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Boat Show back afloat

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Pontoons.

Doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘‘plastics.’’ But it will have to do for 2011 and the 81st Chicago Boat, RV and Outdoors Show.

If you’re looking for economic hope in the boating world, pontoons might be it. On the RV side of the Boat Show, there’s an expanded presence again with a separate hall.

I did the show, which runs through today at McCormick Place, by myself Thursday and plan to do it once with the family.

For us, it is entertainment. In that regard, we don’t fit the ideal profile for attendees. Unlike other outdoor shows, the Boat Show remains a product mover.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association staff claims nearly 20 percent of new boat buyers were first introduced to their dealer at a boat show.

Here’s my take.

Last year, I felt like I was walking through a skeleton, a show about to die.

It feels better this year. Show staff claim 300 boats and 200 RVs on the floor. Last year, the RVs were squished into one corner instead of having the lower level hall. This year, they are still on the same floor, but they have their own hall.

Other signs are discouraging. There’s plenty of open space in the boat aisles. ‘‘Snake oil’’ or ‘‘flea market’’ booths make up nearly half the booth area. That’s a sign of a show desperate to fill or sell booth space.

On the good side, this is still a show dominated by manufacturers’ presence. Nearly all the local players in boat sales are there, such as Basa Marine, Bedford Sales, Berwyn Marine Center, Fox Lake Harbor, Munson Marine and Water Werks.

One show regular remarked on the great number of pontoons on display. And there was. So I asked salesman Todd Dvorak of Munson Marine, who has 39 years in the business, about it.

He said that was correct. ‘‘The market is moving into pontoons,’’ he said.

Dvorak said the acquisition cost is nothing and the fuel cost is lower. The days of pontoons being for old people are passing. He said the current age of a pontoon buyer is 33.

There’s even a high-end crossover pontoon, the Floe Craft Ace 34, which is making its appearance at the show. It has very little in common with a retiree’s pontoon, other than the ability to carry many people.

‘‘We have guys with Formulas and sexy boats trading them in for pontoons,’’ show manager Keith Ogulnick said. ‘‘Because they see how much fun they are.’’

There are a couple don’t-misses in the boat hall. Find the display of the 31st Street harbor at the Chicago harbors booth. It gives the feel of what is to come there.

For another year, the display by the Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society stole the show. NMMA likes to pitch the idea of the ‘‘boating lifestyle.’’ Those wooden and other classic boats don’t pitch the idea, they ooze it, lifestyle with class and style. It almost makes for an unfavorable comparison to the new boats.

On the RV side, there isn’t a lot new. The outdoor kitchen, which debuted last year, is sweeping across the industry. Jayco’s streamlined Skylark is a hot-interest item.

Customer consultant Paul Froeschle for Rick’s RV said Jayco’s 33 RLDS is ‘‘the thing.’’ He said, ‘‘It’s the wow factor. There’s so much space.’’

He is right. I’ve looked at dozens of RVs because we have kicked around the idea of buying a pop-up for years. I am used to feeling so cramped it’s like tip-toeing through tulips. Not with the 33 RLDS. The main area feels like an actual room.

One final thing. Think about the competition with the Bears game today as an opportunity.

Ogulnick said, ‘‘You’ll be able to negotiate the deal of a lifetime.’’



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