Oh, Buoy! Recapping the 55th Annual Atlanta Boat Show

written by BROOKS METZLER; photography courtesy of THE ATLANTA BOAT SHOW; BROOKS METZLER

My dad used to always spout the common adage, “The two best days of boat ownership are the day you buy it, and the day you sell it.” He first heard the saying from one of his coworkers, a guy who has owned a pontoon, a house boat and plans to buy a sail boat to travel the globe once he retires. Now, that’s a lifestyle of which I could get on board.

The 55th Annual Progressive Insurance Atlanta Boat Show was just the right place to see if this question holds water. Held Jan. 12 to 15, 2017, Building C of the Georgia World Congress Center was packed to the proverbial gills with more than 600 boats and dozens of small vendors on display. All of which I’m sure are familiar with the art of buying and selling boats.

INSIDER ADVICE

Angi Watson, an owner-operator at Bay Marine in Kennesaw, for instance, was also familiar with the saying but stopped me before I could get past the word “two.” Her answer to naysayers? Most people tend to buy boats when they’re young, just starting a family. “Soon, life gets in the way,” she says, “but most people end up coming back later on down the road, wanting to enjoy that experience again.”

One of the largest spreads at the show belonged to Marinemax, a dealership based in Clearwater, Fla., with locations in both Cumming and Buford on Lake Lanier. The stars of their show were four massive Sea Ray yachts, ranging from $300,000 in sticker price to $1.2 million. The biggest and most expensive, the Sea Ray 46 Sundancer, spans a massive 46-feet from bow to stern and features two bedrooms, two showers, a generous living space up top and a conversation-friendly back deck with ample seating. Yes, please!

While the million dollar yachts on display were truly breathtaking, the show encompassed so much more than just boats on display. What was truly staggering was the variety of watercraft. Aside from yachts, I encountered pontoons, personal watercrafts, console boats, cigarette racers and vintage wooden boats, surrounded by a sea of salespeople and curious show-goers. Not only were there boats ready to be sold, but it was also possible to put together a complete kit of accessories, too. If you weren’t careful, before you know it, you’d be entranced by all that boat life has to offer; I know I was.

While wandering around the show, I caught up with Will Hendrix, a sales representative from Marine Specialties Incorporated, who explained to me and onlooking boat owners the advantages of installing a boat lift versus tying your new watercraft to a floating dock. “The lift is going to keep your boat clean and protected,” he said. “Around here, pond scum can build up on the bottom of the boat.” According to Hendrix, that effects not only the aesthetics of your once-shiny boat, but also its performance cutting through the water.

“The lifts work as their own docks,” Hendrix continued. “It’s essentially a large polyurethane float with a hydro-pneumatic pump and steel rails used to lift the boat out of the water by your boat slip.” So, when you’re done spending a day on the lake, you can use a console mounted on the dock to lower the float into the water, drive the boat onto the padded rails, return to the console and flip a switch to hoist the boat out of the water. Nobody wants pond scum on their shiny new toy.

ADVENTURE FOR ALL AGES

A day at the Atlanta Boat Show could easily have been spent learning about boat maintenance, but the most fascinating part of the day for me was speaking with the onsite volunteers from the Lake Lanier Sailing Club.

Lee Estes, a member of the club’s board of governors, gave me a run-down on the basics of sailing. “Your body is a big component of the craft,” Estes said, pointing to the video running in the background. In this video, I watched a young sailor standing on the edge of her boat, most of her body hanging out into the water with one rope in her hand controlling the main sail.

“Most kids start in the junior program,” Lee said. These kids start at 7 or 8 years old, piloting one-man boats called “Optis.” Once they reach 13 or 14, they move to larger “Laser” sailboats. “If they keep going, they can move to three person teams,” he shared. Fear not, novice sailors – Lee also stated, “We want to give anyone who’s interested in sailing the opportunity to learn, regardless of age.” It’s never too late to pick up a new hobby.

On the same note, sailing is very much rooted in family and community, according to Alex Padgett, the club’s waterfront director. “The first thing I’d tell people interested in joining is to go in with an open mind and have fun,” Padgett said. “It’s something fun for all ages and to tackle as groups. I, for one, am not very coordinated, and would surely need the support system.” Lake Lanier Sailing Club got its start in 1959, a short three years after the lake was created by damming the Chattahoochee River near Buford and has been successfully teaching Georgians how to sail ever since.

“It’s an activity, like most pastimes, where people can easily choose their level of involvement. We have some people who go two or three times a week, some who only go two or three times a year,” Padgett added.

Lake Lanier Sailing Club has a complete Junior Sailing Club program for 2017. Instead of sending the kids to the same soccer or football camp again this year, try out one, or all, of their three camps are available during the summer. The first focuses on teaching young people the basics of sailing, the second has a separate focus on technical skills and racing and lastly, after mastering the basics, you can reach the point of a focus on Adventure sailing in Camp No. 3. All of the camps are aimed at campers from 7 to 17 years old, and accommodate skill levels from beginner to intermediate.

While I made my final lap of the exhibition hall, I thought about what I would take away from the show. It certainly wouldn’t be a boat, as the cost of boat ownership is currently out of my reach. For now, I’ll keep dreaming about the yacht life. Instead, I left with a deeper understanding of why people get into boating. Many of the attendees I saw were parents, children, newlyweds, in-laws and siblings –– all comprising families who’ve spent decades and generations together through their favored pastime.

In 2015, Georgia boat sales represented a nearly $500-million piece of the market. But for those who attend the boat show, it’s more about building family memories. And it’s hard to put a price on that. atlantaboatshow.com