Miami Boat Show Attracts High-End Crowd

The Miami Boat Show, which is held on Presidents Day weekend, always promises a look at nice, new toys. This year, the show is aiming at the rich and fabulous yachting set. One of the new "yacht toys" being demonstrated: a personal submarine for just $50,000.

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Signs of a strengthening economy could not have come at a better time for the Miami Boat Show. The show is held every year on President's Day weekend, and it's an important event for the boating industry and also for those in the market for yachts. NPR's Greg Allen stopped by to see the latest things for floating on or even under water.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Nothing says disposable income quite like a boat show. And while there are small runabouts, even kayaks for sale, that's not what the Miami show is all about.

SCOTT NAULT: We're selling yachts. So we sell 34s up to 54 foot.

ALLEN: Scott Nault of Meridian Yachts takes me aboard one of the company's 54-foot boats on display. It's one that was just sold for $1.3 million.

NAULT: Here we got the bar. The galley's right here. There's a glass window that comes up right here. So you can close it off.

ALLEN: The power glass window comes up.

NAULT: Yeah. It's a nice feature. It opens up the galley to the cockpit for entertaining.

ALLEN: Also admiring the boat was Nathan Pfeffer. He's down from Greenville, Ohio for the winter. I asked him if he was thinking of buying one like it.

NATHAN PFEFFER: Oh no, not this size boat. This is much more than I'd be willing to bite off. We're more in the market for smaller boats, 36- to 40-foot trawlers probably.

ALLEN: The Miami Boat show draws an affluent crowd. I did see people who looked ready to put down a million dollars for a boat. But, as for talking about it, as one man said, I'm not interested in that kind of thing.

Not far away at the Miami Convention Center, Greg McCauley with Marine Technology was showing his company's products.

GREG MCCAULEY: This is a catamaran. It's an offshore catamaran.

ALLEN: But that really doesn't begin to describe it. It's a sleek 48-foot long performance catamaran capable of reaching speeds as high as 180 miles per hour. It has twin 750 horsepower engines and a leather-appointed interior that seats eight. And that's it - no galley, no sleeping space, no room for fishing rods. I asked McCauley what customers use them for.

MCCAULEY: Basically, most of the time pleasure boating, or poker runs - a lot of poker run boats.

ALLEN: Poker run, what does that mean?

MCCAULEY: Poker run's where you get a bunch of boats together and all and you go from one destination to another. And usually at the end of it - on one evening they'll have like a party. And you get a poker hand. And whoever has the best poker hand wins the prize.

ALLEN: Exhibitors at the boat show say the last four years have been bad for them, as they have been for the rest of America. Many boat dealers went out of business. Manufacturers consolidated and tightened their belts. But boat show manager Cathy Rick-Joule has been tracking sales at the boat shows this year and says things are looking up.

CATHY RICK-JOULE: We found that the consumer confidence is improved. Sales seem to be improving. People coming back in the door, ready to make a purchase, is there. Our manufacturers are saying that the energy is remarkably different than it has been in the past couple of years.

ALLEN: There are not one, but two companies here selling submarines. Although Jay Lee with a company from Seoul, South Korea is quick to point out that his is not actually a true submarine.

JAY LEE: It's a semi-submarine. It floats on the top. And the only cabin is underneath the water. So you can see under the water.

ALLEN: It's called the Ego, a glass-enclosed cabin that's suspended under a small pontoon boat. It's powered by a small electric motor and moves along at just 5 miles per hour. Lee says the company's founder designed it because he wanted to go underwater, but doesn't like swimming.

LEE: You don't need to get a scuba diving license and boating license. Just go inside this Ego and you can see underneath the water.

ALLEN: And it's priced at around $50,000. With a small boat lift and crane, just the perfect toy for your $1.3 million yacht.

Greg Allen, NPR news, Miami.

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