Real Show Boats

February 06, 1994|By Joe Surkiewicz | Joe Surkiewicz,Contributing Writer

Mention Washington's Birthday and most folks think of department store sales and a wintry three-day weekend.

Yet on the Eastern Shore, the holiday weekend marks another tradition: the 12th Annual Ocean City Seaside Boat Show, which takes place Feb. 18-20 at the Ocean City Convention Center.

This year, marine retailers are hopeful that a reviving economy, a recent change in the tax laws, and consumers digging deeper into their pockets will continue the surge of boat sales and gear that began last year and ended a four-year slump.

"I'm optimistic about business," says Scott McCurdy, owner of North Bay Marina in Fenwick Island, Del., and a longtime exhibitor at the show. "I don't hear the doom and gloom of 24 months ago. In my little corner of the world, the signs are positive."

That's good news for the more than 75 boat dealers and purveyors of marine gear who will exhibit at this year's show. But it's even better news for more than 3,000 young people on the Eastern Shore who directly benefit from the show each year.

"Every penny of profit from the show goes back to the community to work for kids," explains Charley Dorman, chairman and chief organizer of the Seaside Boat Show. "We're budgeted to raise $30,000 to $40,000 from gate receipts, exhibitors and people who walk in the door and give contributions. That's why we dub it 'The Boat Show That Works for Kids.' "

In addition, the Ocean City/Berlin Optimist Club-sponsored show has raised $253,000 over the past 11 years for a college scholarship fund.

This year the 66-member club expects to raise an additional $62,000 for the fund by raffling an Ocean City condominium in its

sixth annual Condo Lottery.

The odds beat the Maryland Lottery: Only 1,600 tickets will be sold for the two-bedroom, two-bath, furnished, high-rise condo. The price per ticket is $100; if fewer than 1,000 tickets are sold, the money will be refunded.

To purchase a ticket, send a check to the Ocean City Optimist Club, P.O. Box 26, Ocean City, Md. 21842; tickets will also be available at the show and at Donald's Duck Shoppe in the Gold Coast Mall, 115th Street, Ocean City. The drawing is on Feb. 20.

While an improving economy should lure more paying customers to the show, that's not the only draw at this year's event.

One lucky attendee will go home with a $10,000 pontoon boat courtesy of Mr. McCurdy of North Bay Marina. This is the ninth year the dealer has contributed a boat as a door prize.

"Scott is the driving force that makes the show work," Mr. Dorman says. "A lot of people come to the show just for a chance to win that boat. We hope to see 15,000 attendees this year."

Show hours are 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20. Admission at the door is $5 for adults and $1 for children 12-18; children under 12 with an adult are free.

Some boat dealers, who will have exhibits, are offering customers free advance tickets to the show. Call the Seaside Boat Show at (410) 641-5522 for more information.

Visitors will find between 250 and 300 watercraft within the Convention Center, including pontoon boats, runabouts, fishing boats, ski boats, jet skis, canoes, sailboards . . . even rubber rafts.

Marine accessories on display will include fishing electronics, custom fishing rods, boat lifts and custom boat covers.

"It's a wide variety of displays," Mr. Dorman points out. "This year we've added fishing tackle dealers and crafts. You can even get financing for a new boat right on the spot!"

But the main attraction will be the watercraft displayed by almost 30 boat dealers from Marland and Delaware.

"People can spend anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000 for a new boat," Mr. Dorman says.

Dealers say that customers are showing more willingness to spend money on recreation, Mr. Dorman reports. One reason may be the repeal of a luxury tax on large boats. Boating industry leaders had blamed the 10 percent tax on boats priced above $100,000 for costing billions of dollars in lost sales and tens of thousands of jobs between 1990 and 1993, when it was in effect.

"The luxury boat tax was a psychological barrier to the industry," Mr. McCurdy explains. "Even though it only applied to boats that cost more than $100,000, its repeal was a positive step."

Any advice for folks in the market for a new boat?

"The most important thing to remember is that the boat you buy must be suitable for where you plan to use it," Mr. McCurdy says. "A boat used on the Chesapeake Bay will be different than a boat used on Assawoman Bay in Ocean City. They're two different worlds."

The Ocean City Seaside Boat Show will offer visitors a wide range of boats best suited for nearby waters, Mr. McCurdy says. "The product mix is different from most boat shows," the dealer adds. "This show pinpoints the shallow saltwater market."

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