OCEAN CITY — The Seaside Boat Show returns to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center this weekend, and despite a little less space than usual due to the ongoing construction of the Performing Arts Center in the facility, the annual harbinger of warmer days to come promises to be one of the best ever.
For the last 30 years, the Seaside Boat Show, sponsored by the Ocean City-Berlin Optimists, 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 right in the middle, the boat show is a jumping off point for many businesses closed during the winter and provides a respite from the dreary winter that has dragged on longer than usual this year.
In the past, the Seaside Boat Show has battled tough winter weather, a sagging economy and other obstacles with aplomb, and although those factors might still come into play this weekend, one of the biggest changes this year is the configuration of the boat show space. The ongoing construction of the Performing Arts Center in the convention center has forced the Optimists to reconfigure the usual space and make adjustments for some of the features.
“With the construction of the Performing Arts Centers going on, we’re going to be a little bit smaller this year,” said Ocean City-Berlin Optimists spokesman Charles Smith this week. “The large exhibit hall where we usually set up is not entirely available and our space is cut back a little bit, but the good news is we were able to cut back a little on some of the space for the larger dealers and rearranged the other space so we’re able to accommodate all of the vendors and the other features we have going on.”
Smith said those familiar with the boat show will find the entrance and ticketing areas changed this year. In the past, boat show visitors entered the convention center and turned to the right to access the ticket areas and the event itself. This year, tickets for the event will be sold to the left of the main entrance to the facility in an area near the convention center’s box office. Aside from the rearranging of some of the space, visitors to the Seaside Boat Show can expect much of what has made the event so special for over three decades.
The annual boat show, dubbed this year “the boat show that works for kids,” provides the local Optimist Club with its largest fundraising opportunities of the year with nearly all of the proceeds invested back into the community in the form of support for local youth. The local affiliate has over 120 members and is recognized as one of the best clubs in the parent Optimist International organization.
Income derived from the annual boat show helps support many local youth and community service programs in a variety of ways. For example, the Optimists hold an annual lottery during the boat show with proceeds dedicated to its scholarship program. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased throughout the weekend during the show with the drawing set for 5 p.m. on Sunday. The top prize is $75,000, with a $10,000 second-place prize and a $5,000 third-place prize. Over the last three decades, nearly 300 area students have received an estimated $1.55 million in scholarships from the boat show lottery.
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 each year is the wonderful door prize which all attendees will be eligible to win. For years, North Bay Marina and Scott and Mary McCurdy have donated a boat for the main door prize and every person who purchases a show admission ticket will once again have a chance to win it this year.
Despite the smaller space, the boat show will feature over 350 boats, 150 vendors and 50 boat dealers. The dealers and exhibitors will offer special show prices throughout the weekend. They will display their newest and most popular models along with other boating and water-related items. The large number of boats sold each year during the event makes the Seaside Boat Show one of the most popular of its kind on the east coast. The show will also have financing and insurance companies on hand to facilitate boat purchases.
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 boats, the exhibitors will include marine electronics, trailers, canvass tops, motors, jewelry, artwork and fishing gear. The Seaside Boat Show opens on Friday, Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and concludes on Sunday, Feb. 16 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $1 for kids and a weekend pass can be purchased for $15.