Smooth sailing in forecast as Halifax boat show opens

Whether it is the renewed confidence in the economy, the strength of the Canadian dollar or the purchasing power of the growing baby boomer demographic, it is a good time to be a boat builder, Tim Edwards, executive director of the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association, said on the eve of the Halifax International Boat Show.

The flagship event for the industry kicks off today and runs through Sunday at Exhibition Park.

“The industry in Nova Scotia is much stronger than it was two or three years ago,” Edwards said. “All in all, (the industry is) pretty healthy, but it could definitely be better.

“We’ve seen more fishermen start to order … big boats worth over $500,000 each and that has kept a lot of boat builders in the southwest region of the province busy. With 90 per cent of builders in the coastal and rural communities of Nova Scotia, the impact is large and it keeps a lot of people at work.”

The boat-building industry employs about 1,100 Nova Scotians and generates around $70 million in annual sales. Market conditions — and the decision by many boat builders to diversify their operations and offer service and maintenance — are helping annual sales volumes slowly creep back up to levels seen before the recession in 2008, Edwards said.

Boat show manager Scott Sprague took a break from %overseeing the set up of the 120 exhibits on display this weekend to chat with The Chronicle Herald about the mood among exhibitors.

Sprague, an eight-year veteran of the show, echoed Edwards’s sentiments, saying the climate for builders and buyers looks healthy for 2012.

“The shipbuilding announcement has given people a bit of security to go make those leisure purchases,” Sprague said. “We experienced the same thing with the RV show recently. People are feeling confident and we’ve actually seen a lot more serious buyers coming through the door.”

David Trott, sales manager of Seamasters Marine Services in Dartmouth, will man one of the largest exhibits at the show this weekend. Trott said the variety the show offers — whether you are looking for a 7½-metre boat or a personal dinghy — brings shoppers of all stripes through the door.

“We’ve been coming every year of the show, and this year, we’re optimistic the customers will be out this weekend,” Trott said Wednesday.

“Last year was one of our better years in terms of sales off the floor and we’re looking for a repeat this year.”

Weekend sales volumes are tough to predict, but if the 2011 show is any indication, Trott expects 40 to 50 visitors will walk away with a new boat package. Packages range greatly in price; the 22 packages Seamasters has on display range from $700 to more than $80,000.

The boat show is the largest of its kind in Atlantic Canada and features a lot more than just boats, including marine equipment, engines, electronics, accessories, docks and dock builders.

The four-day event is touted as one-stop shopping destination for boating enthusiasts.


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