GRAYSLAKE, IL - Pontoon boats were making big waves at the third annual Northern Illinois Boat Show at the Lake County Fairgrounds.
"The hottest thing this year is the pontoon boat. It's getting more luxurious," proclaimed Rod Schuh, owner of Captain Rod's Boat Lift & Pier Service in McHenry whose booth was strategically located near the entrance of the four-day show.
Pontoon boats appeared to dominate the show, a harbinger of spring and the upcoming boating season in April. And the talk of show invariably centered on the merits of the pontoon boat which has been relegated lower and lower in recent years on the boat industry totem pole by fancier and speedier boats.
Pontoon boats, they say, are family-oriented because they can accommodate more people. And they are no longer slow.
"You can bring your whole family and friends aboard a pontoon boat. It's stable and much more comfortable," said Brad Knebel, a salesman for Munson Marine of Fox Lake, one of the exhibitors at the show which began Thursday and ended Sunday.
Knebel said he had sold two South Bay pontoon boats at the show. The boats, made in Indiana by Forest River Marine, a Berkshire Hathaway Co., range in prices from $17,000 to $52,000.
One high-end South Bay model boasts a lounge, a bar, a refrigerator, a grill and a dishwasher among other amenities.
Randy Pergen of Mundelein and his wife, Heidi, were looking over a pontoon, listed at $21,995, with their son, Josh.
"Maybe in a couple of years, we'll be able to buy one. I'm actually interested in a crossover with which you can also water-ski," he said.
"This is pretty cool," said Kevin Art of Round Lake as he checked out a $52,000 luxurious pontoon. "I bought a Tahoe tracker last year, but I always want to look at new boats."
Whatever the status of the economy, dealers were upbeat about boat sales this year.
Jerry Anderson, assistant sales manager of Skipper Bud's, which operates at North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, said its sales nearly tripled at the January boat show in Chicago. Skipper Bud's had on display 15 boats, including several pontoons at the Lake County show.
"Boats are selling. People want to have fun and go out to enjoy themselves," he said.
Skipper Bud's which, he said, expects a great year, is expanding to California. The company, headquartered in Winthrop Harbor, has 21 locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona and now in California.