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If the vast floor of the Minneapolis Convention Center looks this week like the biggest collection of boats this side of Miami, it's understandable and reflects the appetite.

In a state that already loves its watercraft, sales in Minnesota don't appear to be cooling from record highs in 2020. It's a national story line, too.

No doubt fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sales of boats and the products and services that make them go were more than $49 billion in 2020, a spike 14% higher than 2019. In Minnesota, total revenue was just more than $1 billion over the same time period, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. That ranked the state among the biggest U.S. winners.

That shine will be reflected at the Minneapolis Boat Show, a winter fixture that is back this year from Thursday through Sunday after COVID-19 canceled the 2021 show. From cruisers to fishing boats to pontoons, floor space is accounted for, said show manager Darren Envall. More than 200 businesses are expected.

That means space, too, for cutting edge products such as Sea-Doo's Switch line: A pontoon-like vessel with an engine and driving style of a personal watercraft. A Switch Sport starts at $24,000, ranging from a compact 13 feet up to 21 feet, with a deck designed to change up layouts and the number of passengers it can accommodate.

Envall said the product has the kind of entry-level ease of use and versatility that is well-timed. Like in the recreational vehicle sector, first-time buyers continue to think about giving boating a try.

"It's an efficient way to get into the marine industry," said Envall, "and so unique to anything out there."

UltimateBoatWraps of Hutchinson, Minn., does everything from power boats to fishing boats to trimarans.
UltimateBoatWraps of Hutchinson, Minn., does everything from power boats to fishing boats to trimarans.

UltimateBoatWraps photo

Minnesota boating registrations (for motorized craft, and nonmotorized such as canoes, kayaks and paddleboards) increased to 830,767 last year, a slight increase from 2020 and the highest mark since 2008, according to Department of Natural Resources licensing data.

Minnesota marine businesses are at the center of the action. River Valley Power & Sport in Red Wing and Midwest Water Sports in Crystal are darlings in Boating Industry magazine's annual list of top U.S. dealerships. They'll be among dozens of dealers at the boat show.

Ancillary watersport companies in Minnesota are shouldering the complex nature of the landscape, too. They're experiencing record demand while navigating supply chain snags to produce their wares or get them shipped in time, not easily predicted these days.

UltimateBoatWraps in Hutchinson, Minn., is doing more than double the jobs with the same four-person crew, president AJ Forcier said. They design and apply their special films to everything from fishing boats to Jet Skis to high-performance sailing boats.

AJ Forcier of UltimateBoatWraps applied a film to a multi-hulled trimaran that sent the company to France.
AJ Forcier of UltimateBoatWraps applied a film to a multi-hulled trimaran that sent the company to France.

Provided

"People were buying used boats and wanted them to look new," he said of the surge in their business. Used boats remains a seller's market, too.

Whether it's clients like the family pulling up from Kentucky or pro bass angler Seth Feider, UltimateBoatWraps is keeping a relentless pace: Where they averaged about wrapping "a boat and a half" a week coming into 2020, they're now doing three to four weekly at a cost of $125-$150 per foot to wrap. That covers everything from the in-house design to the installation, with a clear-coat laminate to protect the works.

"[The demand] is just over the moon," Forcier said.

Paddle North, which notably incorporates light-but-resilient bamboo to make some of its best-selling paddleboards, is growing, too.

After navigating a 2020 of sold-out inventory and back orders, executive Dan O'Brien said 2021 equally was demanding, but the company maneuvered to beef up inventory and build in lead time on orders.

Now it has a majority of its product in stock, with plans to showcase its breadth at the boat show.

Paddle North posted Thursday from the Minneapolis Boat Show.

O'Brien is optimistic, as Paddle North, which opened in 2014, has evolved its line of goods to meet sustained interest in paddleboarding and other paddle sports.

Most sales are inflatable products — paddleboards but also swimming platforms and kayaks, he said. Platforms, aka utility docks, can run $800, depending on size. And the company has Karve Kayaks, for solos or pairs, from $1,300 to $1,500. Paddle North's most-popular inflatable paddleboard is the Portager, currently about $700. It also comes in a hybrid, with an attachable kayak seat.

Headquartered with a showroom in Columbia Heights, Paddle North also has stores at Rosedale Mall in Roseville and Mall of America, and opened a store on Black Friday in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"We're anticipating more growth," he said.

About the show

  • Minneapolis Convention Center
  • Through Sunday
  • Schedule, tickets, health guidelines and more online here.