First day at FLIBS 2023

By David Gee

Over 1,000 exhibiting brands. More than 1,300 boats on display. Seven separate sites. Lots of docks. 19,107 steps. And over nine miles walked. That was my first day at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 64th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show,” said Andrew Doole, president of U.S. Boat Shows at Informa Markets, and organizers of the show. “The wonderful weather provided an ideal backdrop for attendees to explore the amazing array of boats and exhibitors on display. It’s a clear reflection of the energy and enthusiasm of the boating community, and we’re thrilled to welcome everyone back.”

The Boating Industry crew always looks forward to coming back, and editor-in-chief Adam Quandt and sales director Leslie Palmer and I began our day with breakfast and a media briefing with Volvo Penta.

“We feel there is both an opportunity and a responsibility to innovate, lean forward, and help lead the way in creating and sharing a vision for the future of recreational boating,” stated Johan Inden, president of the marine business unit at Volvo Penta. “We’re pushing boat builders and others to think far into the future, to have total design freedom, and not be obstructed by a lack of technology or innovation.”

Inden and vice president of marine sales for North America Jens Bering both highlighted Volvo Penta’s “easy boating” initiative that includes assisted docking, glass cockpits, dynamic positioning, joystick driving and other features that create greater “peace of mind for boaters.”

Even experienced boaters can agree that any product or feature that makes boating safer, easier, and more fun is a good thing, especially around the dock.

But after the event I asked Inden if they have any data to show that these types of more intuitive innovations the entire industry is working on is doing anything to either attract brand-new boaters or keep boaters around past that historically critical five-year mark.

“It’s a bit early in this process to have lots of meaningful data around this enhanced boating experience, but we certainly can say anecdotally that lots of our dealers are still seeing post-pandemic activity from new boaters who are very interested in things like assisted docking,” Inden told me. “I have absolutely had enough conversations with OEMs and dealers and boaters themselves to be confident this is the route forward for the industry.”

From there the Boating Industry crew ventured forward into press events from Scania, Formula, Sunseeker, Chris Craft, and Aviara.

In my normal lake life, I don’t see too many boats with helicopters on them, or equipped with deep sea submersibles, so it’s great fun to roam the docks, and see what $50 million gets you these days.

Since you literally could spend all day, for several days, doing that and not begin to get to every section of the in-water show, sometimes I have to force myself inside.

In the tents and pavilions are row after row of sunglasses, clothing, kayaks, marine accessories, fishing equipment, diving gear, personal watercraft and of course lots of cool gadgets and marine electronics.

Speaking of the latter, I was happy to read in Boating Industry that the National Marine Electronics Association is hosting local high school students at the show. They will be introducing them to marine electronics manufacturers and dealers who are exhibiting, and beginning to plant a seed about the potential for careers in the industry. Well done NMEA.

Well done also to Frank Hugelmeyer, Ellen Bradley and others at NMMA and MRAA for their Discover Boating campaign that delivered more than 3.6 billion impressions in the past year.

As I was heading to the media center at the show to pick up my credentials, I walked right past Frank, and after flagging me down, we had an interesting discussion about the State of the Recreational Boating Industry session he will be a part of at the upcoming Boating Industry ELEVATE Summit Conference in Dallas, November 5-7. If you haven’t made your plans yet, it’s not too late. It will be great at ELEVATE and you should be there!

It is also great to welcome Suzuki Marine as a first-time sponsor for ELEVATE, and look forward to having Gus Blakely on the panel with Frank, Bryan Redmond of Suntex Marinas and super dealer Jeff Husby.

Before we head to Texas for ELEVATE though, we still have things to see at FLIBS. When Leslie Palmer and I wrapped up our first day at Fort Lauderdale, we attended the press briefing for Suzuki at the convention center.

With Gus Blakely in Japan, Brandon Cerka, general manager, sales & service did the duties at the podium. And one of the first slides he showed was the Boating Industry Top Products award for Suzuki’s DF350AMD/300BMD outboards, the newest flagships of the Suzuki fleet, and the first Suzuki outboards to offer integrated steering. Congrats again.

Congratulations also for Suzuki’s CLEAN OCEAN PROJECT, including their innovative micro plastics filter device designed for use on outboard motors.

And now it’s time for the Boating Industry crew to head back out to the docks. There are people to talk to, podcasts to record, pictures to be taken, boats to be seen, and steps to be taken no doubt. See you soon!

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