ATLANTIC CITY — When Robert Barone was looking for lines to add to his family's 62-year-old marine-sales business a couple of years ago, finding a line of boats made in New Jersey became a priority.
"Since we are a New Jersey company, we felt that it was important for us to go with a line that is made in New Jersey," said Barone, owner and president of D&R Boat World in Brick and Green Brook Townships. His company is among the nearly 400 exhibitors at the annual Progressive Atlantic City Boat Show at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The show started Wednesday and runs through Sunday.
"The heritage of boat building in New Jersey is important to us. ... We wanted to support that tradition, so we went with the Buddy Davis line, which is made by Egg Harbor Yachts," said Barone, standing among a trio of gleaming Buddy Davis center-console sport fishing boats that ranged in price from about $200,000 for a 34-foot to $769,000 for a 42-foot. His company also sells major brands like Robalo and Crownline, which are made in other parts of the United States.
Henriques-Costa said she was manning only a small booth at the boat show Thursday -- without any actual boats on display -- because the Bayville-based company is too busy getting ready for the summer to have created a large exhibit. Henriques yachts sell for between $350,000 and more than $1 million.
She credits a sales boost in 2016 -- that she expects will continue this year -- with a 50 percent sales tax reduction -- from 7 percent to 3.5 percent -- that went into effect last year. The new regulation also caps sales tax on a boat at $20,000 -- no matter what the sticker price may be.
"So if a boat is a million dollars, a buyer is paying only $20,000 in sales tax instead of $70,000. That's a big savings that they can spend on a bigger boat or accessories," Henriques-Costa said. "Last year was very good for us ... but we've seen sales picking up in the last few years and we've been riding that wave."
Recreational boating in New Jersey has an economic impact on the state of $2.2 billion a year. The boating industry supports 12,000 jobs and more than 1,000 small businesses, according to the state.
New Jersey's boating sales in 2015 -- the latest year for which figures are available -- totaled $310 million. That was a 6.1 percent increase from the year before on the sales of power boats, engines, trailers, accessories, and other boat-related purchases.
Officials say new boat sales in New Jersey have been growing over the last three years and were up 14 percent year over year through September 2016.
Nationally, an estimated 95 percent of the boats sold in the United States are made in America, officials said.
When the figures are in, sales nationally of new powerboats are expected to have risen as much as 7 percent in 2016 -- to about 250,000 units -- according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a trade organization that represents U.S. recreational boat, engine, and marine accessories manufacturers.
Thom Dammrich, president of the NMMA, called the gains for the industry over the last few years a "golden age" for recreational boating, as consumer confidence has "soared" and manufacturers have begun introducing product lines to appeal to younger boaters.
"Manufacturers are saying, `we're back' ... and it's likely we will reflect on this period as a golden age for our economy and our industry," Dammrich said.
Back in Atlantic City, officials said the boat show alone -- which could bring as many as 20,000 spectators -- ultimately has an economic impact on Atlantic City of $5 million.
"I think the great thing about this show is that people can come here and see what's available and find a boat that fits their price range," said Carrie Waible, a spokeswoman for the show. "There's a boat here for every lifestyle and budget ... from kayaks for less than $1,000 to yachts that cost in the millions."
Besides the eye candy of row after row of sparkling fiberglass boats and boating accessories, the show offers hands-on educational opportunities, including classes and demonstrations from a skills and technology seminar called Boat Confident from the Annapolis School of Seamanship, to the Boating Skills Virtual Trainer, a simulated "boat trip" where participants can practice skills like docking and pivot turns with the U.S. Power Squadron.
And every boater has a chance to become the sharpest tool in the shed at Fred's Shed Interactive Learning Center, a real-life boat-repair shop hosting DIY sessions to teach visitors what they need to know about boat engine maintenance and repair.