A vast array of boats will be on display again this year at the Prime Osborn Convention Center as the Jacksonville Marine Association hosts the 71st annual Jacksonville Boat Show for a three-day run beginning Friday.
Sponsored by VyStar Credit Union, Coastal Equipment and XL Carts, the show represents the first opportunity for everyone to come out and see what the industry has to offer for the coming year.
While more than 100 displays and exhibits and events will be geared toward all ages and areas of interest, JMA President Dick Boger says there’ll be a strong emphasis on family fun.
“Our boat shows are a very family-oriented, so they offer a great opportunity for moms, dads and the kids to have a great time while seeing some of the best boats on the market today,” said Boger, who’s also the owner of Dick Boger Yacht Sales on Beach Boulevard. “There’s just a lot of events, including our Hook the Future fishing classes for kids — where each child gets a free rod and reel while they learn the how-tos when it comes to angling.”
“Hook the Future,” hosted by Capt. Don Dingman, has been an extremely popular event since it was introduced 14 years ago. The presentation, created specifically to introduce children to fishing with a focus on safety while encouraging parents to spend quality time with their children, takes place at noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday. All children who attend event will receive their own rod and reel, courtesy of Battery Distributors Southeast, Inc.
Also, the first 100 children entering the show Saturday morning will also receive free life jackets, provided courtesy of VyStar Credit Union. They will be distributed at the U.S. Coast Guard booth.
According to Capt. Kenny Sherwood, who has served as the show manager the past 10 years, there will be other giveaways and contests throughout the show.
“People can register for a free seven-day trip to Costa Rica, which will be given away by Nosara, Costa Rica Vacation Rentals,” he said. “People can sign up for the chance to win a free paddle board class courtesy of All Wet Sports.”
Other events and activities include offshore fishing seminars conducted by Capt. Dennis Young at 2 p.m. on Friday and at 6 p.m. on Saturday, along with service seminars hosted by Sam Sheets at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
As a longtime association member, Boger has been involved in many shows over the years — even those held prior to 1983 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Over the years, he says that boat sales have seen their highs and lows — with their businesses intrinsically linked to the economy and the discretionary income available to consumers to purchase what many consider a luxury item.
“We’ve really been on the rebound since 2014, so we’re four years into the uptick in sales,” Boger said. “But now, after a full year into the Trump administration … and with lending loosening up quite a bit, we’ve seen a 10 to 15 increase in sales over the last 12 months.”
Boger noted that they sold out of display space weeks ago, with 22 dealers and more than 30 vendors securing spots to show their boats and boating accessories at the show.
With today’s robust economy, a far cry from what boat dealers contended with 10 years ago, Boger said dealers are expecting strong attendance.
Based on what Sherwood is hearing about boat shows that have taken place over the last few months, he agrees.
“In 2017, our attendance was up 20 percent, and from my discussions with other show managers in other cities, they’re seeing attendance up about 10 to 15 percent compared to the previous year,” Sherwood said. “Overall, the marine industry is healthier, so I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll have anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 visitors this year.”
Boger says 32-to-50-foot boats made for family excursions are the most popular on the market today — including deck boats, bow riders, ski boats and pontoon boats.
There will be a large variety of boats on display, from skiing and fishing boats to cruisers and other personal watercraft like jet skis.
“You won’t see huge, 100-foot yachts and all the really expensive boats at the show,” Sherwood said. “Visitors can expect to see an array of affordable, recreational boats … and even canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.”