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The Biggest Show in Town

Bay Weekly’s Guide to the Boatshows

     The United States Sailboat and Powerboat Shows are the biggest in the country, and probably the world. 
     This year’s shows are bigger than ever, show president Paul Jacobs says, with “the largest sailboat show we’ve ever had and the biggest powerboat since the 2008 recession.”
     In five acres at City Dock, 200 sailboats tie up along 1.6 miles of floating docks on October 4, then slip away on October 9 to make room for 450 powerboats.

     More than 650 exhibitors in water and on land offer not only boats but also most every known type of boating equipment, gadget and apparel. Food and drink are plentiful and excellent along the show’s peripheries.
     “Our goal,” says Jacobs, “is to bring together the best possible large group of exhibitors and consumers to do beautiful business together.”
     As well as a grand marine marketplace, the Boatshows are a spectacle.
     Each show also offers the spectator sport of a changeover and breakdown. October 9, changeover starts about 6pm, as the sailboats get out of town to make room for the powerboats. October 14 brings breakdown, when the show — boats, dock and on-shore setup — disappears.
To See, Perchance to Buy 
     From all over the world, 700-plus boats are coming to the Boatshows.
     Who would you guess is the world’s most active boat builder?
     It’s the French, according to Jacobs, with Beneteau the biggest company, producing not only its namesake boats but also Jeanneau, and some familiar American names, like Lagoon, Wellcraft and Four Winns, a company with roots in Michigan.
     Boats powered in many ways are coming, with canoes, kayaks, sculls, rowboats, electrics and hybrids as well as sailboats and powerboats.
     Boats of all sizes are coming. 
     Among sailboats, you’ll find daysailors, easy-to-trailer sailboats, sailing dinghies and inflatables all the way up to yachts 65 feet and longer. Racers will find boats from 18 to 35 feet. Multihull fanciers will see more than four dozen — ranging from 26 to 67 feet. 
     Powerboats are even more various, ranging from runabouts to jet boats to tugs to blue-water yachts. More than 30 boats will be new or premiering at this year’s show. Anglers will find fishing boats from 50-plus makers. There’ll also be more trailerable boats than ever before, with an additional 300-plus square feet on land added to hold them. 
     As well as all new boats, you’ll find about 15 used sailboats and three times that many powerboats at Brokerage Cove (one block from the main show on St. Mary’s Cove).
     Acres of on-land exhibitors offer the newest of everything: navigational equipment, high-tech electronics, boating accessories, clothing, gear and services such as boating clubs, charter companies, insurance firms and lending institutions.
     For browsers and buyers, it’s the ultimate in one-stop shopping. 
Try for Yourself
     You can even sea-trial some boats.
     Sailboat Show-goers who register for Take the Wheel, an on- and off-water learning experience, can try out two boats out of a fleet of eight in an afternoon of sailing following a morning of introduction to sailboat design, operation and ownership. 
     At the Powerboat Show’s demo docks you can get out on the water in 10 boats, plus get to know outboard engines and stabilization systems.
     You can learn just about anything and everything you need to know about boats and boating at the Boatshows.
     From October 9 to 12, Cruisers University comes to town, borrowing space at the U.S. Naval Academy to teach more than 50 classes ranging from 90 minutes to four days and priced accordingly. 
     Each Boatshow also brings a full menu of daily seminars. Register (and pay) in advance for two-hour seminars offered daily at 10am and 1pm. Free seminars are also offered on the hour. All meet at Annapolis Waterfront Hotel. 
     Would-be sailors learn the basics in First Sail Workshops including classroom and on-boat time. Workshops repeat several times each day of the Sailboat Show; rsvp: $65 ($75 Thurs). Register at

Do Good
     This year, the Boat Show adds another goal: helping hurricane victims. Hands Across the Transom is the Boat Show’s effort to make “some sort of a difference.”
     “A few hundred thousand dollars,” is Jacobs’ goal through exhibitor pledges seeded with the show’s own challenge pledge of $5,000, Soggy Dollar collection boxes throughout the show and good times. To join the latter category, donate $75 to hurricane relief and join the show’s October 5 opening night party at Annapolis Waterfront Hotel — with an open bar, food from Pussers and live music. You’ll be able to direct where your money goes from a list of 10 or so pre-selected charities.

Getting There
     The Sailboat Show runs Thursday, October 5 through Monday, October 9; the Powerboat Show runs Thursday October 12 through Sunday October 15. 
     Opening day VIP tickets cost $35, with less-crowded docks and shorter boarding lines. Otherwise tickets are $20 for adults with advance purchase and multiple day discounts. 
     Travel light. You’ll be walking, boarding and picking up literature, trinkets and tote-able purchases all day. Wear boat shoes, but expect to remove them to board most boats, and socks if you’d rather not board barefoot.
      Wherever you park, you’ll pay. You can try for metered street parking or a garage ( $30 parking at Eastport Elementary School, a five-minute walk over the Spa Creek Bridge to the show. $10 parking at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium with free shuttles to the show. On Sat., Oct 7, when the Midshipmen play Air Force, signs will lead you elsewhere.