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New England Boat Show draws crowds

Attendance at the Progressive Insurance New England Boat Show was up about 8.5 percent, which was good news, considering the first Sunday of the show was off 40 percent because of snow.

“Weekday traffic has been up 18 to 20 percent each day,” National Marine Manufacturers Association New England Boat Show organizer Joe O'Neal told Soundings on Saturday. “Usually the serious buyers come out on weekdays, and up to this year it’s been flat.”

Official reports haven’t been released yet because typically the closing weekend is a big selling weekend, O'Neal said. The exhibitor space was also completely sold out for the first time in years.

Many exhibitors at the show said they were seeing repeat customers on the final weekend of the Feb. 16-24 show.

“We’ve seen some guys that we talked to last weekend go home and do their homework, and they’re coming back this weekend to buy,” Ron Bibee, customer service manager for Bryant Boats, told Soundings.

Bibee, who attends shows all over the country with Bryant Boats, said the New England show is among his favorites.

“It’s a fabulous venue,” Bibee said. “You really see it all here. From the consumer standpoint you can see everything from this Beneteau over here for a half a million dollars to the Bayliner Element,” which sells fully loaded for $16,999.

Carl Aldrich, of Nauset Marine, said there had been huge interest in Boston Whaler’s new Vantage.

“That’s what people want — a dayboat,” Aldrich said. “It’s versatile and rugged.”

Pontoons also did well for those carrying them — typically dealers that operate in freshwater markets, such as Irwin Marine, which largely caters to people boating on Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H.

“It’s a growth segment, that’s for sure,” said Bruce Wright, general manager and vice president of Irwin Marine, which carries the Berkshire brand. “We’re seeing some people transitioning out of runabouts and into pontoons as the quality and sophistication have improved. People want one boat to do everything, and now we’re able to make that happen where we couldn’t before.”

John Huether, with Cataumet Boats, said there had been a lot of interest in Yamaha’s new joystick control called the Helm Master, which was exclusive to Grady-White at the New England Boat Show.

“Joystick controls are somewhat old hat. What Yamaha has done is built in features like speed control and auto trim control, and theft protection,” Huether said. “It does about 12 other things outside of traditional joystick controls.”

— Reagan Haynes