Fueling winter boat sales has Chicagoans dreaming of summer

By Xiumei Dong

Even though the temperature dropped below the 10s this holiday weekend, the freezing weather didn’t stop people from dreaming about outdoor summer fun on a boat.

Consumers shop for new boats at Chicago Boat, RV & Sail Show. (Xiumei Dong & Qingwei Chen/MEDILL)

“It’s just a great time, 2016, I am really motivated,” said Ormen Bush.

Bush said the improving economy allows him to have a little bit extra to spend this year, and he is considering buying a new boat as an addition to his Airbnb home in Seattle.

The 2016 Chicago Boat, RV & Sail Show at McCormick Place is the biggest marine and outdoor show in the Midwest, featuring more than 500 exhibitors and over a hundred boat brands. Dealers and industry experts said boat sales here increased from previous years.

“We have hit our quota,” said Mark Ruck of Gage Marine. “It’s just a fresh new year. We have already sold way more boats than we have to.”

Some of the popular boats include pontoon boats and fishing boats that have multiple purposes.

“A lot of consumers used to have two and three boats. They are finding that with a pontoon with a higher power engine, there are a lot of things they can do that maybe they could do only on a speedboat or a glassboat,” said Ed Fisher, regional sales manager of Crest Marine.

Fisher said his company, a main manufacturer for pontoon boats, grew 30 percent last year. The price range they sold the most was $40,000 to $50,000.

Pointing to a boat with three pontoons, Fisher said, “the triple tub now is closer to 55 percent of what we build as a manufacturer.”

People were also showing interest in some of the bigger boats.

“I am here to find what’s available,” said Gene Berg. He has been looking at the high-end 40-foot boat by Cobalt, a company that previously manufactured only smaller boats.

“But we won’t buy until May or June to see how the year turns out. If the economy goes down like what people are saying, we may not buy this year,” said Berg.

In addition to the boats, the show included RVs, sailboats, and other fun activities such as paddle sports demos, sailing lessons, and boat school, that are preparing people for their summer adventures.

Qingwei Chen contributed reporting.

Photo at top: 2016 Chicago Boat, RV & Sail Show at McCormick Place. (Qingwei Chen/MEDILL)