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An Overview: The 2023 IBEX Innovation Awards

Close to 100 products were entered in the Innovation Awards at this year’s International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition in Tampa. Sitting on the judging panel, I got to watch as this impressive group of entrants was whittled down to just 13 winners across 12 categories. Certain aspects of the judging process can’t leave the deliberation room but, in this series, I’ll be drawing back the curtain just enough to show why this year’s winners deserved their recognition.

Necessity’s Second Son
Innovation doesn’t have quite the same mystique to it as invention. Everyone’s heard of the Wright brothers, but what of Igor Sikorsky – the first person to develop a multi-prop passenger plane? And you probably know Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone rather than the first person to fit a boat with a functioning hydrofoil.

The Innovation Awards are all about giving credit to the people who are making boating better by incrementally raising the bar for technical excellence. Along with the credibility lent by the gold Innovation Awards insignia, awardees also receive numerous shoutouts in the public events and media that accompany the Awards.

The job of the judges is to separate the wheat from the chaff – the innovative from the iterative. While panelists are given criteria for assessing the suitability of products, they must still rely to some degree on their expertise when assessing if an entree possesses ample innovative distinction. As such, judges are selected from the membership of Boating Writers International (BWI) – writers and editors possessing a well-honed technical understanding that collectively covers the full breadth of the boating sphere.

In the weeks leading up to the show, judges review materials provided by the entrants. At the show, while the exhibitors are still setting up their booths, the judges are whisked through the maze of crates and careening forklifts for a five-minute presentation and brief Q&A with each of the entrants. Then, the evening before the opening of the show, the panel resigns to a conference room to discuss which products are to be awarded. The deliberations last for several hours in which unanimity is rare and consensus hard fought. So, what then made this year’s winners stand out?

The Criteria
Assuming a product meets the qualifications for entry, there are five criteria that the judges use to determine its innovativeness:

Benefit – does the product effectively identify and address a problem faced by boaters or the marine industry? It’s not enough that a product is new, it also has to make boating better.

Innovative Distinction – does this product address a problem in a way no other product has? Take PYI’s Revolve Boathook for example. There’s nothing groundbreaking about making a boat hook that collapses to save space – but one that rolls up like a slap bracelet and fits in a cupholder takes a sufficiently distinct approach to the same problem.

Modification & Adaptation – if a product is being brought in from a non-marine industry, is it sufficiently adapted to the marine market? Just slapping the word “marine” on the packaging isn’t going to cut it.

Practicality – do the benefits of a product outweigh the effort it takes to use it? As anyone who’s bought something “as seen on TV” knows, there is a difference between “new” and “improved”.

Cost-effectiveness – do the benefits of the product outweigh its price point? Will boaters actually fork out the dough to reap the rewards a product provides?

Stay Tuned!

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing deep-dives on each of this year’s Innovation Award recipients – complete with Q&As from the manufacturers themselves. But, if you just can’t wait to see which products made the list, why not take a quick stroll down Innovation Way.

Innovation Awards 2023


The IBEX Innovation Awards showcase outstanding marine product development to the recreational boating industry and beyond. The program, managed by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and judged by Boating Writers International (BWI), is one of the marine industry’s most prestigious honors recognizing manufacturers and suppliers who bring new, innovative products to market.


Innovation Way Showcase
2023 Innovation Award Winners Press Release


Group of people standing on the show floor at IBEX Show 2023

Group of people standing on the show floor at IBEX Show 2023


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