Pontoon and wakeboard boats leave rivals in their wake at Vancouver Boat show

The pontoon boat has gone from party animal of the Canadian boating industry to a money-shaking powerhouse that leaves rivals in its wake.

Aluminum pontoon boats are the recreational boating industry’s star performers after posting a 23-per-cent jump in sales last year, the National Marine Manufacturers Association says in a new report.

The surging popularity of pontoons comes as good news to Brendan Keys, sales manager for Port Moody-based GA Checkpoint’s marine centre. It means the G3 pontoon boats GA Checkpoint sells will be among the most coveted craft on display at the Vancouver Boat Show Feb. 7-11.

Keys says pontoons’ growing appeal reflects manufacturers’ bid to boost the craft’s hanging-out space and water sports flexibility.

A few decades ago, the pontoon was lucky to push three or four people across the water on a little motor that rarely exceeded 20 horsepower — just enough guts to hold fishing gear and a few cases of beer.

Today, the top end of the category has expanded from two to three pontoons and a 200-horsepower engine that can haul eight to 10 people at speeds of 40-50 kilometres an hour.

“It’s nicknamed the party barge but people are surprised at the way it has evolved into a performance boat,� Keys says.

“Manufacturers are kind of consolidating a couple of boats into one that can handle water sports and gives you room to sit or walk around.�

In other words, the pontoon’s activities arsenal has grown to include tubing, water skiing and — thanks to an open deck at the back near the engine — swimming.

Prices for the U.S.-built G3 pontoons that GA Checkpoint carries range from about $19,000 to $70,000.

Wakeboard boats, which the manufacturers’ association says are experiencing brisk demand in the U.S., will be another closely watched product at the Vancouver boat show.

At last year’s show attendees laughed at Richmond-based Enzos Inboards for displaying a Nautique-made wakeboard boat with a tower. The tower, to which the tow rope is attached, helps to give boarders, surfers and tubers more scope for jumps and spins by pulling them from a higher angle.

“Everyone was mocking us and calling the tower all kinds of names and saying it looked stupid,� Enzos co-owner Dean Martens recalls.

“The following year, probably five or six other companies decided to follow the trend and had towers.�

Nautique, based in Orlando, Florida, also popularized wakeboard boats’ ballast tank. The extra weight boosts the size of a boat’s wake, giving boarders more time in the air to do tricks,

The Nautique G23, which Enzos will bring to the Vancouver show, has a ballast capacity of 2,850 pounds — more than many boats weigh.

“It creates a massive wake that some of the pro riders are calling a game changer,� Martens says. “Tricks they’ve been doing in the past now become easier and they’ll be creating new ones.�

The Nautiques, which are also in demand for towing wakesurfers of a more advanced and possibly more delicate age, range from $100,000 to $135,000, depending on the options.

For boaters whose pockets aren’t as deep, Martens sells the Tomcat, a wakeboard boat made by MB Sports, that costs about $85,000.

“They’ll both do the same job but some people want a Ferrari and some people want a Chevy because it’s that much cheaper,� Marten says.

FRACTIONAL BOAT OWNERSHIP A NEW ALTERNATIVE

Maybe you can’t afford the $320,000 US catamaran Nathan Martin will display at the Vancouver boat show — but Martin is betting you can afford to buy an eighth of it.

Martin, founder of Anacortes-based Gateway Yachts, is coming to Vancouver to sell his model of fractional boat ownership. He’ll be a speaker and exhibitor at the show.

“Fewer people can afford boats because incomes have not kept up with price increases,� says Martin. “By breaking a boat into pieces we create a way for a larger percentage of the population to afford a share in a super-nice boat that they can’t afford to buy all by themselves.�

To become a fractional owner, you pony up $46,000 US for a one-eighth share in the 32-foot Aspen C100 powerboat, which is made in Snohomish, WA. You then book five weeks in which to use it.

For a $375-a-month management fee, Gateway moors, maintains, insures, cleans the boat, providing storage facilities for each fractional owner.

At the end of seven years, each joint owner is offered the right of first refusal on the boat.

“If nobody buys the boat, it’s sold and the proceeds are divided up,� Martin says.

Each boat is structured as an individual corporate entity called a limited liability corporation, or LLC. This makes it legal for Canadians to have a fractional ownership, Martin says.

Martin, 51, a former captain with Alaska Airlines, founded Gateway about a year ago. It has three boats and two more on order.

He says all the shares of his first boat, a $220,000 US Aspen catamaran, have been sold.

Shares of a second boat, also an Aspen, are still available.

He stresses the difference between lease-share arrangements and fractional ownership.

“Programs where you have one person who actually owns the boat and then leases time to other people is in my eyes a glorified charter program,� he says. “This is actual ownership.�

VANCOUVER BOAT SHOW FACTS

Canada’s recreational boating industry saw new-boat and engine sales last year reach $2 billion, up 13 per cent from a year earlier, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

B.C. is Canada’s third largest market for new boat sales, the association says. The province accounts for one of every 10 boats sold in the country, compared with four out of 10 in Ontario and two out of 10 in Quebec.

The Vancouver Boat Show (Feb. 7-11) will feature about 260 exhibitors, many of whom make 40-60 per cent of their annual revenue from show sales and leads.

Attendance is expected to jump to 37,000 from 32,000 last year, thanks in part to the show’s final day falling on B.C.’s new Family Day holiday.

pluke@theprovince.com

twitter.com/provmoney

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