Baltimore-area boaters get the chance to beat the mid-winter chill and make hot deals when the billion-dollar Chesapeake Bay Boat Show opens a nine-day run at the Convention Center Saturday.
Show manager Dan Rea said 150,000 square feet has been leased to more than 160 exhibitors selling and showing everything from jon boats to the futuristic Mannerfelt B-28 racing boat to Twiggy, the water skiing squirrel.
But don't expect to see the multi-million-dollar, 70- and 80-footers that dot the harborside for the fall powerboat and sailboat shows in Annapolis each year. The Baltimore show is more attuned to boats that average families can afford.
"This is totally different than Annapolis. It's winter time. It's an indoor show and we don't have sailboats," said show manager Dan Rea. "Annapolis has both power and sail, and Annapolis has location, location, location. It is boating.
"We have a different draw for this show, the frustrated boaters who realize it is the middle of winter and are looking for a chance to get out and smell the fiberglass, so to speak."
The show is also built around the strengths of local and regional dealers.
David Baumgartner of Riverside Marine, which sells at both the Annapolis and Baltimore shows, said his dealerships will have 32 boats on display here, ranging from runabouts to cruisers.
The Baltimore event, he said, is a bread-and-butter show, while at the Annapolis show there is a lot of traffic but not a lot of buyers.
"At the Annapolis show, we talk to people from around the country and from out of the country," said Baumgartner. "But Baltimore is a selling show. We may have made first contact with a customer in Annapolis, but they come here to buy. This is a buy-a-boat-for-spring show."
A sizable portion of sales at the Baltimore show is fishing boats -- center consoles, walkarounds, sport cabins and cruisers -- which have had increasing sales at the show through this decade.
"It is going to be a good show for a guy who wants to buy a fishing boat again this year," Baumgartner said.
It probably is an excellent year to buy almost any boat, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association's annual report on the marine industry. Competitive pricing among builders and dealers of smaller outboard-powered boats dropped prices more than $300 per unit last year and the organization expects competitive pricing to continue.
"It is a very fickle market and has been that way probably forever," said Doug Hansen of Boating Center of Baltimore, a dealer for upscale 22- to 35-footers. "It vacillates, and right now it seems to be the bigger boats that are selling."
The big boat market has almost doubled in production units and tripled in dollar sales, according to NMMA statistics.
"The change I see is that it's not the white-collar guy who's buying," said Hansen. "It is the civil worker or government employee who is finding he can afford a 25- or 27-foot boat, and the higher-income retiree who is spending even more for something larger."
Shoppers usually can find excellent terms from lenders on the Convention Center floor.
Boat loan rates continue to be competitive with automobile rates, according to the National Marine Bankers Association. Longer-term loans for more expensive yachts should approach interest rates available for real estate purchases.
Unlike the fall shows in Annapolis, Rea said, the Baltimore show draws heavily from regional dealers, rather than from manufacturers who might have sales representatives on hand from dealers in several states.
"But from a buyer's standpoint that issue is really transparent, because here they get to work directly with the dealer who is going to sell and service the boat they buy," said Rea. "The factories and marinas aren't that busy in winter, and, as with anything you buy, you get your best deal when demand is low -- and you get to order it the way you want it."
Boat show facts
What: Chesapeake Bay Boat Show. Where: Baltimore Convention Center.
When: Saturday-Feb. 7.
Hours: Weekday hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Show opens at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Admission: $7 for adults and $3 for ages 6 to 12.
Parking: Free at Oriole Park lot with shuttle service to the Convention Center.
Pub Date: 1/28/99