A BOATLOAD OF POSSIBILITIES: To water-loving Michiganders, the Detroit Boat Show starts the countdown to the season

February 5, 2004



Brent Penny, a boat show worker from Harrison Township, is dwarfed by a 39-foot Rinker cabin cruiser.

Many of Michigan's lakes are covered in ice and dotted with bundled-up fishermen. The boats have been hoisted ashore and sealed in shrink-wrapped covers for the winter.

But the Michigan boating community is starting to thaw. The 46th annual Detroit Boat Show begins Saturday at Cobo Center, kicking off the unofficial preseason for boating.

This year's boat show will feature more than 250 exhibitors. Much like the auto show last month, the boat show features the latest products.

This year's show has everything from one-person kayaks to million-dollar yachts. You'll also find plenty of accessories such as fish finders, flashlights and flotation devices.

"Somebody can effectively use a limited amount of time to see what's out there in the marketplace," says Van Snider, manager of the show and president of the Michigan Boating Industries Association.

Crackpot starts revolution in boats

Cobo Center, Detroit
Sat-Feb. 15

Noon-10 p.m. Sat. & Wed.; noon-6 p.m. Sun.; 3-10 p.m. Mon., Tue., Thu., Fri.

$11 for adults, free for children under 12 with an adult, free on Mon. for over 62

Tickets available at metro Detroit Meijer stores; also available with a $1 discount at www.detroitboatshow.net

Details: 800-224-3008 or www.detroitboatshow.net.

In a state where almost 1 million boats are registered, boaters take full advantage. The boat show provides a chance to not only survey the products but also make deals. More than 1,900 boats worth about $60 million were sold during last year's show.

Dealers say boating technology continues to improve.

Fish finders are clearer, motors are lighter and equipment is tougher. The boats themselves are loaded with options and accessories.

Although many features have been around for years, shoppers are increasingly asking for better bait and fish wells, more comfortable seating and wider side decks to make it easier to get around.

The newest model of the Grady-White 205, listed at $41,500, has an enclosed head, or toilet, a rare feature for a 20-foot fishing vessel.

"People are looking for more and more features in smaller boats," says Tony Benedetto, a sales consultant with Lands' End Yacht Sales in Harrison Township.

The Bayliner 245, which starts at $37,999, has become a popular entry boat for cruising because of its versatility, says Terry Valerio, general manager of Bayliner on St. Clair at Sundog Marina.

The boat is big enough to carry 12 passengers and sleep four, but it's also designed to fit on a trailer.

The ability to tow a boat this large makes it easier to see different waterways and lakes.

"You get a lot of boat for the money," Valerio said.

The show also will be packed with boating accessories.

West Marine plans to showcase inflatable boats and kayaks.

Inflatables are convenient and have become more durable in recent years, says Chuck Knowles, a sales associate with the West Marine in St. Clair Shores.

The West Marine two-person inflatable kayak, which sells for $399, can hold up to 500 pounds. It weighs less than 45 pounds and can be carried in a duffle bag once deflated.

"These aren't just pool toys," Knowles says. "They're made to take some serious abuse."

Despite a slowly recovering economy, exhibitors say they expect boating enthusiasts to spend money on upgrades and innovations.

In Michigan, residents take their boating seriously, says Bob Roberts, general manager of Mike's Marine Supply, which has five metro Detroit locations.

Boaters want to be ready to go as soon as the weather is warm enough, he said.

"It's a mad rush to get in the water," Roberts said. "People would sell their house before they sell their boat."

Contact JOE GUY COLLIER at 313-222-6512 or [email protected].