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A Better Boating Experience

The Newport International Boat Show will offer in-water training for power and sail alike
Newport Show attendees will get to see new boats and enjoy access to in-water training for various skill levels.

Newport Show attendees will get to see new boats and enjoy access to in-water training for various skill levels.

There is some really good news just ahead of this year’s Newport International Boat Show: People buying up all the boats appear to be getting better at using them.

To understand why this is such good news heading into autumn 2022, think back to summer 2020. That’s when the pandemic led to what the National Marine Manufacturers Association called an “extraordinary” number of powerboat sales. Many of those boats were sold to first-time owners who had little to no boating experience, but who were looking for ways to have fun in the outdoors. Not surprisingly, for that same year, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that accidents, injuries and deaths all rose by more than 20 percent. The vast majority of deaths occurred on boats whose operators had received no safety instruction, according to the Coast Guard’s annual report.

Now, two years later, the Coast Guard has released statistics for how things went out on the waterways in 2021: Accidents, injuries and deaths are all down by at least 15 percent. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a lack of knowledge about boating basics still appears to be a problem when accidents happen—a problem that the Newport Show, which runs from September 15 through 18, is poised to help solve in an even bigger way this year than ever before in the show’s history.

This year, the Newport show is placing an increased focus on in-water training for boaters of various skill levels. Freedom Boat Club will once again be offering sessions aboard powerboats, and new this year will be Narragansett Sailing School offering sessions for sailors. Every day of the boat show, attendees can sign up to attend classes at the power or sail venues (or both). For powerboaters, the course options include “Become a Power Boater,” as well as beginner- and intermediate-level docking courses, and a women-only course. Those courses will be taught aboard 24-foot center consoles built by Cobia, Key West and, perhaps, Sailfish, with the intermediate-level classes being customized to address specific challenges that participants are running into out on the water. For sailors, options include beginning and intermediate sailing courses, as well as women-only versions of both. Registration is open now, and additional details about those courses will be available on the boat show’s website as the event dates get closer.

Training sessions will be designed to engender a deeper comfort level at the helm, even for skilled boaters.

Training sessions will be designed to engender a deeper comfort level at the helm, even for skilled boaters.

Tim Wordell, Northeast events coordinator for Freedom Boat Club in Newport, demand for registrations, which is right in line with the increased demand that Freedom Boat Club itself is seeing for boater education. This demand is holding steady even among people with a season or two of boating under their hulls. Newcomers who flocked to boating in 2020 are hearing the same horror stories out on the water that longtime boaters are getting wind of. Some have found themselves caught out in 3- to 5-foot waves and winds that made it tough for them to get back home. They have, for whatever reason, realized that they need to get more education to become more proficient boaters as they stick with the sport.

“We’ve had people ask to go out on a nasty day so they can learn to position the boat more comfortably to the waves,” Wordell says. “They say, ‘OK, I won’t be white-knuckled anymore.’”

It’s that kind of comfort level at the helm that he says the Newport show’s training sessions are designed to engender—including for boaters who are well beyond the beginner level. “People are taking advantage of the additional training sessions,” Wordell says. “It’s not just, ‘Get me trained enough to take the boats out.’ Now, they’re coming back and wanting advanced-level training.”

Lisa Knowles, who took over as director of the Newport International Boat Show in January, says longtime showgoers will of course also see new boats, new products and a concurrent brokerage show. While builders, dealers and manufacturers were still working through supply-chain and other issues in midsummer as they determined exactly what would be on display this autumn, Knowles told Soundings that she was surprised by the abundance of new products exhibitors were planning to have on hand—especially when it comes to eco-friendly cruising.

“Just when you think there’s no more innovation to be had, these companies are coming out with amazing stuff,” Knowles says. “I want attenees who have been coming for 30-plus years to know that there will be things for them too. They will see the tried-and-true exhibitors, but there also will be brands they’ve never seen before, plus new products.”

Builders that are expected to have displays at this year’s show range from makers of inflatables such as Inmar, Williams and Zodiac to larger-boat manufacturers including Beneteau, Bluegame, Grady-White, Grand Banks, Jeanneau, Kadey-Krogen, Nordhavn, Scout and Vicem. Also on the exhibitor list this year are long-popular product and service brands including Awlgrip, KVH, Fairclough Sailmakers, Sunbrella, Dockwa, Yamaha and Seakeeper.

Many of the exhibitors, Knowles says, will be adding to their displays this year with spaces that are specifically dedicated to spending more in-depth time with showgoers. Far more exhibitors than usual are requesting what’s known as “display docks,” which are 10-by-20-foot spaces similar to the ones that are often decked out at larger boat shows with everything from chairs and sofas to party pavilions.

“You see it big when you go to Lauderdale and shows like that,” she says. “Well, this year, everybody we talk to wants a display dock. Yes, they’re bringing boats, but they want display docks. This is where they can entertain clients and get people out from the sun or the rain.”

Overall, Knowles describes the planning leading up to this year’s show as “very fluid” as builders sort through which boats and products they will ultimately have on display. She encourages showgoers to keep checking the show’s website for the latest information—and to remember that no matter what, heading to this year’s show will be a great break from the challenges of everyday life.

“The boat show is like a sanctuary,” she says. “It’s a way to be out on the docks and surrounded by the vibe. It takes you away from the frustrating world. Many of our attendees know they’ve left that world behind when they arrive. They’re in a happy place.”  —Kim Kavin

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.

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