Boat show worth cruising through

January is a tough month for many boaters -- even during a winter as mild as this one. The engine is winterized. The sails are at the sailmaker or stored. The boat sits on its trailer, in a slip or on land, its removable gear in storage until March, April or May.

It is too cold to varnish, too early to wax and compound or paint the bottom of the hull. And certainly it is the wrong time to sell your old boat in preparation for moving up to something newer.


But January, when the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show comes to town, is a great time to shop for new gear, get a look at the new models of boats and compare features and prices.

The show opens at the convention center Saturday and runs through Sunday, Feb. 5. In addition to hundreds of powerboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, jons and personal watercraft, vendors of all types of boating gear will be on hand -- electronics, engines and engine parts, clothing, fishing tackle, services, banks and finance companies -- and any or all of them might have a deal that suits.


The marine industry is continuing to rebuild after the deep recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, sales of boats and related equipment have been stronger over the last six months than at any time in the past five years.

"This surge in business signals an end to a downturn more severe than any other in the last 50 years, going back to World War II," said Jeff Napier president of NMMA.

Last year, for example, boat shipments were up 11 percent in units and 27 percent in dollars.

Napier predicts an additional gain of 15 percent to 20 percent in unit sales this year, built largely on the spending power of people in the 35-to-55 age group.

Still, the mainstay of the boating industry is the 16-foot, outboard- powered day cruiser, which can be used for fishing, skiing or just riding around and costs about $10,000 with trailer included.

In the Baltimore area, however, the preferred boat often is somewhat bigger, more expensive and more suited to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Boat Show consistently has displayed a selection of larger boats by all major manufacturers, along with many builders who are less well known but offer good products.


Finding the right boat might well take more than a day or two at the show, and rushing into a decision while standing on the convention center floor with the kids tugging at your coat sleeves is never a good idea.

So go and shop around.

But go with an idea of what type of boat will suit your needs. A 36-footer with monster twin diesels and tuna tower won't get you out skiing. A ski boat won't get you out fishing except on the perfect days. Rolled and pleated upholstery isn't suited to fish blood and bait scraps. Hard fiberglass seating isn't suited to day cruising.

Draw up a list of what you think the normal uses of a boat will be, including the number of people you might expect normally to have aboard.

Will you sleep on it? Eat on it? Will a porta-potty handle the plumbing duties or will you need a marine toilet and holding tank? Will you be inshore or offshore? Will you need to trailer the boat or can it be stored at a dock or mooring? Will someone else perform the maintenance or do you plan to do it yourself? Can you afford to add equipment such as radios, Loran or GPS, bilge pumps, cockpit cushions, sails, trolling motors, etc? If not, search out package deals, including Coast Guard-required equipment.

Have a price range in mind and keep to it.


Get on the boats and get a feel for ease of access to bow and stern cleats, anchor wells, 360-degree visibility, engine and systems access, storage, livability, dryness and workmanship.

Once you have found a boat that suits your needs, shows good workmanship and fits your budget, check with the lenders for the best interest rate and down-payment requirements. Shop the lenders as closely as you shopped the boat manufacturers.


What: Chesapeake Bay Boat Show.

Where: Baltimore Convention Center.

When: Saturday through Feb. 5.


Hours: Show opens at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Admission: $7 for adults; $3 for ages 6 to 12.

Family day: Feb. 3, when ages 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

Parking: Lot C at Camden Yards, which is three blocks from the Convention Center and will have a free shuttle in operation.