Whether it is local or imported craft, buyers are willing to pay for quality, writes David Lockwood.
There's a quiet revolution taking place in the realm of trailer boats. At least that's the impression after last weekend's 46th Sydney International Boat Show.
More than 700 craft were displayed in 28,000 square metres of undercover exhibition space. It took a 2.2-kilometre hike to see them all.
Among the American marques, there were more than 15 key brands with new releases, often accompanied by company bosses who had flown from the US to pitch their company's ethos and help seal a deal. Then there were the local brands, with everything from tinnies for less than $10,000, drive away, to top trailer boats with six-figure prices.
The exceptional trailer-boat fleet reflects a trend to downsizing. Time-poor boaters are finding it easier to justify owning a boat parked in their backyard, or on the street, than one in a marina pen. The mobility of a trailer boat adds to their appeal, allowing keen anglers to follow the fishing seasons from Bermagui to South West Rocks.
Non-fishers, meanwhile, are getting their highs on the latest tow boats that team groovy graphics, polished towers and big speakers with wake-making devices for extra hang time. Evidently, feet-up boating has little appeal to the Gen Y-ers seeking thrills on this craft.
Sea Ray, one of the most-enduring American brands in Sydney, has a 2014 line-up that includes jet boats. This is a first for Sea Ray, which has high hopes its new 21- and 24-foot jet-powered sports boats will capitalise on the demand left behind after Sea-Doo exited the market. Sea Ray is not alone. Fellow Americans Chaparral, Glastron and Scarab have also jumped on the jet wagon.
Sea Ray's 220 and 240 Sundecks back the trend away from inboards to outboard engines. But its new 350 SLX is the result of customer feedback and demand for a maxi day boat. The bow rider has fore and aft sunshades, pop-up tables, convertible seating, auto-inspired upholstery and petrol and diesel engine options.
Another Brunswick Corporation brand, Bayliner, has repositioned itself at the feet of entry-level buyers. Its turnkey Element bow rider ($24,990, drive away) will be joined by a bigger sister ship based on the same user-friendly concept. Deck boats or DBs are the other hot seller. The bow-forward design, which offers more floor space, is a feature of Bayliner's 190 and 210 DBs, with outboard power, and 215 flagship with an inboard engine.
Chaparral had nine models from cruisers to hybrid fish-family bow riders. An all-purpose H20 21 had its world release in Sydney. Importer Scott O'Hare says the brand's solid construction and sturdy stainless-steel deck fittings impressed Sydney's saltwater boaters, who aren't afraid to pay for quality.
Other American brands, Cobalt, Crownline, Four Winns, Regal and Rinker provided prospective trailer-boat buyers with even more choice. But Sydney can't get enough of classic Chris-Crafts. The fibreglass runabouts team tradition, teak accents and timeless touches with roaring V8 engines.
In the tow-boat arena, MasterCraft made waves with its X46, a purpose-built wave-surfing rig. And a new range of entry-level tow craft is planned by the company.
With the backing of a new Sydney dealer, Robalo had the sport-fishing market in its sights. But there's stiff competition for the angling dollar from the American-made Pursuit, Boston Whaler, Grady White and Contender brands along with the maxi-trailerable 8.5-metre plate-aluminium Game Fisher from Surtees, a New Zealand company, and the many tinnies from locals including Bar Crusher and Quintrex.
Andrew Bennett, of Queensland Marine Centre, is the sole importer of Boston Whaler boats. He says this was his best Sydney show for the brand, and new buyers were willing to dig deep for the premium twin- and triple-outboard-powered boats.
The fact that buyers were out shopping for quality over price augers well for our local brands.