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Boat show breaks attendance record

Mark Parker

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Thousands of people flocked to St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront for the 45th annual Power and Sailboat Show. Photos by Mark Parker.

Billed as the largest on the Gulf Coast, the St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat show attracted a record-breaking crowd of marine enthusiasts to the city’s downtown waterfront during its four-day run.

Now in its 45th year, the event was held from Thursday, Jan. 19, through Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Mahaffey Theater Yacht Basin and Albert Whitted Park. Hundreds of fishing and sailboats lined Bayshore Drive while yachts moored along the docks. An expansive 40,000-square-foot tent housed marine equipment, accessories and professional services.

The boat show also offered free on-the-water training, fishing clinics for kids and dozens of other seminars. Over 300 exhibitors showcased the marine industry’s latest innovations and products.

Hundreds of boats lined Bayshore Drive, while larger vessels moored in the Mahaffey Theater Yacht Basin.

Boat sales increased significantly during the pandemic, as the pastime provided a socially distanced leisure activity. While some dealers noted applications were down this year – and blamed inflation – all said event attendance was better than expected.

Informa Markets, which operates several international boat and yacht events, does not share exact attendance numbers.

Michael Galati, brand manager for Anna Maria-based Galati Yachts, said attendance was “definitely up,” and his company was close to matching 2022’s sales through the first three days.

Darren Plymale, executive vice president, said he came into the event with low expectations but was “shocked” at the turnout. He noted that many of the people he spoke with were new faces rather than past customers.

“People that have moved into town and are living their dream,” added Plymale.

While some boat dealers said sales were down compared to last year, all said attendance exceeded expectations.

While Galati noted that inflation has caused boat prices to increase, Plymale said their customers are “little bit more resilient to the cost of a dozen eggs or a gallon of milk.” He did say that price increases may affect the size of the boat they purchase compared to years prior.

Galati Yachts has participated in the St. Petersburg show since 1992. Plymale said the company’s display increased significantly over the last two decades, and a team of captains brings boats from across the state to the annual event.

Galati operates a marina on Gandy Boulevard, and he called the area the company’s backyard. After 20 years on the same dock, Plymale said not serving as one of the event’s anchors is unimaginable.

“We see residual effects from these shows for years forward,” he explained. “We meet people and talk to customers that might not be ready for a yacht, but they came in a purchased a center console. It’s an investment that you make, and the investment far pays off.”

Boat and yacht brokers were not the only people using the event to bolster their community presence.

The Eckerd College Search and Rescue team used the event to increase community awareness of the program.

The Eckerd College Search and Rescue (EC-SAR) team operated a booth inside the exhibitor’s tent. Since 1971, a highly trained group of student volunteers have annually answered over 500 maritime distress calls through the program, yet many residents remain unaware that it exists.

Mark Sippel, a junior at Eckerd, noted the team provides towing services and fuel and partners with the Coast Guard and local agencies on more serious matters, like medical emergencies and firefighting. The program is free and donation-based, and Sippel said they ask for gas and oil reimbursements.

He said the program provides leadership skills and discipline, and students make friends and connections that can pay dividends after graduation. In addition to spreading awareness about the program, the EC-SAR team was also recruiting people to attend their annual Marine Yard Sale fundraiser.

“The more people we can tell about the program, the easier it will be for us to help them,” said Sippel. “It’s been really good to meet the community in better circumstances than when they are in distress.”

Darren Plymale, executive vice president of Galati Yachts, said many of the people he spoke to recently moved to the area.

 

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