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Boat Shows - the engine powering the boating industry

by Bob Wonders on 21 Jul 2014
Looking over the marina in Darling Harbour, just one aspect of the Sydney International Boat Show, Australia's largest boating exhibition. Supplied .
Sydney International Boat Show 2014 - Recreational boating exhibitions, more commonly and simply referred to as ‘boat shows’ have been employed as the major marketing tool for the pleasure boating industry for many years.

Throughout North America, across Europe, through Asia and Australasia, boat shows act as the ‘storefront’ or ‘shop window’ of the world’s major boat builders, engine manufacturers and all those involved in producing the myriad of equipment and accessories relevant.

In Australia, the undisputed leader of the pack is the Sydney International Boat Show (the 2014 show scheduled for 31 July - 4 August), which stands head and shoulders above its competitors, and in fact is acknowledged as the largest recreational boat show in the Southern Hemisphere.

Discussion surrounding boat shows can easily lead to ‘friendly arguments’: which is the world’s oldest boat show? which is the world’s largest boat show? which is the world’s most important boat show?

They are not easily answered questions.

For example, how does one rate which is the oldest boat show?


In the early days, many boat and marine engine manufacturers displayed their products alongside caravans and camping equipment, so can they be termed boat shows?

Events such as these saw the beginnings of boat shows in Australia when some Sydney marine dealerships opted to join in with caravan retailers to add boats to their displays.

The vast majority of what we term today ‘major boat shows’ came into force following World War II. This period also saw the expansion of recreational boating brought about by the development of fibreglass. Fibreglass could easily be termed the ‘foundation stone’ of modern recreational boating as we know it today.

Prior to that development, worldwide, boat manufacturers often used events such as World Trade Fairs to display their product lines and this was often the case in the United States. This led to the eventual formation of the New York Boat Show, which today lays claim to being the world’s oldest and longest-running boat show.

Adding to the world’s oldest argument, the Annapolis Sailboat Show, which was established in 1970, claims to be the world’s oldest, on water sailboat show!

Annapolis also stages the United States Powerboat Show, which I attended a few years back.


So that opens another field.

Sailboat shows? Powerboat shows?

World’s oldest indoor boat show?

World’s oldest on-water boat show?

I guess it all depends on who one asks?

Another area always prime for discussion is world’s largest boat show?

How would you measure it?

Number of exhibitors, number of visitors, size of space occupied, confirmed sales generated?

All are questions that could result in a multitude of answers.

The exhibition currently claiming to be the world’s largest boat show is Germany’s Düsseldorf International Boat Show, which last year saw 250,500 show visitors viewing more than 1700 vessels displayed by 1300 exhibitors!

According to the International Federation of Boat Show Organisers (IFBSO), of which the Sydney International Boat Show is a member, nine of the world’s largest boat shows are staged in Europe.


Surprisingly, only one United States exhibition makes the top 10, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Southampton, Barcelona, Paris, Athens, Genoa are among those making the top 10 worldwide.

The famous Miami International Boat Show, which many Australians attend, can’t make the top 10 list, but it is regarded as a vitally important exhibition to the United States boating industry.

American industry figures claim more boats are sold during the Miami show than anywhere in the world! This claim is not directed solely at show visitors, but at US marine dealers, for it is Miami where boat manufacturers unveil their latest and greatest to the nation’s marine retailers and it is where those marine retailers place their orders for the following season.

Rating a boat show’s importance by the dollar sales it generates is far from an easy task. Boat show exhibitors regularly talk about 'follow up', which essentially means chasing after those who showed interest in a product without actually handing over the necessary cash.

Consequently, a boat show can be credited with generating sales long after the show has closed its doors. To the general public, ‘biggest’ probably means attendance figures, and on that score the Sydney International Boat Show not only leads the way as far as Australian boat shows go, but it stands up very well internationally.

Since choosing Darling Harbour for its major exhibition, show owner-organiser, the Boating Industry Association of NSW has welcomed more than 1.8 million people through the gates, with the 2004 show establishing a gate record with a massive attendance of 93,501.

Bear in mind that some of the international exhibitions which attract larger crowds than Sydney do so simply because they are situated in much larger population regions; if figures were arrived at on a per capita basis, the Sydney International Boat Show, in my opinion, would rate even higher.


Aside from the boating industry, major boat shows also boost the economy of the cities and regions where they are staged. Over the years I have spoken with many retailers, bar, restaurant and café owners throughout Darling Harbour’s complex and as far as they’re concerned they’d welcome the boat show every week!

I dare say accommodation providers would feel the same. So, the stage is set for the 2014 Sydney International Boat Show and again many thousands of boating and outdoor enthusiasts will flock, not only to Darling Harbour, but also to Glebe Island where the indoor displays will be staged.

This will be the case for the next three years while the all-new International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) is constructed in Daring Harbour. I do not expect the split venue to be a problem; after all Florida’s famous Miami International Boat Show is staged at three locations linked by shuttle buses.

The Sydney International Boat Show will also provide free ferry shuttle services between the two locations, with the added attraction of bus shuttles operating. Let’s face it, not many boat shows anywhere ‘throw in’ a free ferry ride on the harbour.

The Sydney International Boat Show will operate from 10am to 6pm on the Cockle Bay Marina at Darling Harbour and from 10am to 8pm at Sydney Exhibition Centre @ Glebe Island.

For further information contact the Boating Industry Association of NSW, phone 1300 7BOATS (26287) or visit the show’s website.

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