40th Annual WorkBoat Show Comes to Morial Convention Center

NEW ORLEANS – This city has always had a thing for boats. Walk down an old French Quarter street and you might step on old granite blocks that once served as ballast on ships coming from Europe. Many of our iconic shotgun houses were constructed using roughhewn lumber that was salvaged from old barges that brought cargo down the Mighty Mississippi. Andrew Higgins, the boat builder and inventor whose designs contributed mightily to the Allied victory in World War II, designed and built the iconic Higgins landing craft right here in New Orleans.

It makes sense, then, that for almost 40 years New Orleans has been home to the annual International WorkBoat Show, North America’s largest commercial marine trade show and a gathering place for boat builders, marine engineers, naval architects, commercial vessel owners/operators and anyone else involved in the oil and gas industry or any commercial work on the Mississippi.

Produced by WorkBoat Magazine and WorkBoat.com, the show returns Dec. 4 through Dec. 6 to the Morial Convention Center. This year, more than 1,000 exhibitors are expected to interact with more than 13,000 attendees.

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Local naval architect Kenneth Humphreys, of MiNO Marine, has been attending since he was in the School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the University of New Orleans in the 1990s.

“There are three big reasons to go every year,” he said. “There’s the technical side – listening to industry leaders and learning about ongoing projects. Then you’ve got the shopping side: looking to see what’s new and checking out equipment you’re interested in. And then you have the social side of seeing colleagues, fellow engineers and boat operators.”

Humphreys said he expects this year’s event to reflect the changes in the industry since 2015, when the price of oil dropped from more than $100 per barrel to around $35. Since that time, many in the industry have diversified their interests. MiNO, a boutique firm founded in 1997, has worked on designs for dredges (boats that can remove silt from the bottom of waterways), landing craft for the Navy and specialized vessels for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There’s also work to be had related to deeper water drilling, which many in the industry still consider an untapped market, as well as the emerging industry surrounding liquified natural gas instead of traditional fuels.

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Another interesting development on the horizon? Renewable energy.

“A lot of the people in the industry down here who are looking closely at offshore wind farm development,” said Humphreys. “It’ll be interesting to see if there’s some representation [at this year’s show] because it’s still energy development; it’s just wind energy instead of petroleum. People are looking for ways to diversify and stay in their niche. These offshore wind turbines require frequent maintenance, so people building crew boats may be looking to sell similar design to wind farms.”

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same … for the most part. At the conclusion of every WorkBoat show, Humphreys and his colleagues celebrate in the most New Orleans way possible: with a big, decadent, four-hour meal. There’s only one slight change to this year’s agenda.

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“This year we’re going to Mr. John’s Steakhouse,” he said. “Galatoire’s is becoming a pain to get into.”

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