By Richard Campbell

Some trade shows at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center may be more dazzling, but it would be hard to find a more congenial group than the nautical purveyors collected this past week at the New England Boat Show as produced by Progressive Insurance. Outside of the sheer quantity of every conceivable water traveling craft, from sail boats to jet skis, yachts, fishing boats, tugs, craft cruisers; this show had plenty of vendors offering training, maintenance, and ancillary products. The show’s guide claims that the Massachusetts recreational boating industry has an annual impact of $2.1 billion a year. It seemed like I saw $2 billion dollars-worth of nautical equipment in the 250 displays at this one show.

Being in the older demographic, I was positively drooling over the Chris Craft line of classic American made handcrafted boats. A more understated luxurious and solid pleasure boat line has never been made. The provenance of Chris Crafts goes all the way back to 1874, but it is remembered by the Baby Boom generations for its appearance in classic movies, use by famous first families, and being the on dock stars at summer camps from New York to New England. With clever names like Capri, Calypso, Catalina, these highly engineered boats lined with hand crafted teak and butt cosseting upholstery come in everything from small 21ft. family sizes all the way up to 43 ft. yachts. There may be flashier boats throughout the show, but you’d have a tough time matching these for style and old world craftsmanship.

For pure luxury East Coast Yacht Sales was displaying an American Tug yacht in the half a million category that was basically a luxury condo with a hull. The smooth talking and friendly Representatives Rob Geaghan from Yarmouth Maine, and Michael Porter of Portsmouth Rhode Island had a great time taking people on tours of the vessel. They revealed clever fold away tables that turn into sleeping beds, the lower cabin with fancy bathroom and master bedroom, the craftsmanship of the generous wood lined fully equipped kitchen / dining area, and the advanced navigation systems. They didn’t have to sell the boat, but getting people to leave it in order to let others on to enjoy it required a little gentle nudging.

Among American classics, the Boston Whaler series is a sturdy utilitarian boat designed by Richard Fisher that has proved its mettle over time. Beloved by fisherman for sixty years, versions of this boat are the bread and butter of fishing villages from New Bedford to Gloucester and beyond. The East Coast Business Manager, Doug Nettles directed me away from their fancier cruise line to the Montauk series, the standard bearer for fishing, and its newest iteration: the Montauk 170. With the Mercury outboard engine, classic front perch, big captain’s stand and convenient fishing stations this is how I always thought of the Boston Whalers. But if you look at the Outrage Series you’ll realize they also hold their own in luxury cabin cruisers.

The Malibu boat series that is focused on water skiing and wake boarding sports cuts across the thrill seeker market with rocket sized engines, all kinds of high tech devices, quad sound, and muscle boat appeal. These boats do well in California and Florida were the water is warm enough to really enjoy water sports for extended months outside summer. Bosun’s Marine, a heavy hitter in boat sales and service throughout New England, had a centrally located display of multiple kinds of vessels. Lines formed to get up close to the Edge Water series of high tech fishing boats that loomed over the show with spectacular fly bridges, major amenities, powered by triple outboards.

The Godfrey pontoon boats are styled for family parties on the water, with built in bars and kitchens, big sofa seating areas, serving the inner lounge lizard in all of us. At first glance they are kind of comical, like floating living rooms, but

when talking with Erica Moore from Rockingham Boat Repair and Sales, it became easy to imagine one of these boats festooned with Japanese lanterns, the grill pumping out barbeque, and having the space for adults and children to congregate for a family reunion. Of course there were still a few sail boats- but only a few. The classic Herreshoff Boats from Bristol Rhode Island had a tiny booth. Yamaha seemed to dominate the jet ski market, which even at the high end, seemed like the most affordable family water recreation.

There were vendors for a wide variety of services. The Boston Harbor Sailing Club had a booth and was offering special rates until February 24th on all levels of training. Located at Rowe’s Wharf these guys offer everything from day sailing instruction to masters bareboat instruction. They have a fleet of 70 boats, and have been in business for 44 years. Boat Wise Marine Training was on hand as well, with their emphasis upon boat safety, USCG License Courses, Captain’s license, training in CPR, First Aid, and marine safety requirements. The people who come to save you when you are in trouble in the harbor at Tow Boats US came with both their Boston and Cape Cod Staffs on board. If one attended the workshops that ran the length of this show on fishing, maintenance and being sea worthy, it would make this a real boater’s education.

Among the gift items Lindsay Tia’s patriotic Bravery Brand boat bags and accessories looked 4th of July ready. There were plenty of kid’s activities in the Progressive playground area, with virtual reality demos, oversized inflatables, coloring and games. While I would say this is a show for boat buyers, or owners looking to upgrade; the entertainment value of the show itself would make a fairly fun family day out. Book mark this for kid’s spring vacation next year if you missed it!

Chris Craft Catalina 34, classic fishing boat.

Erica Moore of Rockingham Boat Sales kicks back on a Godfrey pontoon boat.

Doug Nettles shows off Montauk 170, new design features.