The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Amid pandemic boom, Norwalk Boat Show is back
With the return this month of the Progressive Insurance Norwalk Boat Show after a pandemic hiatus, there will be any number of activities on hand to include how-to workshops, kid’s activities, and opportunities to get out on Norwalk Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Attendees might notice one change from the 2019 installment, however — fewer boats on hand that are the main draw. Inventory shortages are continuing for boat dealers after a surge in interest for outdoor diversions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and difficulties for manufacturers getting their hands on materials and parts to build new boats.
The Norwalk Boat Show returns to Norwalk Cove Marina on Thursday, Sept. 23, running through Sunday under lead sponsor Progressive Insurance. Tickets are $15 and parking free for any single day of the show, with kids age 12 or under free when accompanied by an adult.
More than 110 exhibitors will be on hand, including just over two dozen boat manufacturers from Aviara Boats sold at MarineMax across Norwalk Harbor, to Zodiac sold at the adjacent Rex Marine Center.
Other booths include Connecticut Boat Safe and Current Boating Education which offer boating license courses for first-time boat owners.
Low inventories have kept some vendors away from National Marine Manufacturers Association shows this year, given long waiting times for deliveries. The Norwalk Boat Show is scheduled for the week after the Newport International Boat Show that is marking its 50th year.
“There has been some attrition, and the reason for that is 450,000 first-time boat buyers entered the market in 2020 — we don’t have the numbers yet for 2021 but it’s continued,” said Jon Pritko, a National Marine Manufacturers Association vice president who oversees NMMA boat shows in the Northeast. “We’ll have some used boats at the show as well, but even that — pickings are slim.”
Beyond boats showcased for sale at slips and boating workshops, the show includes free workshops on fishing hosted by the Cape Cod outfitter Goose Hummock— with the Outdoor Sports Center offering free paddle board and kayak sessions.
The Rex Boating Club will have free boat rides, and Norwalk Seaport Association is offering free cruises as well to view Sheffield Island Lighthouse.
Young children can putter around a “mini lake” on small paddle boats, and kids will have plenty of other opportunities for fun and games including toy boat building and a touch tank with tidal pool creatures sponsored by the Marine Science Academy at Brien McMahon High School.
Amid increasing awareness for reducing plastic waste that finds its way into waterways and oceans, the Norwalk Boat Show is hosting a contest among Norwalk schools for students to create projects on how reducing waste can have a positive impact on the environment, with the winning team to get $500 to fund any initiatives. And at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, the Clean Earth Project is helping coordinate a volunteer clean up of the waterfront at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Norwalk, with sign-up online at thecleanearthproject.com.
Back at the marina, the CEO of boat maker Brunswick Corp. told investors in late July that production came up 7,000 units short of actual retail demand last spring, with the company having sufficient inventory at that point to last through the end of summer only. Brunswick brands include Boston Whaler, Sea Ray and Bayliner as well as Mercury outboard engines.
“As we begin to get through the prime selling season over the next couple of months, we will be planning to build inventory again,” Brunswick CEO David Foulkes said in July. “But right now and probably through most of the year, it certainly is a constrained marketplace.”
The same week, the CEO of MarineMax said many buyers have been looking to trade up for larger yachts — but with stocks running low even for those models, facing a wait themselves.
“Would sales be even higher? I think the answer to that is yes — I think every dealer would tell you that,” said Brett McGill, CEO of MarineMax, speakingin July on a conference call. “You just look at our backlog, our customer deposits and the strength of demand today . ... The industry trends would be even stronger if it wasn’t for some of the supply chain challenges that it’s seeing.”