The first day of FLIBS

Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show
It's the opening day at the 2021Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and Boating Industry was there.

By David Gee It used to be that a killer sound system, a cool new gelcoat color or perhaps more power topped my next new boat wish list. Not any more. After one day at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show I now want my next boat to have an AgustaWestland AW109S twin-engine, eight-seat, multi-purpose helicopter sitting on the transom ready to whisk me away when I get bored with life on my superyacht.

Yes, there are two yachts for sale here at the show that are so equipped. They are both in the $100 million price range, with low engine hours by the way. Apparently billionaires don’t use their boats very often. And if that purchase price is too rich for your blood, they are both available for charter at a million dollars a week. By the way, fuel, food and tips for the crew of 20 are all extra.

There are certainly lots of those big boats here. But there are also lots of smaller, more affordable boats of all sizes, shapes and power choices. In total, 712 boats are at the show, and 647 exhibitors are displaying their products.

In previous years, the show has claimed to have had as many as 1,500 boats in the water. But seeing how the boats are all crowded into a fairly confined and compact size in the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, that higher number seems kind of crazy. But whether it’s 700 boats, or twice that many, there are LOTS and LOTS of boats.

And lots of people. We came out of a press event near the main entrance to the show at 11:30 am, and there were probably 100 people lined up in the sun waiting to be let in at noon.

A couple of hours after that, I walked through one of the main exhibit halls with boating accessories, clothing, sunglasses and other smaller boating-related items for sale and the place was packed. People were five deep in the aisles every lane I turned down. I did pick up a really cool new pair of polarized sunglasses after I left my previous pair at a Tampa restaurant during IBEX. I would mention the name of the brand and give them a plug but they didn’t give me a discount.

There aren’t any discounts to be had on most boats either, as you might imagine. We attendee’s a press briefing conducted by Viking’s Pat Healey who said they are sold out through 2021, and 80% of their production for 2022 is spoken for. And that’s for boats that cost as much as $12 million.

“It’s a great time to be in the boat business,” said Healey, whose father Bill and uncle Bob purchased the fledgling boat company in 1964. At the time Viking was building wooden boats aimed at the fishing market, but with some encouragement from Pat, they eventually turned their focus to fishing.

“We’re on the high side of things right now and we don’t intend to give up our spot,” added Healey. “It has taken a long time to get here and we as an industry should do everything we can to make sure demand stays high and boaters stay happy.”

Volvo Penta was happy to be talking about their Assisted Docking system that they debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show. Assisted Docking is a hybrid between automated docking and manual docking or semi-automated boat maneuvering. It integrates GPS, steering, transmission and engine control data to ease the docking process and make it more predictable. The system automates the driver’s intentions, compensates for wind and current, and gives the driver more control, which all adds up to taking some of the stress out of docking.

“Innovation is in our DNA and we’ve always worked toward making docking – one of the most challenging aspects of boating – as easy as possible,“ said Volvo Penta President and CEO, Heléne Mellquist. “We were fortunate as an industry to welcome lots of new boaters during the pandemic. We need to do all we can to make boating in general a more accessible activity, and continue to not only attract new boaters, but younger boaters.”

Standing alongside Heléne was Martin Bjuve, President, Volvo Penta of the Americas, and I had the chance to ask him about sustainability.

“The company will continue to transform the customer experience with our Easy Boating pholosophy, both for today’s boater and a whole new generation to enjoy being on the water,” said Bjuve. “This not only includes leveraging the benefits of sustainable technologies but also automation and connectivity to further enhance the unique Volvo Penta onboard experience. We are really on a path towards sustainability and you will see proof of concepts in the very near future.”

Also in the very near future you can hear more of my conversation with Heléne and Martin, as I recorded in for a Boating Industry Insider podcast.

And stay tuned for another day at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. We’ll be back at it for Day 2.

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