With U.S. boat sales hot for the second year in a row and with Minnesota ranked fourth among all states as a leading market for new powerboats, engines, trailers and accessories, the 2018 Minneapolis Boat Show expects a major splash in attendance starting Thursday.
There, in front of Hall D near the main entrance, some 36,000 visitors will be greeted by boating’s past. Surrounded by magnificent wooden creations and a few old fiberglass gems, members of the Bob Speltz Land-O-Lakes Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society will be serving up nostalgia for at least the 15th year in a row.
Like the rest of the boating community right now, the club is in a period of prosperity. Membership is up 20 percent over the past two years to about 360 people. This year’s boat show, running through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, provides another opportunity for expansion.
“We are growing and we have a reputation of being a very active chapter,” said Dave Bortner, the club’s president.
Bortner, who owns a boat service and restoration company in Mound, said there’s a full spectrum of boat styles represented in the club — from canoes to sailboats and specialty boats. What’s relevant to the club changes as various “new” watercraft become collectible. Finned fiberglass boats made by Herter’s Inc. in the 1950s have drawn attention for a number of years. Century Coronados, Boston Whalers and James Bond-style Glastron boats — also made from fiberglass — have come into vogue.
“What is cool to collect is getting newer,” Bortner said. “It’s not just wood boats.”
Those newer fashions have kept the hobby of classic boats affordable for enthusiasts who would otherwise be priced out of the action. For instance, some of the show-stopping wooden beauties on display at this year’s boat show are valued at more than $500,000.
Bortner said members of the club include world-class collectors such as John and Becky Allen. Their immaculately restored, 28-foot 1931 Ditchburn Hiawatha with its original Packard engine could well be the antique highlight of this year’s show.
But Bortner said the club still attracts do-it-yourselfers who attend group workshops, including some who are simply aiming to restore affordable fiberglass boats. Forty years ago, that’s what was going on with people who fell in love with wooden boats, he said. It was an inexpensive way to get into boating with a head-turning ride.
Bortner said his Twin Cities-based Land-O-Lakes chapter is one of the three oldest membership groups to form under the 32-year-old International Antique and Classic Boat Society. There’s 57 chapters in the U.S. and Canada and one in France.
He attributed the recent membership boost at Land-O-Lakes to heavy exposure the club received two years ago at an international antique boat show on Gull Lake in Nisswa, Minn. Bortner said more than 30,000 people were drawn to the exhibit at Bar Harbor Supper Club. The show was advertised effectively by high-level marketing professionals who belong to the Land-O-Lakes chapter, Bortner said.
The club draws recruits from throughout Minnesota, western Wisconsin and sparsely from North and South Dakota. Other chapters are located in Milwaukee, Chicago and Okoboji, Iowa. The biggest annual event hosted by the Land-O-Lakes chapter is a vintage boat rendezvous at Lord Fletcher’s on Lake Minnetonka the weekend after Labor Day.
Bortner said new boat business in Minnesota was crazy in 2016. For instance, Minnesota’s Sea Ray dealers were sold out of new inventory by the Fourth of July, he said.
On Tuesday, the National Marine Manufacturers Association announced it expects unit sales of new powerboats to be up six percent for 2017, when an estimated 260,000 new powerboats were sold. The trade group said the sales outlook for this year is just as bright, with increases of five to six percent in the forecast for 2018.
In 2016, Minnesota’s recreational boating industry booked $709.6 million in retail sales of new boats, engines and marine accessories. That was up nine percent from 2015 and good for fourth place behind top-ranked Florida ($2.5 billion), Texas ($1.4 billion) and Michigan ($868 million).
And it’s not only new boats Americans are buying. Across the country in 2016, there were 981,600 pre-owned boats sold totaling about $9 billion in sales, the manufacturers association said.