We're back from another great year in sunny Fort Lauderdale and naturally there's a lot to digest.
As you're probably aware, the boating world is incredibly diverse. The sheer number of manufacturers, dealers, and employees in a single industry is staggering. It's even more eye-opening when the majority descend upon the same place at the same time.
Thankfully, Fort Lauderdale is not a bad place to spend a weekend. It's sunshine, coastline, and good times. If you need a reminder just how big the marine industry is, consider that 70% of Earth's surface is water. That means six of the seven continents support an industry that dots the entire coastline from Asia to North America. That's a lot of ground to cover, and even more water to explore.
With that in mind, it's rare to see 20-foot dayboats on display next to 150-foot superyachts. FLIBS presents a co-mingling of everything marine, from basic runabouts, to hardcore fishing boats, to the most luxurious vessels on planet Earth. For 2023, FLIBS hosted over 1000 brands, with over 1300 boats on display, and brought in nearly $2 billion to the local economy. That's a lot of boats, a lot of money, and a lot of eager boaters.
We walked every inch of FLIBS over the course of four days to create a list of the best boats coming in 2024. It's entirely unfair to whittle it down to only seven models, but this list is a fine place to start your search. We'll have plenty more about FLIBS in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here are seven boats you've gotta see this year:
1) Formula 457 CCF & 457 CCS
We were fortunate to chat with Formula President Scott Porter and Marketing Manager Scott Smith at the show, and it didn't take long to see their passion. Formula makes boats for serious boaters, and that was plenty evident during our chat. Scott Porter was gracious enough to answer our endless questions about the design process for the all-new 457 CCF and 457 CCS, and his enthusiasm made it clear the company believes they've designed a winner. Formula had great success with their re-entry into the center console market with the 387 CCS and CCF in 2022, so they're upping the ante with the new 457 series. They had a model of the new 457 on display for viewers to check out, and when turning your head to compare it against the 387 floating next to the dock, it's evident there's a lot to be excited about.
2) Wellcraft 435
It's been quite a resurgence for Wellcraft these last few years. While many fondly remember the iconic image of the Wellcraft 38 Scarab in Miami Vice, those days are gone. The reality is the company has drastically changed gears since being purchased by Groupe Beneteau in 2014. Enter the all-new flagship 435 'Fast Cruiser,' which is exactly what the name implies. The new era of Euro-style cruisers began with the Wellcraft 355 in 2022, and its evident success has now led to a new flagship for the resurgent brand. The 435 is a showstopper, even amongst a sea of cruisers at FLIBS, and you can expect to see more of them on the water in 2024.
3) Sea Ray SLX 280
Sea Ray reported a 26% increase in sales at FLIBS compared to 2022, so it's safe to say they're on a roll. Not only did they sell a number of the larger 400 SLX at FLIBS, but the smaller SLX 280 also garnered major attention. Sea Ray has been changing their aesthetic with new design language, which is another way of saying they're designing their boats for the future. They're all staying ahead of the competition-- by mid-2023 they made several announcements for 2024 including their first foray into surf boats with the SLX 260 Surf, plus they launched the small but mighty SPX 210, We had a long chat with Sea Ray designer Matthew Marelly about the The SLX 280 is another entry into Sea Ray's new style and flair, and based on the numbers I think it's going to be a hot seller.
(*SLX 280 starts at 2:35)
4) Cigarette 52' Thunder
Are you a member of the high performance crowd? It's hard not to be a convert at FLIBS. The high performance section of the docks at the Bahia Mar venue is devoted to brands like Cigarette, MTI, Mystic, Jaguar, Nor-Tech, and more. It is by far the most colourful, with the most horsepower, and the most visually appealing. There's an endless array of bright colours, huge engines, and enthusiastic boaters. Instead of the typical never-ending rows of white boats, you'll be immediately drawn in by crimson reds, midnight blues, and neon greens. The biggest crowds were often found at the Cigarette Racing booth, and the all-new 52 Thunder was the reason why. We had a chance to chat with new Cigarette CEO Alex Ruiz back in June and found him to be incredibly passionate, and insightful, about the future of the brand. Once we saw the 52 Thunder in person, it all made sense.
5) Voltari 260 Electric
Canada's own Voltari Marine Electric is strategically positioning themselves in the burgeoning electric boat market. The company crafted what can fairly be described as an electric high-performance boat. Dubbed the Voltari 260, it's an ultra-sleek carbon fiber 26-foot vessel packing a whopping 740 horsepower. The 142 kW lithium battery bank also pumps out an astounding 1000 lb-ft of torque, which puts the Voltari 260 in elite company. In fact, it may be in a group all its own. In January, Voltari set the record for longest distance on a single charge by making it across the Gulf Stream from Key Largo to Bimini in less than 20 hours. The 91 mile journey not only set the record for the longest and first-ever overseas trip in an electric vehicle, it also cemented them as a leading contender in the emerging market. With a mightily impressive showroom at FLIBS, they're in prime position to capitalize in 2024 and beyond. They also made our list of the Top 5 Canadian Marine Companies who are changing the game.
6) Riviera 585 SUV
Australia's Riviera Yachts made a noticeable splash at FLIBS, and after hopping aboard a few boats and get a tour from their helpful staff, we quickly understood why they made the journey from Australia. Not only do they build a beautiful product that rivals, and oftentimes exceeds, popular North American brands, they've also added a unique flair that permeates everything they do. We spent time aboard their new 5300, which had the nicest interior layout and design of any cruiser at FLIBS (in my opinion, anyway), but it paled in comparison to the almighty 585 SUV. The Aussies were wise to unveil the 585 SUV at FLIBS -- it offered the chance to cement themselves among the elite builders in the marine industry. Riviera Yachts is not some small player making a meager entry into the North American market, they build boats that can hang with anybody in the Western Hemisphere.
7) Candela C8
Our 'customer service award' at FLIBS undoubtedly goes to Candela. Not only were they gracious to let us tour their booth, they also spent ample time answering our questions to help us understand the hydrofoil renaissance. Hydrofoils are back en vogue, mainly because technology is catching up the design's potential, so there is a unique opportunity for a crafty manufacturer to take the top spot. Suffice to say, Candela is currently occuping that position. Their signature C8 is sleek, elegant, and in true Swedish fashion -- minimalist. That's not a bad thing, either, because the C8 to stand out noticeably from its peers. As if the hydrofoil wasn't obvious enough, Candela has also added clever design features throughout the hull, interior, and the helm. Sitting inside a Candela isn't like sitting inside your run-of-the-mill dayboat. Not even close. The company has even entered the center console market with a new design, as well as dabbled with commercial designs, both of which are sure to garner additional attention. There is no boat like a Candela -- flying above the water in near silence is as unique as boating can get.