Winter boat sales have Chicagoans dreaming of summer

By Xiumei Dong

Even though the temperature dipped below 10 degrees this holiday weekend, the freezing weather didn’t stop people dreaming of summer fun outdoors on a boat.

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

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

Bush said the improving economy means he has a little more to spend this year, and he plans to buy a new boat in addition to his Airbnb home in Seattle.

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

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

Some of the popular boats include pontoon boats and fishing boats which serve multiple purposes.

“Before, many consumers had two or three boats. They find that with a pontoon boat that has a more powerful engine, they can do a lot of things that they might only be able to do on a speedboat or a glassboat,” said Ed Fisher, Area Sales Manager by Crest Marine.

Fisher said his company, a leading pontoon boat maker, grew 30% last year. The price range they sold the most was $40,000 to $50,000.

Pointing to a three-pontoon boat, Fisher said: “The triple tub is now 55% closer to what we build as a manufacturer.”

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

“I’m here to find out what’s available,” Gene Berg said. He reviewed the top-of-the-line 40-foot boat from Cobalt, a company that previously only made smaller boats.

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

In addition to the boats, the show included motorhomes, sailboats and other fun activities such as paddle sports demonstrations, sailing lessons and a boat school, which prepare people for their summer adventures.

Qingwei Chen contributed reporting.

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

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