The 53rd Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show opens Thursday and runs through Monday at six locations with a new Performance Village showcasing go-fast boats at its Bahia Mar Yachting Center headquarters.
The floating H-I dock will harbor models from several manufacturers designed for comfort and family fun as well as speed that, instead of being stripped down to hull and engines, include features such as air-conditioned cabins, sun beds and abundant drink holders.
“The trend is still high-performance, but with more utility,” said Stu Jones, founder and president of the 500-member Florida Powerboat Club. “They’re spreading their market out. If they want to stay in the business of building boats, they need to expand their lines. Dad loved all that power going 85 all day long, but that just wasn’t fun for everybody.”
Amid steep fuel prices and a wobbly economy, high-performance boats these days trend toward center-console models with multiple outboard engines instead of inboard power. That’s because outboards have become more fuel-efficient without sacrificing speed, and they also allow even large boats to operate in shallow water for island-hopping. Still, with prices ranging from $300,000 to upwards of $1 million, the high-performance sector accounts for only one-tenth of 1 percent of new outboard boat sales, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. But companies such as Cigarette, Concept, Deep Impact and Douglas Marine still are healthy afloat, and participation in the powerboat club’s Poker Runs — weekend cruises to popular destinations such as the Keys — is strong, Jones said.
“Even though we plummeted into a bad economy four years ago, there are still people who are going to be wealthy,” Jones said. “These are the ‘haves’ and this is their outlet.”
Rather than retrenching during the recession, Miami-based Cigarette Racing Team invested “millions and millions” in new products, according to company president Skip Braver. Beginning in 2006, Cigarette introduced high-performance, center-console models, culminating with the 42-foot Huntress, unveiled at last February’s Miami International Boat Show.
At the Fort Lauderdale show, Cigarette will display two versions of the Huntress — one with four Mercury Verado 300-horsepower outboards and one with five 350-horsepower Mercury Racing outboards — along with three other models. Prices range from $300,000 to $1 million. All are custom built in the company’s Opa-locka plant.
Braver says the Huntress, with a cabin containing a berth, head, appliances and six feet of headroom, can do over 70 mph with 23 people on board. But despite its name, Cigarette, he said, does not build race boats.
“One of the biggest things that kept us in business is I got out of racing,” he said. “We’re taking those dollars and building things like the Huntress.”
Holland, Mich.-based Douglas Marine — also famous for race boats — will make its first appearance at the Fort Lauderdale show, introducing a 40-foot Skater catamaran with twin 1,100-horsepower MerCruiser inboard/outboard engines. Company president Peter Hledin says it can do 155 mph with six people aboard.
“A fast boat is the only thing you can break the speed limit and not get arrested,” Hledin said.
Priced at about $900,000, the Skater is configured like a convertible that seats six people — no cabin, no comfy accoutrements.
More moderately-priced is the new Deep Impact 33 LS — a 33-foot center-console with T-top, an enclosed head and twin Mercury Verado 350-horsepower outboards that sales manager Tim Gallagher says can run around 65 mph with 12 people on board, starting at around $250,000.
“It can be used either as a yacht tender or for a customer with a large family that wants to have well-performing amenities,” Gallagher said.
Susan Patterson, vice president of sales for Miami-based Concept Boats, says her company has produced high-performance, center-console outboard boats with hand-painted graphics and “sexy accoutrements” for 28 years.
“When our share of the pie showed signs of growth was when fuel prices started climbing,” Patterson said. “Where the name became better known was when the market started picking up for this ‘sport-utility vessel’ that you can fish off of or make a sport boat of it.”
Concept won’t be introducing any new models at the show, but it will display two 44-foot center-consoles — one an open-style with a small cuddy cabin and triple Mercury 300-horsepower outboards, the other with quad engines and a full cabin with galley and air conditioning. Prices range from $325,000 to $425,000.