The 44th Annual St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show cruised into the downtown waterfront over the weekend, drawing thousands of boating enthusiasts to the Mahaffey Theater Yacht Basin and Albert Whitted Park.
Held from Thursday, Jan. 20 through Sunday, Jan. 23, the event showcased an impressive collection of luxurious powerboats and sailboats lined along Bayshore Drive and moored in the yacht basin. An expansive 40,000-square-foot tent housed marine gear, equipment, accessories and financial services for those looking to splurge on a new watercraft.
The event also featured boating seminars and a fishing clinic for kids, along with several food and beverage vendors. Billed as the largest boating showcase on the Gulf Coast, organizers combined the Tampa and St. Pete boat shows to create one large event.
Jason Nash, business development manager for St. Petersburg-based Lending Associates, called attendance at the four-day event phenomenal. Nash said Friday’s attendance resembled a usually much busier weekend date, and although Saturday brought cold and wet weather, it increased the size of the crowds under the tent.
“I have about half a dozen applications trickling in today,” said Nash. “And those are boats that were physically there.”
Lending Associates specializes in yacht, aircraft and RV financing and Nash said business has boomed since the onset of the pandemic. The increase in boat purchases is due to a combination of a limited amount of socially distanced leisure activities and people taking money they would typically spend on a vacation and using it to buy a boat.
“Then that kind of led into a scarcity in the market because we’re talking about a market that’s been increasing on average by at least 3% over the last 10 years,” he said. “So, the demand is way up.”
Nash pointed out that the state with the most registered marine vessels is Michigan, not Florida. He said many of those moving to the area from northern states were already boaters – they were just running smaller lake and inshore vessels. After relocating, they turn to larger boats better suited for use on the bay and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Frank McCarthy, a certified yacht broker with Galati Yachts, showcased several of the most luxurious boats in the show. McCarthy believes Galati featured the largest display, with 10 or 11 yachts moored in the basin. He said the smallest luxury craft Galati brought to the event was a 38-foot Viking Billfish valued at over $1 million. The most expensive yacht ogled by attendees was a Prestige X70 that retails for $4.5 million.
McCarthy called turnout for the boat show “unbelievable.”
“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand for boat shows,” he said. “Because of the Covid pandemic, I think a whole new group of people has been turned on to boating and the boating lifestyle that maybe wouldn’t have been exposed to it otherwise.”
McCarthy said that when people get a taste of the boating lifestyle, they become lifelong enthusiasts. The pandemic provided the perfect opportunity to introduce more people to the world of boating and sailing, and McCarthy said that during the pandemic shutdowns of 2020, an average Tuesday at the local sandbars looked like the Fourth of July.
“Going on the boast was one of the few things you could do and still be socially responsible with social distancing and things like that,” he said. “For families, I think it was ideal for them.”
McCarthy said he does not believe the boating industry is in a bubble. Instead, he thinks the high demand of the last two years is the new normal. He called it an organic growth that the pandemic accelerated.
Nash also believes the industry will remain strong, especially if demand continues to outpace the supply.
“The conversations that I’ve been having with people are that we think it’s going to be strong for at least another couple of years,” said Nash. “At that point in time, I think it’s going to plateau a little bit, but as I said before, the industry has been growing on average about 3% a year – even before Covid.”