The twin sets of upward sloping on the superyacht, Thunder, looked to me like stairways to heaven. To say these were only a small part of the eye-candy features of this 164-foot Oceanfast, one of the largest yachts for sale on display at this year’s Miami International Boat Show, says a lot.
Inside, the master suite boasted a ceiling retractable Smart LG TV, chandeliers in the main salon were part of the $8.8 million asking price, and a 22-foot-long crystal blue pool surrounded by sun loungers on the foredeck proved irresistibly inviting on this warm February day.
Best of all to me was the upper deck dining salon and its floor-to-ceiling windows. I could imagine cruising the world and looking out at breathtaking ports from this perch. And it afforded an incredible view of the enormity of the Miami International Boat Show, which is spread out over six downtown locations. Last year, nearly 100,000 attendees walked the docks, and sales were just shy of $1 billion.
I wasn’t in the market for a new boat. Window shop yes; buy no. Still, I wouldn’t miss visiting the Miami Show and many others held in the Sunshine State each year. That’s because these marine events offer so much more.
“Like a festival for boaters, hundreds of exhibits display a variety of vessels, from kayaks to luxury yachts. Food vendors and entertainment attract audiences of all ages. Several large boat manufacturers or brokers host hospitality events on board luxury yachts or in air-conditioned tents, catering to clientele who love to talk about boats,” says Andrew Doole, president of the U.S. Boat Shows division of UK-headquartered Informa Markets, a leading global exhibitions organizer that owns and operates five major Florida shows. “The shows present a way to see the latest in marine products and how to enjoy life on the water.”
Second to Alaska, Florida boasts the most coastline of any U.S. state at 1,350 miles. Add a year-round climate conducive to boating, and it’s easy to see why the marine scene is big here. Each year, the state hosts close to two dozen boat shows. The calendar runs from September to April, corresponding to the top tourism months for visitors from the north.
In September, there’s the three-day Daytona Beach Boat Show, and the Suncoast Boat Show closes out the season in April. In between, Informa hosts its shows: Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October, St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show and Jacksonville Boat Show in January, the Miami show in February, and Palm Beach International Boat Show in March.
“Record-setting attendance at the St. Petersburg and Sarasota shows in the past year now rivals the big shows in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami. In fact, the annual boat show held in downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront is the second largest event in the city, behind the Firestone Grand Prix in terms of attendance, revenue and logistics,” says Cindy Dobyns, president and owner of AboveWater Public Relations & Marketing, who handles press for the show.
Beyond boats for sale, you can discover so many things to see, do, eat and drink, toe-tap and clap for at Florida’s boat shows.
One of the most fun sights at the Miami Boat Show was watching a professional flyboarder in action at Pride Park in AquaZone. Standing on a skateboard-size board attached by a hose to a jet ski below that powered the water toy, dual jet streams of water propelled the rider some 15 feet in the air above the 40,000-gallon freshwater pool.
Pros also gave the public a wakeboard experience via a simulator. Crystal Kayaks, Seabobs and Hobie Cats were brands featured for a demo at the Fort Lauderdale Show. In Palm Beach, the intercoastal waterway served as the natural aqua zone. eFoil electric surfboards were an especially big hit.
New last year, the St. Petersburg Boat Show partnered with the Annapolis School of Seamanship to offer one-hour on-water training sessions held multiple times daily. Topics included Women at the Wheel, Basic Boat Operator and a Junior Captains Program. All were free. The only catch is buying tickets ahead of time and pre-registering for the sessions.
Seminars are a sought-out reason to attend boat shows. Every show offers them, and many shows invite local celebrity speakers. A good example is the Jacksonville Show, where last year Captain Tim Altman of HooDoo Sportfishing Charters and founder of the Wahoo Junkies brand gave two talks on wahoo trolling with bait and high-speed trolling.
One of the best-known seminar presenters on Florida’s boat show circuit is Captain Don Dingman, star of the Hook the Future TV show. Dingman hosts interactive fishing clinics full of demos for kids ages four to 16. At the Fort Lauderdale Show, each kid received a free Hook the Future/Carolina Skiff custom rod and reel combo. It shows how boat show seminars can hook the whole family.
Fred’s Shed is worth the cost of admission if you’re a DIY fan. Launched over a decade ago by the Chicago- headquartered National Marine Manufacturers Association, this up close and personal educational experience is held at NMMA events like the Miami Boat Show. Topics range from installing marine electronics to detailing and service and maintenance tips.
Food and entertainment make shows extra festive. There’s no need to leave the fun. On-site at the St. Petersburg show, for example, you can gobble up everything from stone crab claws to Greek gyros, street tacos and wood-fired picanha steak.
The Windward VIP Experience at several shows includes an open bar, wine and spirit tastings, gourmet food such as oysters on the half shell, as well as early access to the show and a shady air-conditioned oasis to sit and relax. Most shows feature live bands with oldies, classic rock and top 40 hits on tap.
Of course, it’s the boats that float these shows. “All types of watercraft are featured, including fishing boats, cruisers, ski boats, pontoons, inflatables, personal watercraft, and more,” says Erin Johnson, administrative director of the North Florida Marine Association that puts on the annual Jacksonville Show.
Vendors, from national brands to local shops, exhibit and sell all the boating go-withs. There are nearly 100 of these at the Suncoast Boat Show, and more than 1,000 at shows such as in Fort Lauderdale.
Mega and superyachts are here too, just like Thunder. You’ll find the bulk of the 100- to 200-foot-plus vessels at the Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami shows. All it takes is the price of a show ticket to walk the docks and dream.