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3,000 boats, plus programs designed to entertain and educate, take center stage at the annual event

Sailors will set a course for the Strictly Sail segment of the show at Bayside's Miamarina.A year-end uptick in consumer confidence is a welcome bellwether of better times ahead for 2012 and the Miami International Boat Show — one of the world’s largest, featuring more than 3,000 boats and 2,000 exhibitors. Growing confidence in the economy, good exhibitor turnout, and a menu of entertaining and educational programs are expected to pique consumer interest in the Feb. 16-20 show, says Cathy Rick-Joule, vice president of the boat shows division of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We’re absolutely hopeful,” Rick-Joule said after hearing that consumer confidence had reached an eight-month high in December. “Those kinds of statistics bode well for what we do.”

New at the show this year:

• At Strictly Sail, a simulator provides a training platform for new boaters to feel how a boat under sail reacts to wind and waves and gives experienced sailors the opportunity to practice under a variety of simulated conditions.

• A diving dome at the Dive & Travel Harbor gives those who take the plunge the virtual experience of scuba diving.

• At Fred’s Shed, those inclined to do their own boat maintenance, repair and upgrades can attend free daily seminars and clinics covering do-it-yourself topics.

You'll find power options both modest and extreme at the Miami Beach Convention Center.“What we’ve found is people are always interested in participation,” Rick-Joule says. “They want to get their hands on the wheel of a boat.”

With that in mind, Strictly Sail’s Discover Boating at the end of Pier B at Bayside’s Miamarina will offer complimentary hour-long sails with an experienced skipper. Discover Boating put 500 show-goers on the water at last year’s show, Rick-Joule says.

The show also will offer dozens of seminars — some free, some for a fee — on such topics as bluewater cruising (by cruising guru Jimmy Cornell), radar, diesel engine troubleshooting and weather. There also will be American Sailing Association sailing and cruising classes, plus powerboat classes on close-quarters handling, docking and precision boat control, helmsmanship and safety. Those interested in taking classes are advised to register online at www.miamiboatshow.com well in advance of the show.

Rick-Joule said in late December that advance exhibitor registration was keeping pace with last year. All exhibitors are listed at the website.

Although criteria for getting a boat loan still are pretty strict, interest rates are low. Fixed-rate loans with a 15 percent down payment were starting at 5 to 6 percent in December. “The rates still are great, if you can get a loan,” she says.

Lenders want borrowers to present income documentation and show good credit scores. Rick-Joule says consumers are getting their finances in order, raising their credit scores, relying less on credit cards and saving money for down payments. “That’s got to help things,” she says.

Many builders have developed new models while the economy remains slow. Some of the boats that are expected to debut at the Miami show include:

• Chris-Craft’s Launch 32, a bowrider for overnighting and “champagne cruises,” with an aft sunbed, a head and a cabin (www.chriscraft.com).

• Bluewater Sportfishing Boats’ new 16- and 18-foot Flats n’ Bay boats for inshore fishing. The builder expects to introduce 21- and 23-footers to the line later this year (www.bluewatersportfishingboats.com).

• Beneteau’s new 55-footer in its Sense series of monohull cruising sailboats. Open, airy and spacious, with a deep keel (7 feet, 9 inches), it is designed to be a comfortable, speedy cruiser (www.beneteauusa.com).

• Fairline Boats’ Squadron 50, a British-built three-cabin motoryacht with panoramic windows, a large and airy master stateroom, and overhead glazed panels that open the living space to natural light (www.fairline.com). The Fairline will be at the Yacht & Brokerage Show.

The shows offer the opportunity to sea trial and board boats big and small.Other attractions include Boating for Beginners, Boating on a Budget at the Welcome to the Water Center, a resource center that helps those new to the sport find boats to match their budget and lifestyle; the Big Game Room, featuring dozens of exhibits and seminars for anglers and opportunities to meet Chris Fischer and Brett McBride of the National Geographic TV series “Shark Men”; the Guy Harvey Artist Pavilion; and the Miami Herald Discover Boating Photo Contest.

Show hours at the Miami Beach Convention Center are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday. The in-water displays at the Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center and sailing exhibits at Strictly Sail at Miamarina at Bayside are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Admission is $35 on Premier Day (Thursday) and $18 for adults on other days. A five-day adult pass is $80, a two-day adult pass valid Feb. 17-20 costs $32, and youths 15 and under get in free. A free mobile device app — available at iTunes or the Android Market — includes maps of the show sites, seminar and event information, boat listings and more. 

See related article:

- Bigger yachts pull into the Brokerage Show

This article originally appeared in the the Southern Waters section of the March 2012 issue.


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