Virtual Boat Shows

For the first October since 1970, there will be no boat shows at Annapolis City Dock. That first show was revolutionary. Up until then, boat shows were only held in the middle of winter inside huge exhibit halls in the middle of big cities. 1970 was the first time boats were put on display in the fall, in a small town, and most significantly, in their natural habitat: the water. The formula was so successful, in-water boat shows quickly spawned all around the globe.

Even so, there’s always been something magical about the Annapolis boat shows. The historic charm of this little tidewater town, the aura of the Chesapeake Bay in autumn, the camaraderie of like-minded boaters gathering from all around the world in one spot for two weekends. They shows have grown to become absolute institutions. 

While the current pandemic has curtailed this year’s physical manifestation, a number of long-standing exhibitors have come up with creative ways for boaters to have a limited boat show experience with the aim of presenting their new boats, products and services to the boating public in a way that will keep everyone safe.

Now, before you continue with this article about boat show alternatives, it’s important to get into the proper mood, so here’s the recipe for a traditional Pusser’s Painkiller to sip on while you read: 

Find your enameled tin Pusser’s mug from last year’s show. Mix two ounces of Pusser’s Rum with four ounces of chilled pineapple juice, add one ounce of orange juice and an ounce of cream of coconut. Shake with ice and garnish with a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg. The frilly umbrella is optional. Put your feet up and resume reading. 

You can experience one of the most innovative efforts on the Bluewater Yachts website. Scroll down on the home page to see their Virtual Showroom. You can take self-guided 3-D virtual tours of boats like the 38 Viking Billfish. With a click, an interactive photograph of the boat fills your screen. 

Using your mouse, you can guide the lens through the cockpit, up the ladder to the flying bridge, zoom in on the instrumentation on the control console, take a 360-degree view of the vista from up there, then swing back down below to inspect the luxurious accommodations. It even takes you down into the spacious and immaculate engine room. And you don’t have to take off your deck shoes.

Or you can tag along with one of the sales staff as they take you on a pre-recorded video tour of some of the other boats in the inventory from the Regulator 31 center console to the newly launched Princess F70 luxury yacht. If you find a boat you like, you can schedule a live one-on-one virtual tour with one of their licensed brokers.

Bluewater deals in new and previously owned fishing boats and yachts, from Albemarles to Vikings, with sales and service centers at the Baltimore Marine Center, Mears Point Marina in Grasonville, Md., Ocean City Fishing Center, Long Bay Pointe Marina in Virginia Beach and the headquarters at the Bluewater Yachting Center in Hampton, Va. 

The dealer also just announced it’s opening a new sales and service center at South Annapolis Yacht Center, where they will offer a
VIP Fall Preview October 23–24. Boat shoppers can check out a 46-foot Viking Billfish, 33-foot Valhala, and the 23, 31, 34 and 41 Regulators. Pre-registration is encouraged.

Other dealers are holding relatively low-key events at their sites by appointment only. Chesapeake Whalertowne, the Boston Whaler dealer in Annapolis, will host an event they’re calling “Stock the Dock” from Oct. 2–12. While the Boston Whaler website has its own virtual tours of new boat models using 360-degree self-guided video technology, this event at Whalertowne’s new headquarters at the head of Ego Alley at Annapolis City Dock is meant to get you out on the water for an actual test drive.

The new 240 Vantage will make its debut at this event. The dual console model with bow seating makes it a versatile choice for a family boat, whether you enjoy fishing, cruising, beaching or watersports. Powered by a single 350hp Mercury outboard, the 240 Vantage can get up on plane in just over 6 seconds, and go from idle to 30 mph in just over 8 seconds. Wait until you’re out of Annapolis Harbor before you try that. 

The 280 Vantage, which came out in May, will also be available for test drives, along with other new models, including the new 325 Conquest, 270 Dauntless, 380 Realm and 380 Outrage.

“This event gives the boat buyer access to the boats in a controlled environment,” says Whalertowne’s Rick Boulay, Jr. “It’s an opportunity to get out on the boats and see how they perform.” Whaler has sharpened the deadrise of several of its new models for a smoother ride, he says, which is particularly suited to the short, choppy waves of the Bay. “The Chesapeake is some of the most challenging water around, and these boats are built to perform in it.”

Six Annapolis-area dealers have teamed up on an event they call “Walk the Docks” from late September through the first two weeks of October. North Point Yacht Sales, Crusader Yacht Sales, Annapolis Yacht Sales, Sail Annapolis, Atlantic Cruising Yachts, and S&J Yachts have come together for a one-stop shop featuring more than a dozen brands. It’s not a traditional open house, explains Annapolis Yacht Sales marketing coordinator Nicole Esterson. “Boats will be shown by appointment only so we can be sure to maintain all the proper safety protocols. It will be a very controlled environment,” she says. 

The highlight of the event at their location on Back Creek in Annapolis will be the debut of the new Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54, an elegant luxury performance cruiser with a distinctive flush deck. “We thought this boat would have been the show-stopper at the boat show,” Nicole says, “so we’re pleased to be able to have that on display at our docks.”

Highlights on the powerboat side include the new Century 29 center console and the 29 cuddy-cabin model. “The center console just got here,” Nicole says. “We have a lot of excitement around that already.”

“We want our customers to understand this is their chance to get the same deals and discounts they’d expect at the boat show,” Nicole tells us. “The best things about the boat shows are the camaraderie and seeing what’s new, and while we’ll miss that, we’ll still be able to give a really good discount to people who wait until the boat show to buy a boat.”

Riverside Marine will host a “Fall Back to Summer” sales event through the end of October, with 20 boats available for test drives at its location on Back River north of Baltimore. Riverside offers affordable family boats, including new and previously owned runabouts, cuddys, deck boats, pontoons, cruisers and fishing boats by Bayliner, Crownline and Sportsman. Many of these models are available for demo drives at this event or by appointment.

On your way there, stop by the Maryland Yacht Club on the Patapsco River at the mouth of Rock Creek in Pasadena, Md. Their 120-slip marina can accommodate powerboats and sailboats up to 75 feet long in sheltered deep-water slips. The grounds cover eight acres and feature a large pavilion, bath houses, laundry facilities and a members-only pool. Their family-friendly club is always busy with social events and they have a sailing program for kids. 

If you’re looking for a transient slip, you can use the Snag-a-Slip app, which lets you Explore popular new marina destinations and book slips easily from your desktop or mobile device. Snag-A-Slip’s online booking system and customer service team make planning your boat trip hassle free.  They never charge booking fees and offer a price match guarantee. 

The Port Annapolis website features a virtual tour of this full-service marina on Back Creek. The 75- and 50-ton Travelifts can haul everything from small day sailors to catamarans up to 26 feet wide. Their ABYC-certified technicians can service anything from engines to electronics. Shoreside amenities include a pool and a pavilion for weddings and family events. They’re also the regional dealer for Nauticstar boats, with offshore, center-console and deck boat models for fishing and cruising. 

If you miss the seminars at the boat shows, you can sign up for a class with the Annapolis School of Seamanship. Dedicated to educating and empowering mariners with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed, safe decisions to operate and maintain a vessel, their courses will enhance your confidence level, strengthen your skills, and make you a safer, more informed boater. They also offer on-board training on your boat or theirs.

Most classes are team-taught by experienced licensed captains and industry trade experts. Their classroom training courses are designed to enhance the knowledge and skills of both recreational boaters and professional mariners. They also offer courses for professional mariners in compliance with the USCG licensing requirements specifically designed for mariners to earn their 100-ton master’s license, OUPV “6-Pack” license or endorsements.

It turns out that boating has experienced an astonishing boom this season despite the pandemic, according to Don Parkhurst, a marine lending professional with Truist Bank. Truist is the result of a merger of Sun Trust and BB&T last December.

“When the pandemic started, we thought we’d be sitting at home twiddling our thumbs,” Parkhurst says. “Instead, it took a little while, but somewhere around mid-May, people got the idea that they weren’t going to be flying their families to Europe or Disneyworld for vacation, so they figured they could go into boating or RVing and enjoy a safe family
vacation together. That sparked a buying frenzy.”

Many of those who bought boats this year were first-time buyers, Parkhurst notes, and they ranged in age from Generation Xers to retired Boomers. The younger crowd, in particular, has been a welcome addition to the boating world. Fortunately, Parkhurst explains, “There’s been plenty of money available for financing these purchases. Interest rates didn’t fall as much in the marine space as it did in the real estate space, but there’s plenty of money available.”

This is a great time to buy a boat, considering that many of the boats purchased at the fall shows are traditionally manufactured to order over the winter for spring delivery. Now, open up that laptop and get going on your own virtual boat show. Just don’t spill your Painkiller. ⚓️