Miami International Boat Show week is, without doubt, my favorite week of the year. For the second time, it was held on Virginia Key in the shadow of the previously abandoned Miami Marine Stadium. It’s an ideal location for attendees, because previously the in-water section, where one can hop on a boat for a sea trial, and the inside displays with more boats, motors and accessories were miles apart — an hour-long shuttle ride in Miami traffic. Yachts Miami Beach, a separate in-water show, is still held a dozen miles away on South Beach’s Collins Avenue, but everything a trailerboat owner needs is in one place, for the ultimate one-stop boat-shopping experience.
Attendance was up at least 10 percent this year, and some of the major glitches from last year — to be expected at any new venue — were mostly ironed out. The transportation situation went from nightmarish to reasonable, and while there were more food vendors, the lines were still far too long. But nitpicking aside, it’s the place to go for boating fanatics who want to see what $3 billion worth of boats looks like.
I was fortunate to be one of the Boating Writers International judges for the NMMA Innovation Awards, for the eighth time. We always get a sneak peek at the latest game-changing boats and products, which I love. Here are some of the winners.
Sea Ray scored with its SLX 40, a giant bowrider dayboat with a well-appointed cabin. It had transforming seats and a flipdown gunwale that instantly added floor space for more expansive entertaining. The Boston Whaler 230 Outrage also wowed us with its convertible workstation behind a leaning post that changes into a luxurious doublewide trolling seat. Also scoring a win was the Sea-Doo Spark Trixx which immediately transforms any PWC rider into a trick artist.
Alternative docking systems that make it easy for anyone to dock a boat were on full display, and none was more transformative than MasterCraft’s DockStar system, which won the Tow Boat category. Anyone who has ever tried to dock direct-drive ski boats knows they won’t back up in a straight line and can only be pulled up to a dock on one side. But MasterCraft used a three-rudder system to negate those traits. Also really cool was MerCruiser’s Joystick Piloting System for Inboards. On a Sea Ray SLX-W wakesurfing machine, the joystick coordinated a single direct-drive inboard with a bow thruster to perform maneuvers, including moving sideways, that used to be possible only with boats with two or more engines.
Among the 19 winners, others wowed us too. Ilmor’s GDI Engine Series includes the first five-star CARB marine engine with user-friendly features such as a water pump impeller that can be changed in one minute and software that resets blown circuits via a touchscreen. Fusion’s StereoActive is a high-fidelity portable stereo that can affix to almost anything that floats and has a mini-locker for cellphones, keys and wallets … and it floats. And for people who launch kayaks dockside but still want to preserve their dignity, there’s the EZ Launch Kayak System, which facilitates smooth shove off and return.