This is what you can expect to find at the 54th Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show that opens today: More than 1,000 gleaming boats of every size and shape and price range imaginable; a sultry fireworks show and a first-time ever children's clinic on boating safety.
And if that's not enough — a sunny weekend is in the forecast.
"I'm ecstatic and can't express enough gratitude to the powers that be — Mother Nature, of course — for blessing us with a sunny forecast after rainy weather two years in a row,'' said Dane Graziano, a senior vice president at Show Management, the event's producer and manager.
Sunshine isn't the only thing making Graziano happy. Online ticket sales have increased 8 percent sales and exhibitor participation is up as much as 22 percent some of the six show sites. All signs are pointing to a "home run" this year, Graziano said Wednesday.
Last year, attendance dipped 30 percent during the first two days due to torrential rain and gusty winds from Hurricane Sandy. The sun came out on the weekend, and so did the people. Attendance reached nearly 100,000 for the 2012 show, according to Show Management estimates.
This year more than 1,000 boats will be on display with an equal number of exhibitors showcasing more than $3 billion worth of small vessels, yachts, superyachts, electronics and marine accessories.
The annual extravaganza — billed as the largest in-water boat show in the world — is owned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. It generates $500 million in economic impact for the area, benefiting not only the trade group's nearly 500 members, but local hotels, restaurants and transportation companies, as well.
An increase in boat sales in the recovering economy is also buoying optimism.
"We yacht brokers by nature tend to be a bit optimistic, but this year our optimism can truly be backed up by some strong indicators," said Bob Denison, the president of Denison Yacht Sales in Fort Lauderdale who participates regularly in the boat show. "Banks are lending more freely, consumer confidence is rising, the stock market is reaching historic highs and real estate is rebounding."
Denison's group will represent 38 boats across five of the show's six locations, and his lineup includes tenders, contender fishing boats, yachts more than 100 feet in length and a selection of new boats.
Riviera Beach-based exhibitor Albury Brothers Boats, known for its custom-built offshore fishing boats that are commonly used for Bahamian fishing trips, will showcase two vessels, including a redesigned 23-foot model that's more suited to shallow waters.
"We have a high percentage of buyers who don't fish, but want to cruise or dive off the boat," President Bob Chew said of the 23-footer's target audience. "We anticipate these [boats] will generate a lot of enthusiasm."
Italian luxury yacht manufacturer and designer Ferretti Group, which has several South Florida sales offices, will have more than 20 new boats on display - its biggest commitment ever at this show, Americas President and CEO James Henderson said. Two of the high-end vessels — Ferretti Yacht 960 and Pershing 62 — will be making their U.S. debuts.
“I think it’s going to go very well for us,” said Henderson of the show, noting there’s been a renewed interest from buyers in new boats as pre-owned inventory has shrunk. “The market for us is really good and for the past three years we’ve seen 30 percent growth in the Americas.”
Marine insurers are also seeing positive trends with new boats.
“After weathering one of the deepest recessions in history, U.S. manufacturers of pleasure boats in the 26-foot to 80-foot range are beginning to ramp up for new production vessels,“ said Scott Stamper of Atlass Insurance Group in Fort Lauderdale.
Boat sales are up this year. For the 12 months ending in August, sales of new recreational boats 15 feet or more in length in South Florida climbed 13.8 percent to 3,803 units, compared with 3,341 in the 2011-12 period, according to data from Miami-based industry tracker Info-Link Technologies, Inc.
Aside from all the boating eye candy, there will also be a fireworks display Thursday at 7 p.m. from the rooftop of the Bahia Mar. Other activities during the show geared toward the entire family include a fishing clinic for children, sportfishing seminars and a dive and travel show at the convention center site.
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