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Updated: June 21, 2022

35-year-old Portland boat show canceled this year, but not because of COVID

boats in water COURTESY / PORTLAND YACHT SERVICES Portland Yacht Services/Portland Ship Yard held an in-person boat show last July at the yard's nearly 17-acre waterfront campus, but canceled plans for this year’s show.

Last summer, after a pandemic hiatus in 2020, the Maine Boatbuilders Show staged a socially distanced version of the annual event in Portland. Similar plans were in the works for this July.

But the show's organizer, Portland Yacht Services/Portland Ship Yard, has pulled the plug. There just aren’t enough new boats to exhibit.

The 2021 show had 100 exhibitors. As of this month, only 45 had signed up for the 2022 show, according to Joanna Sprague, who owns the facility on Portland's West Commercial Street with her husband Phineas.   

“So many boatbuilders had no new boats to bring,” she told Mainebiz.

The problem was largely due, she said, to supply chain stagnation; the waiting list for outboard motors alone is a year out.

Meanwhile, many boatyards are understaffed and so busy — with older boats waiting for maintenance and repairs — that taking time for an exhibit was an obstacle.

“Not really COVID-related at all,” she said of the situation. “I think the economy is at fault. The costs of doing business are rising all around. The cost to maintain. Cost of fuel.”

Phin Sprague called the situation a perfect storm.

“You can’t buy materials to build, you can’t get employees,” he said. “The interest rates are going up, the cost of fuel is going up. Inflation’s out of control and everybody is kind of depressed.”

Their own company illustrates the problem. 

“Our company is slammed with work, but we can’t get materials,” he said. “Outboards are not available to sell. People are starting to react to the cost of fuel.”

Prior to 2020, the Spragues had held the Maine Boatbuilders Show every March since 1987. Portland Yacht Services dates back to 1981. 

In their announcement of the cancellation, the Spragues said they are “resigned to join the numerous other efforts that have thrown their hands up.”

They added, “This is a different time for all of us. The show has been a labor of love, our joy and our contribution to the marine industries.  Most manufacturers of boats are unable to have a boat available.  Many marine manufacturers have cut their show budgets, and marketing is done online.  The economy is changing and costs are rising.”

The mission of the show includes fostering the interest in the younger generation in the industry as a potential career paths, they said.  

“Boats are complicated and the modern yachts are more like self-contained spaceships than boats of the previous generations,” the Spragues said. “We wanted the show to invite them all to be here. Yachties, fisherman, techies and new products and services — all intertwined in this marvelous ocean economy.”

But the Spragues remained optimistic, saying they would take time to regroup and reimagine what a post-COVID and post-recession event might be like.   

“Stay tuned!” they wrote.

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