For those hoping to see a houseboat on display at a major boat show, I am happy to report the wait is finally over. In recent years, houseboats have been harder to find at a boat show than a cookie at a Weight Watchers convention, but the trend is starting to break our way.
While walking down aisle after aisle of pontoon boats at the 2018 Minneapolis Boat Show I came around the corner and nearly fell to my knees when I saw a Gibson Houseboat on display. It was a complete surprise to me since I hadn’t heard a peep about it being there, and judging from the long lines to tour it I’d say it was well received.
Then last November at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show I was engulfed by a large collection of high-dollar yachts when I nearly fell off the dock at another houseboat sighting. This time it was Overblue Yachts that not only had a houseboat in the water, but actually two of them! I kicked off my shoes and came aboard like I owned the place because for a brief second I felt like I was home. I can’t explain the joy I get when I stumble upon houseboats at a boat show, but the houseboater in me takes pride in seeing a familiar sight.
Now I’m not suggesting these are the only houseboats on display in the last couple of years because even as hard as we try as a staff, we only hit a small percentage of shows each year. Had I been given a little more notice that Destination Yachts had a 45-foot houseboat on display at the Atlanta Boat Show back in January, I would love to have seen that one in person. Of course, based on the emails and photos that I received from readers, I feel like I actually was there. It’s always good to learn you’re not the only one who gets excited to see new houseboats on display so the encouragement from others was well-received.
On March 2-4, 2007, as a magazine we held our last National Houseboat Expo in the convention center in Louisville, Ky. At the time we didn’t know we wouldn’t be back the next year, but not a lot of people could predict what was coming next. For nine straight years our publication put on the world’s largest houseboat show and during its peak run we had nearly 30 houseboats on display from the industry’s top builders. Looking back now I don’t think any of us realized just how good we had it. I can picture it like it was yesterday: rows of new custom houseboats under one roof with houseboat-specific vendors packing the aisles.
The sudden “dip” in the economy rocked more than just the houseboat world, but since the economic slide in 2008 this segment of the boating industry has had to fight even harder to get back.
For several years starting in 2007 we held our On-Water Houseboat Expo at State Dock on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, since filling the convention center wasn’t a realistic possibility during a time when houseboat manufacturers were struggling just to keep their doors open. The on-water version of our houseboat show allowed us to continue to celebrate the houseboat lifestyle while introducing new people to houseboating, but in 2017 we made the tough decision to postpone this show as well. Simply put, there still weren’t enough new houseboats to justify having a show.
The 2019 year looks extremely promising for the houseboat manufacturers as these hard-working men and women continue to build new custom boats. Seeing houseboats on display at other boat shows this time of year is a good sign that we’re ready to fully bounce back. With any luck, we could be celebrating again with another houseboat show in 2020. Stay tuned!