By: Scott Way
Celebrating the arrival of the new year amidst the bluster of winter is a tradition felt deeply in the northern climates. It’s one we revel in over a double-double with equal parts joy and discontent. Discontent at the begrudging admission that winter will linger for another few months, and joy at the realization that beneath the snow, summer lies just beyond the permafrost. As boaters cruise through Christmas in the throes of this inter-seasonal malaise, there is one event on every captain’s new calendar that's circled in red- The Toronto International Boat Show. It descends upon Ontario’s capital in January for 12 days of boating excitement, and there is more to see and do than a ship crew on shore leave.
If you spent your Christmas holidays lamenting that Canadian winter is (justifiably) too long, the best cure is to put the snow shovel down and point your compass towards Toronto. An institution in the boating industry for 60 years, the Toronto International Boat Show could be mistaken for a repetitive annual affair, but spend an hour wandering the exhibition hall not only will you have barely made a dent in the floorplan, you’ll find ‘mundane’ is not in the vocabulary of the seafaring community. Boating enthusiasts are known to spend days, weekends, even a week exploring the latest gadgetry from the industry’s best manufacturers, retailers, and service providers. Those seeking to find the latest and greatest won’t be disappointed upon entering the archway of North America’s largest indoor boat show. With over 1200 boats on display, 40,000 square feet of exhibition space, and 70,000 attendees, the Boat Show feels is a boater’s haven when your local lake is covered in ice. It brings the May Long weekend from a faraway dream to an impending adventure. Here is our rundown of what the ‘boating biz’ is bringing to the dock in 2020.
With 60 years of experience inside Toronto's fabled Exhibition Place, the Boat Show knows how to build a spectacle. Patrons always look forward to the creation of the world’s largest indoor lake inside the adjoining Coca-Cola Coliseum. It’s an engineering marvel you can watch being constructed on a live webcam and there’s a full schedule of events, seminars, competitions (and even a water skiing squirrel!) that offers attendees a chance to ‘hang out at the lake’ and soak in the vibes. It’s quite a sight, an indoor lake with seating for 7500 and a concourse full of food and fanfare. The Toronto Indoor Wakeboarding Championship takes place over the final weekend along with the World Championship Sea Flea Races, both of which will have you pining for dock time in July watching cottage life zoom by. If you catch Twiggy the Waterskiing Squirrel you’ll be impressed (and amused) at what Canadians can do with a hockey rink without ever playing any hockey. Just don’t fall in; it’s full of icy water pumped directly from Lake Ontario to give it a realistic touch as a mini-mariner amphitheatre.
With the Boat Show being early in the calendar year, it’s also the opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to showcase their latest accomplishments. For 2020 some are clearly looking to stand a few fathoms above the rest. Perched atop a grandiose mezzanine inside the Pride Marine Group mega-booth, the all-new Super Air Nautique G23 Paragon is an engineering accomplishment devoted to fastidious design. Each glance up and down the hull discretely unveils another fine detail, an actual intention when speaking to the manufacturer reps. The stitching in the seats, the subtle logos arranged throughout, the virtuosic dashboard, the clever placement of each accoutrement, it’ll hold your attention. Be careful you don’t stare too long, lest you get sucked into the whirlwind. Price tag included, it’s an attention getter.
If you’re one for flash and pageantry, worry not, it's on display in abundance. Impressive yachts from Azimut, Prestige, Princess, and Hanse literally stand over the others, peering down on attendees walking the thoroughfares below. You’ll feel like you’re underwater in a sea of anchored behemoths. But get up top of the Pat Sturgeon Yachts booth and stand at the helm of the Hanse 508 and not only will you feel like a true mariner, you’ll have a stellar view of the industry’s finest luxury.
Taking a few feet off the bow, the legends at Boston Whaler brought a collection of boats that stopped patrons in their tracks. Seem unlikely? You can stand outside their booth and quite literally watch people enter the main hall, take 10 steps, stop, and look up at the new 325 Conquest cheekily poking out into the aisle. The Conquest looked conquerable, and so patrons went up the stairs in droves to enter the cockpit and daydream about their next adventure. A clean design that stands behind Boston Whaler’s record of craftsmanship, their website says it best: “fish, cruise, never have to choose.” They claim the 325 Conquest has a “split personality,” and you’ll agree, spend a minute on deck and you’ll have a hard time deciding between whether to boat part time or full time this summer.
The backbone of any industry is moored by ‘tried and true’ brands with history behind them, and that was evident throughout more than half of the available floor space. Staples like Bayliner, Legend, Lund, Harris, Princecraft, Smokercraft, and Yamaha had impressive booths with huge selection showcasing their range.
The Legend Vibe D23 is a plush total package, the ‘Vibe’ being an apt name for a family-friends ride with a multitude of features. It really can accommodate almost any plans for a day on the lake. You can’t knock that kind of versatility. It means you won’t have to say ‘no’ to the kids very often, and that means more good vibes all around.
You’re also likely to see more Harris ‘Solstice’ series pontoon boats cruising by this summer. Not only is it a sharp design, it’s got a sleek mix of power, style, and versatility that makes it stand out. Take a seat in the captain’s chair of the Solstice 230 and even if you’re not a pontoon stylist you’ll understand why they’re growing in popularity. There’s no denying it, it’s a sharp ride with a luxurious cockpit that belies its design.
If you’re a fisherman with dreams of pickerel for dinner, The Lund 1975 Tyee Limited probably reeled you into their booth for a chat with the sales team. They claim it “redefines the ultimate fishing boat” and it’s got enough features to make you consider that statement. Always sharp and with signature style, the Tyee Limited would look good in any competition and even better in your favourite honey hole. Other boats vying for a slip on your dock should be the Princecraft Kapture 187 and the Smokercraft Ultima 172, both of which can go against the Tyee Limited for features and utility. If you’re looking to bring your buddies for a day of fishing and storytelling, you’ll have to give the nod to the Smokercraft. More seats, more space, and more storage will translate to more time spent casting (and less time ranting about ‘the one that got away'). If you’re looking to upgrade, you might find yourself in a pickle choosing between brands. An abundance of inventory industry-wide will give consumers ample choice in the upcoming year, as there will be no shortage to choose from. It’s a buyer’s market in 2020.
The next stop for many exhibitors is the Vancouver Boat Show. With over 4,000 kilometres between Toronto and the left coast, many will immediately load up and head west, hoping for warmer weather and even more pre-sales for summer. Here in Ontario we’d be wise to keep their passion, there is much to look forward to once the conversation changes from blizzards to sunburns. With summer fast approaching you’ll no doubt be itching to slide the last rope off the cleat and ease down the throttle towards another great summer on the water. Aren’t we all?