The International Boatbuilders' Exhibition & Conference (IBEX) ran October 2-4 this year in Louisville, Kentucky. The marine industry tradeshow is owned and produced by Professional Boatbuilder magazine and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), and is going strong in its 21st year.


The IBEX show provides a venue where boating professionals can gather, do business, and take the pulse of their own industry.

It was a year to celebrate a renewal of strength in the industry overall, but also to acknowledge that the boating market is changing, and will continue to change in fundamental ways in the coming years. NMMA president, Thom Dammrich, summed up the situation in his state-of-the industry opening remarks. "This is a $32 billion industry that grew 6 percent from 2010 to 2011," he said. "Nationally, there is one boat for every 9.4 households in America -- but there are one million fewer boats today than there were in 2006."

In the keynote speech at Tuesday's industry breakfast, Dr. Steve H. Murdock, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, provided eye-opening information on trends in the U.S. population, outlining demographic and socio-economic changes that will impact the boating industry: "Education levels, income levels, and racial group growth patterns are shifting, and will impact who will be the boating customer of the future." He cautioned that those who did not adapt would have a challenging road ahead to market their products. "The U.S. population is changing in ways that are irreversible," he said.

As for the show itself, indications were that attendance reflected industry resilience and cautious optimism. "We have no official numbers yet, but the attendee traffic has been strong," said Anne Dunbar, IBEX Show Director. "We're hearing positive comments from the exhibitors, who tell us that lots of business is being done."

Over 500 exhibitors from 12 countries came to Kentucky to network and find business opportunities at this all-industry tradeshow that features 100,000 square feet of exhibit space. As in years past, technical and business seminars - 92 of them this year, with 120 speakers and panel participants – were a big draw. Boatbuilders, distributors, and industry press prowled the aisles in search of new engines, accessories, processes, and newsworthy stories.

Indeed, word was that boats were selling, albeit mostly used ones. Over 80 percent of all boats sold are pre-owned, but the average age of that boat today has risen from 16 to 21 years, and many are due for replacement. Dammrich is hoping the retirement of older vessels will spur new-boat sales. Of course, the average age of the typical boater, who today is white and male, is also rising, and many are retiring from boating altogether. Population trends show that the future of boating will depend on a growing population of Hispanics and a smaller but affluent Asian group. Time will tell if the industry can adapt and learn to market to the new segments.