OCEAN CITY — The Seaside Boat Show, sponsored by the Ocean City-Berlin Optimist Club, turns 30 this year and a variety of factors have teamed to likely make this year’s event the biggest and best ever.
For the last 29 years, the annual boat show has helped mark a turning point in the winter season for many visitors to the resort and its hearty year-round residents and this year should be no different. Coupled with the three-day President’s Day weekend with Valentine’s Day in the mix, the boat show is a jumping off point for many area businesses closed for the winter and provides a glimpse of better days to come.
In the past, the Seaside Boat Show has battled tough winter weather and a sagging economy, and those factors could still come into play this weekend, but the 30th annual event has so much going for it this year more than ever that no obstacles appear too large to overcome. For one thing, the expansion of the host facility, the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, will provide an additional 24,000 square feet of exhibit space.
“This will be the largest one over,” said the Ocean City-Berlin Optimist spokesman Charles Smith this week. “The old stage on the second floor is gone and the first-floor space has been expanded so we have an extra 24,000 square feet to work with. For several years, we’ve had a long waiting list of vendors who want to come to the boat show and we’ll be able to accommodate them, and the vendors we already have certainly won’t mind having extra space.”
In addition, the 2013 Seaside Boat Show could benefit from another unforeseen factor. The popular Harrisburg Pa. boat show, another major event for the boating, fishing and hunting industries, was canceled this year when some of the vendors were turned away because of the certain types of guns they exhibit in light of the recent heightened call for strong gun control laws.
“A lot of them were scrambling to find a place to show their wares,” said Smith. “The Seaside Boat Show is mainly focused on boating and fishing, but we do have a significant amount of hunting equipment vendors and we’re happy to accommodate them.”
Another significant factor is the Seaside Boat Show’s juxtaposition with other major boat shows in the region. The Atlantic City Boat Show is this weekend, but the Baltimore Boat Show, which typically falls before the Ocean City show, is a week after this year.
“With all of these factors, from the expansion of the space to the timing of the other shows, we’re really in a good spot this year to have a great show with a record turnout,” said Smith.
The annual show provides the Optimist Club with its largest fundraising opportunity of the year with the nearly all of the proceeds invested back into the community. The boat show is expected to hit a significant milestone this year in terms of its donations to local youth through its scholarship program. Held at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center for the last 29 years, the annual boat show typically draws thousands of boat and water sports enthusiasts to the resort over the Presidents Day weekend.
While its benefits in terms of providing an economic shot in the arm for the resort business community cannot be discounted, the boat show’s biggest beneficiaries are the local charities and public service programs the Optimists support with the funds they raise. In addition to the scholarship program, the show provides the Optimist Club with the opportunity to raise funds for the many programs it supports including the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, Diakonia, Children’s House by the Sea and all local schools and recreation programs.
One of the highlights of the boat show is typically the Optimist Club’s scholarship lottery with the purchase of a $100 ticket earning the buyer a chance at a $100,000 prize. For the last few years, however, the Optimists have offered three big cash prizes for the $100 raffle ticket including a $75,000 prize, a $15,000 prize and a $10,000 prize.
Smith said the lottery sales have been solid thus far, but likely won’t sell out. The club offers 1,600 of the lottery tickets each year at $100 apiece, but Smith said a variety of factors might keep the Optimists from hitting that goal.
“We can’t seem to sell it out, but it’s steadily moving up,” he said. “We’re projecting to sell around 1,400, but that number might go up this week. The good news for the players is that the lower number of tickets sold increases their chances at one of the big prizes.”
One of the highlights each year is the wonderful door prize which all attendees will be eligible to win. For 25 years, the McCurdy’s and North Bay Marina have donated a boat for the annual door prize and this year is no different.
“I can’t say enough about them for doing this every year,” said Smith. “It certainly is another wonderful attraction for the show.”
With the expanded space, around 350 boats will be on display this year, along with 140 vendors and 50 boat dealers, who will offer special show prices. The large number of boats sold each year makes the Seaside Boat Show one of the most popular events of its kind on the East Coast.
As the name implies, the annual event is all about boats large and small, but there is much more going on with something to offer everybody. In addition to the boats, there will be vendors offering everything to do with water sports from fishing tackle to clothing and accessories and everything in between. It’s also a kid-friendly event. In addition, there will be plenty of food and drink vendors on hand.
The Seaside Boat Show starts on Friday, Feb. 15 and concludes on Sunday, Feb. 17. The show runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $9 for adults and $1 for kids and a weekend pass is available for $15. The admission ticket includes a chance at the boat giveaway raffle.