing. Traditionally aimed at the hardcore fishing crowd, center consoles have become less utilitarian and are loaded with creature comforts. Outboard engines now appear on 30- and 40-foot luxury sport models, quietly generating enough horsepower to push bigger vessels more than 50 miles per hour.
Offseason boat shows can be a good place to save money, whether trading in a current vessel or buying outright. Buyers often can find show specials they won’t see back in the showroom.
Changes in Michigan tax laws also have made it easier than ever to trade in an older vessel for something new. Rules like sales tax on the difference, or STOD, make it more feasible than ever to trade in since lower taxes make larger purchases more attractive.
While boat show attendance has remained fairly stable over the last decade, sales have steadily risen, according to show organizers. Many shows have expanded to meet the increased demand. The upcoming 2020 Novi Boat Show increased its floor space by 90,000 square feet and sold out to exhibitors almost immediately. Celebrating its 75th year in 2020, the Grand Rapids Boat Show has grown to cover 5 acres.
“We’re going to have more big boats than ever on display,” said Henri Boucher, show producer for the annual event at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. “We’ve even got a 52-foot Carver coming in for the first time.”
Visitors also will find contests and raffles at each event. At the Grand Rapids Boat Show, scheduled for Feb. 19-23, guests can win a ride on one of the event’s biggest attractions. For the past six years, the high-performance boating club, West Michigan Offshore, has brought in some of the hottest offshore powerboats on the Great Lakes.
“Our goal is to bring passionate boaters together,” West Michigan Offshore President Roger Zuidema said. “These boats bring lots of curious people to the show. They’ve seen them in movies or out on the water, and now, they want to see them up close.” ≈
Chuck Warren is a boating writer and licensed captain who lives in Grandville. He has worked on boats for 40 years.
*Photography courtesy Michigan Boating Industries Association