Blending Tradition and Innovation at the Newport Boat Show
The 51st edition of the annual Newport International Boat Show concluded on September 18 and was one of the best yet. The new normal was the old normal: four days of maskless crowds under magnificent New England fall weather, everyone looking at, talking about, and buying boats and marine-related gear. The event is more than a “show.” It is a nautical convention. If you love boats as I have for 40 years, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in everything marine by seeing and talking with people who are knowledgeable and passionate.
Plus, Newport is known for its architectural charm, great food, ample drink, and on-the-water recreational activities.
Here are some of the top innovations, organizations, and nods to tradition featured at the event.
This is the Maserati of inflatables. Designed with patented hull forms and built by Italian craftsmen, these fast, highly stylized, rigid inflatables are not just intended as mega yacht tenders. Many people are buying them as runabouts. During a trial, I had a blast zipping over waves, accelerating like a hurricane wind, and turning corners with surgical precision. Just make sure you get an Italian model, not a smaller one, now made in China.
This legendary Florida builder is still making state-of-the-art powerboats after 148 years. They go fast and are highly stylized. For example, their Launch model has a real retro vibe, one that reminds me of Gina Lollobrigida in a headscarf making waves on an Italian Riva. For anyone not looking to fish, a Chris-Craft should be on your boat shopping list.
These clever mechanical devices help eliminate up to 95 percent of boat roll. They can be installed on new builds or retrofitted into existing yachts. By eliminating instability, people prone to sea sickness can get out on the water.
These yachts were once the pinnacle of yacht building in America. They went into decline for a while but now are back as good as ever. They have a new line of 50-foot cruisers, but several buyers are working with them on custom builds. If your dream includes owning a classic from this Wisconsin yard, take a look at some of the previously owned offerings. The revitalization of Burger is the story of American yachting’s renewal.
This club has 362 rental locations. Boat ownership is not for everyone. The responsibilities and costs are often prohibitive, so having the option to use, not own, is a great way to get on the water. According to the staff at the show, they are “growing like crazy.”
How can you not admire and covet a Hinckley with its Maine craftsmanship? Utilizing submarine technology from long ago, this new offering combines diesel power, which charges the batteries, and a Twin Disc system that enables the yacht to run silently. Great for muted use in harbors and at anchor. One is under contract, and I am sure many more will be sold. Hinckley is using its timeless 40-foot Picnic Boat hull with this new power plant.
J’s is the largest manufacturer of racing boats in America, if not the world. Their fleet of one-design boats set the standard. The new model, the J9, is a simple-to-sail racer/day boat designed to get a solo sailor or a small crew on and off the water with as little effort as possible. Made in Bristol RI, this J offering looks like nothing but fun.
This RI-based startup is working on cutting-edge technology to electrify outboard engines. They have numerous patents and are taking pre-orders for a range of sizes. When it all comes together, this company will make being on the water a greener experience.
Change your life or learn new skills that get you closer to a zen experience. Head up to Maine and attend this marine technology school. When you graduate, you should be proficient in any number of skills; like wooden boat building, composites, marine systems, or yacht design. Students often make friends for life while enjoying rural Maine.
These Massachusetts-based builders use traditional techniques like hand-laid fiberglass and wood trim and interiors to make several types of small boats of the highest quality. Their catboat is instantly recognizable on the water, as is their Sakonnet 23. Nothing cutting edge here, just old-fashioned quality and classic design.
Yes, there has to be a Tesla of boats, and Swedish X Shore is that brand. These all-electric, well-crafted boats are unique. From their natural cork trim to their high bows, X Shore is designing for the next generation of yachts. They are silent and very maneuverable. Their high-performance model claims a range of 100NM and 30 hours of battery life. There are lots of layout and décor options. As more marinas are electric-equipped, X Shore is bound to capture a larger slice of the market.
Another Maine builder of quality boats, Sabre is a legendary brand. They started out with sailboats and evolved into an international source of powerboats. (They have a simpler line called Back Cove.) This 58 is now their flagship and is deserving of consideration for anyone (5 have already been sold) who wants a customizable, large, coastal, or offshore-capable yacht. Sabre has an extensive support network too, and are real nautical eye candy. I have one of their old sailboats and she still turns heads.
Even though there are at least a dozen other makers of center and dual console boats on the market, Southport has proprietary designs. Their deep V-hulls offer a smoother, quieter, and safer ride. Southport has a devoted following and therefore holds its resale value among the highest in the industry. Their DNA may have been fishing boats, but their foray into pleasure ones was a smart move.
Everyone with a boat needs insurance. This company is known for supporting boaters in all their diversity. From large super yachts to wooden classics, they work to find insurance that matches your needs. Always a big supporter of the Newport Show, they can also answer any questions about insurance beyond boats.
This Thomaston, Maine-based yard is known for high-quality custom builds and refit work. They collaborate with top designers and engineers, and the result is that they can do almost anything boat related. As an independent yard, they are a rare breed these days. I once bought a used boat there and they fabricated a critical part from scratch in an hour.
Offered by Camper & Nicholsons, this is the yacht of my dreams. Cold-molded construction by Maine’s Brooklin Boat Yard in 2018, she is 91 feet of pure, classic elegance. Her upkeep is flawless. She glistens from every surface. The all-cherry interior consists of four staterooms, a huge salon, and a fully equipped galley. With two outside seating areas, Sonny III has room for lots of company. My guess is that her current ask of $4.75M is about a third of a new build. Frankly, there are few yachts in the world like her.
This super cool boat is offered by Parallel Marine and looks to be pure fun for the speed-obsessed. For a very affordable price, you can imagine yourself as an America’s Cup skipper. I want one and need to find some friends to go along with the scheme. She drew a lot of admirers.