The four boat shows held over the next month in Maine are a harbinger of spring. This year, organizers hope to lure boaters with cutting-edge technology, larger venues and a boat building contest for young people.

Sales of new boats in Maine have slowed. The money spent on new boats jumped 19 percent from 2015 to 2016, from $166 million to $198 million, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. But two years later, 2017 to 2018, the last year for which the association has data, sales in the state rose a more modest 4 percent, from $204 million to $213 million.

With a population of 1.3 million, Maine is just a small piece of the national boating market, ranking 29th nationally in 2018 with $213 million in new boat sales (far below Florida, the nation’s No. 1 boating market, with $3.2 billion in boat sales that year). Still, Maine’s recreational boating industry has a $2.9-billion impact on the state’s economy, the association reports, and the state had 111,000 registered boats in 2018. That last number, though, fails to account for all the boating enthusiasts in Maine.

“There is a resurgence of small boats that don’t have to be registered, that can be lifted onto a car, like canoes and kayaks. The number of registered boats don’t capture that,” said Phin Sprague, owner of Portland Yacht Services, which produces the Maine Boatbuilders Show.

“Whether it’s on Moosehead Lake or Rangeley Lake or along the coast,” he continued, “Maine is a boating state.”

This year’s Augusta Boat Show, pictured here in 2018, will feature a casting competition for fishermen.

Attendees at the Maine Boatbuilders Show will have a chance to see the latest development in the boating industry: the 3-D printed boat created at the University of Maine. At 25 feet long and 5,000 pounds, it the largest 3-D printed boat in the world. The boat, made in 70 hours at the school’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center by the world’s largest printer, has never before left the university.

The center’s Executive Director Habib Dagher said it’s fitting the boat will be showcased at a show that celebrates the centuries-old tradition of boat building in Maine.

“In many ways this is an exciting opportunity. It gives us a window to the future at how this tradition can evolve and be stronger and be better,” Dagher said. “Maine boat building led in the past 100 years, but Maine is leading the future, as well.”

Here is a glimpse at what’s in store at the state’s spring boat shows:

THE PORTLAND BOAT SHOW

When: Feb. 27, noon to 8 p.m.; Feb. 28 and  29, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; March 1, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Portland Sports Complex, Warren Avenue

Cost: Adults, $10; youths ages 6 to 12, $5; children under 6, free

What it’s got:  The sports complex expanded in recent years, so if you’ve missed the show the past few years, the 16th annual Portland Boat Show will be bigger than you remember. It’s largely a show of powerboats and fishing boats, with few sailboats on display. Keith Murphy, one of the producers, said in a typical year, dealers at the show attribute more than 25 percent of their annual boat sales to the boat show. Watercraft like Jet Skis, water skis, and paddleboards will be on display in smaller numbers.

Inside tip: If you go by the numbers, this is the show for you. With 25 Maine dealers and about 150 boats on the floor, the Portland Boat Show claims to be the biggest boat show in Maine.

AUGUSTA BOAT SHOW

When: March, 6, noon to 8 p.m.; March 7, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; March 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Augusta Civic Center, Community Drive

Cost: $5, children under 12, free

What it’s got: The 44th-annual show is the longest-running boat show in the state. It features 40 boats, mostly pontoons and powerboats, as well as marine equipment for fishing, docks and water sports.

Inside tip: New this year is a spin-casting contest to test fishing folks’ skill and precision at lure placement on the water.

MAINE BOATBUILDERS SHOW 

When: March 20 and 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; March 22, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Portland Sports Complex, Warren Avenue, Portland

Cost:  $15; children under 12, free

What it’s got: It’s the fourth year the 33-year-old show is being held at a larger venue outside the Old Port, but it’s still got Maine craftsmen who custom-build wood and fiberglass watercraft, from sailboats to powerboats. Boating equipment manufacturers will offer tips on boat care and upgrades. The largest 3-D printed boat in the world will be on display with two engineers from UMaine on hand to explain the new technology to visitors.

At the Bangor Boat Show, set for March 20-22, pontoon boats have been a top seller in recent years. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Inside tip: Vocational high school students from around the state compete in the youth boating competition, now in its ninth year. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, teams of two race against the clock answering questions about boat maintenance, marine electronics and engines. All high school students, whether in the competition or not, get free admission to the show all three days.

BANGOR BOAT SHOW

When: March 20, 2 to 8 p.m.;  March 21, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; March 22, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Cross Insurance Center, Main Street

Cost: $8 for adults; children under 12, free

What it’s got: Smaller than the boat shows to the south, this 30,000-square foot venue has space for just 11 dealers, but they’ll be showing off dozens of boats.

Inside tip: For those window shopping for fishing boats, pontoon boats and ski boats (all top sellers in recent years) this is your chance to strike a deal, said the show’s director Kathleen Hardy. Boat shows typically offer early season incentives from manufacturers, she said, so the Bangor show at the end of March could be one of the last times to get a deal before the season starts.


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