I’m fortunate enough to have been to some of the biggest boat shows around many times, including the massive Fort Lauderdale and Miami shows, but the Toronto International Boat Show always gets me excited. The Toronto International Boat Show has a few claims to fame. It’s the biggest boat show in Canada, the largest indoor show in North America, and home of the world’s largest indoor lake for boaters. To me, it’s part of the Holy Trinity of boat shows that launch each season, falling in between the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) which is in late-October/early-November, and the Miami International Boat Show (MIBS) which is in mid-February. And after two years, TIBS was back in person! There was some trepidation, I’m sure, on the part of exhibitors and organizers. Would people come back after two years of getting used to searching online?? Opening weekend attendance numbers were a full 20% higher than the last in-person show in 2020. But total attendance of the 10-day show was down slightly down from the total attendance of 2020 but, as those who came to TIBS 2023 most days will recall, there was a major snowstorm that really throttled crowds mid-week. Still, 65,510 people came through the doors. But, attendance is only one measure of success. This show isn’t just a look-and-see kind of deal, this is a retail event and there are major boat show deals on everything from dock shoes to center consoles. More boats are sold at this single event than anywhere else in Canada. The most accurate measure of how many watercraft were sold comes from the Buy-A-Boat-And-Win program, sponsored by RBC, that gives one lucky boat-buyer $10,000. There were 541 boats sold, ranging from canoes to cruisers, but the actual number might be a little higher. That number only represents the number submitted to show organizers. “Even with a large team we felt the need to call in additional help for the second weekend,” said Legend Boats’ Jessie Davis. “It helped kick start our season into high gear in a big way.”
Parts and accessories sales in the “Mariners Marketplace” are another good indicator of the health of the industry. I, for one, don’t buy a boat every year but I do buy boat things! There, too, it sounds like a success. “We were up 15% over the 2020 Show,” said Radioworld’s Jack Summers. “Great things ahead!” Of course it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and a common complaint I heard from attendees was that there were no big cruisers to check out. The longest boat was actually a sailboat, Beneteau's Oceanis 46.1 at 47'11" LOA (14.6m) and the largest poweboat was the 2023 Tiara 43 LE. Not dinghies by any means, but no sedan bridge sport yachts which many have come to expect. I spoke with some industry insiders and dealers to find out why the change, and the consensus came down to the new, and in my opinion the entirely nonsensical, luxury tax on boats over $250,000. This has obviously deterred dealers from making major investments in inventory until the fallout from the tax is fully understood. Behemoths aside, there was plenty to be excited about. Yamaha had the Canadian debut of their most powerful outboard to-date, the 450hp XTO. Sea-Doo’s newly launched pontoon, the Switch, made it’s first Canadian appearance. Mercury had their new line of Avator electric outboards on display in Canada for the first time. And Quebec’s Taiga Motors had its public debut of their all-electric, carbon-fibre Orca PWC. And, always a hit, the world’s largest indoor lake for boating was back as well. In the attached Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies (The Maple Leafs’ American Hockey League-affiliate), the show holds wakeboard competitions, product demonstrations, and an “open water” portion where anyone at the show can get out on a paddleboat or kayak. As much as I enjoyed hosting the TIBS TV livestreams for the duration of the 2021 and 2022 shows, being back in person was a hundred times better. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for January 19 – 28, 2024 so we can see you in-person at the the 66th Toronto International Boat Show. But for now, I’m off to Miami for its massive boat show! Stay tuned for that post soon.