OCEAN CITY — The 29th Annual Seaside Boat Show, hosted by the Ocean City-Berlin Optimists, returns this weekend, once again providing a harbinger for spring and a jump-start to the season.
For the last 28 years, the annual boat show has helped mark a turning point in the winter season for 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, the boat show is a jumping off point for many businesses in the area closed for the last few months and provides a glimpse of better days to come.
In the past, the Optimist Boat Show has battled tough winter weather and a sagging economy, but in the midst of one of the mildest, driest winters in recent memory and a solid forecast for the weekend, all systems are go for this year’s show, according to Ocean City-Berlin Optimist spokesman Charles Smith.
“The weather looks good and by some accounts the economy is showing signs of improving, so we’re really optimistic about the show this year,” he said. “The winter fishing season has been unbelievable, so hopefully people are getting in the boat frame of mind.”
This year’s event is being billed as the “boat show that works for kids” and the moniker could not be more accurate. 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.
“Our scholarship program will exceed $1.5 million this year,” said Smith. “Through our boat show proceeds, we’ve been able to provide scholarships for over 280 kids in Worcester County from Stephen Decatur to Pocomoke.”
Held at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center for the last 27 years, the annual boat show typically draws thousands of boat and water sports enthusiasts to the resort over President’s 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. This year, however, the Optimists are offering three big cash prizes for the $100 raffle ticket including a $75,000 prize, a $15,000 prize and a $10,000 prize.
This year’s show is expected to be bigger than ever with over 350 boats large and small on display, 150 vendors and 50 boat dealers, most of whom will offer numerous special show prices. The large number of boats sold each year makes the Seaside Boat Show on of the most popular events of its kind on the East Coast.
“Our vendors really enjoy this show because they typically make a lot of sales,” said Smith. “Last year, several vendors left without taking anything back with them. They sold everything they had.”
One of the highlights each year is the wonderful door prize for which all attendees will be eligible to win. For years, North Bay Marina owners Scott and Mary McCurdy have donated the annual door prize and everybody who purchases a show admission has a chance to win a boat.
“We can’t say enough about the McCurdy’s and their generosity,” said Smith. “The annual boat raffle is one of the highlights of the show and brings in a lot of people.”
With a major renovation project going on at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, boat show organizers have had a few challenges with the space, but the boat show promises to be as big and popular as ever. Smith said a vendor who for years had occupied a space on the second floor with just boat motors pulled out this year, but the Optimists wasted no time in finding a replacement.
“Within a week, we had so many inquiries that it took no time to fill that space,” he said. “We have a wee bit less space this year, but we’re sold out and we’re going to use every inch of it.”
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.
Times of the show are today, Feb. 17, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 18, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults and $1 for kids. A weekend pass is available for $15. The admission ticket includes a chance at the boat giveaway raffle.