By Cynde Smith, Adirondack and Lake Champlain Chapters

Maybe it’s because I’m in marketing, or maybe it’s because I’m also in the boat restoration business (my husband and I own Tumblehome Boatshop)… or maybe it’s just because it’s a creative expression, but I really enjoy the art of “decorating” boats for a boat show, particularly with a nod to the boat’s history. Those decorations are mostly flowers, of course, because nothing goes better with boats than flowers. Okay, flowers and cocktails or picnics. 

It’s All About the Flowers

Most of the boat shows we attend are over the course of multiple days in very warm weather, conditions not entirely conducive to fresh flowers. So I work with my florist to choose cut flowers that do well in outdoor heat. Think about how flowers act in the real world and what kind of conditions they like – sunflowers do great in boats in the sun all day, roses do not. In addition, choose flowers and greenery that look good and hold their color when they dry, such as cockscomb, globe thistle, and eucalyptus. 

The container matters, too. It must have a sturdy bottom and can’t be too tall because it mustn’t tip when the boat rocks. I don’t want a clear glass container because the water gets ugly and if the florist wraps a large banana leaf inside the glass container to hide the water and stems like they sometimes do, it looks too modern. In the boat, I usually lay a visually-appropriate cloth of some kind under the container, just in case. 

Here are a few watering tips I’ve learned along the way:

  • I check the water in the flower arrangement throughout the day and always top off each morning when it’s still cool. I dip a finger in from the container rim to check the level. 
  • I use a water bottle and push the arrangement to the slide slightly so I can add the water in from the container rim. Trying to add water to an arrangement from the top almost always results in a mess. 
  • I always leave the flowers outside overnight throughout the course of the show (though I may move them off wicker chairs or leather seats) and have pretty good luck. 
  • Usually I leave the arrangement on the dock if we take off for a ride. Depends on how fast the boat goes or how windy the ride will be.

Wine Selections – a Delicate Balance

I love a good bourbon as much as the next guy, but I tend to go for wine when staging a boat. I think wine appeals to a broader audience and feels a safer choice. I believe you’ve got to make it real, so it can’t be an empty bottle. It’s a special boat, so it can’t be a cheap bottle. But the heat may wreck the wine so you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice it. It can’t be too good a bottle. 

Here’s one time where you can make a great wine choice based on the look of the label. Make sure it’s visually appropriate and will go with the look and era of the rest of the décor.

Staging Fanita Jr, a 1916 Fay & Bowen 

We restored a 1916 Fay & Bowen 32-foot torpedo stern launch, Fanita Jr. The boat had first been owned by hotelier John Boulton Simpson, who had a driver to operate and chauffeur the family around Lake George. When we showed this grande dame at the Adirondack Chapter’s Lake George Rendezvous, I found some very Victorian-looking ivory wire birdcages and had floral arrangements done in these. I draped luxurious blankets over the backs of the wicker chairs as well as an historic burgee donated by a local antique shop whose owner saw that it matched one in a photograph of the boat under Mr. Simpson’s care.


Staging ACHILLES, a 1926 Fay & Bowen 

We showed another Fay & Bowen we restored, a 1926 24-foot junior runabout, Achilles, at the 2019 ACBS International Boat Show in Alexandria Bay.

Here, I wanted to evoke the idea of an evening cocktail cruise on the St. Lawrence River with a basket loaded with pears, wine, glasses, and flowers. I included an additional arrangement that picked up some of the bold colors in an oriental rug. I grouped the two pieces together for greater visual impact on the back seat of the boat. I hid a small cloth under the wicker basket to be sure it would not to scratch the leather. 






Staging the 1926 Sound Inter Club Sailboats

Our boatshop has had the honor of restoring three of the five remaining 29-foot Sound Inter Club sailboats (see “Reintroducing the Sound Inter Club,” ACBS Rudder, Spring 2014, Vol. 23, No. 4) . Only 28 were built, and all in 1926. They were meant to be sailed hard for the club races during the week and then sailed out to an island for a family picnic on Saturday. I like to capture the essence of the boat’s “downtime” — those family picnics. We showed both Caprice and Ghost in the water at the 2014 ACBS International Boat Show in Skaneateles. You may remember it was a wild and wet weekend on the water. However, we did show Caprice, the first restoration, on land at the WoodenBoat Show in Mystic Seaport. Her royal blue bottom and creamy white sides begged for blue & white checkered tablecloths and napkins. I staged the picnic scene on the aft deck, complete with acrylic glasses filled with water, faux ice, and lemon slices. The floral arrangement was a grand, heavy basket filled with red, white, and blue flowers. I echoed that theme another year when we showed Ghost in the water at the Lake George Rendezvous but this time with just the checkered napkins and basket of flowers.

Staging Caroline, an Unrestored c. 1912 Fay & Bowen

We acquired Caroline with the hope that someone would buy the restoration. I staged in our exhibit space area. It is open to the public and a place where we can store boats, while enabling visitors to view and learn about them. Since Caroline was unrestored, I wanted the staging to be more rustic and less polished. I chose an old wool blanket, an Adirondack pack basket, and an Old Vine Zinfandel. The floral arrangement, such as it is, consisted of dried grasses and eucalyptus pods, a bit of greenery, and some twigs in a birch bark-wrapped vase. It’s a wonderful old boat and happily, a nice couple, whose Lyman we are restoring, is having us restore the boat and repower it with an electric motor. Let’s see how the staging changes once she’s new again.

Re-Creating a Bygone Boating Experience

I think much of the appeal we all share with classic and antique boats is that it makes us remember the good times — it makes us feel nostalgic. Every boat has a story and a history. In restoring a vintage boat, we aim to be as original as possible, using traditional methods and materials. Similarly, I think staging the boat is an opportunity to capture its true history, to explore and express what it might have been like to ride in that boat when it was new. 


  1. Cynde,
    I really enjoyed your article about decorating the boats, putting a finishing touch on a well-done boat restoration! Something I hadn’t given much thought to, but so fun and pretty! Also, appreciate your practical tips!

  2. The artical on ” Staging you old boat” was very informative. I just love the look of a properly staged look. Your idea of wrapping the stems in large banana leaves is brilliant. We own a 14′ Elgin runabout and she has the a top deck between the helm and aft seat. Her name is “Tini” and the deck between is the martini bar. This is how I stage her at shows. I always referred to her as a tiny boat thus the name and I love martinies, always with olives ! Have a safe and fun boating season.

  3. We are new to the antique boat show world. I sold new and used boats in the early 70s. We staged them at boat shows. Your ideas are inspiring. We are looking for period and even actual factory dishes and glasses and silverware that came included or as add-ons when these boats were delivered from the factory. Do you have any sources? Vintage 1929 Chris Craft and Stephens Brothers.

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